The Evolution of HR in the Digital Era
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The Evolution of HR in the Digital Era

Sarah Armstrong, Global Specialist, HR Digital of Buro Happold
Sarah Armstrong, Global Specialist, HR Digital of Buro Happold

Sarah Armstrong, Global Specialist, HR Digital of Buro Happold

In this interview, we talk to Sarah Armstrong of Buro Happold about the huge role technology has played in the evolution of HR and in changing the way we work. For almost a decade Sarah has worked within multi-national professional services firms as a specialist HR Change Manager with a particular focus on digital innovation in people[1]centric projects.

How has the HR industry evolved over the years?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is blurring the lines between people and technology, fusing the physical and digital worlds. The impact of these changes on the way people work and how businesses produce value will span all industries, economies and societies and redefine the future of work. Businesses need to adapt to these changes and support the workforce transition at the same time, i.e. there will be more opportunity to develop greater cognitive, social and emotional and technology skills. So as an HR industry, we need to be embracing technology and using it to our advantage more and more.

Embracing technology has altered the way HR professionals operate. It brings considerable time saving opportunities for process-driven tasks, allowing HR professionals to focus on more strategic, people[1]centric projects, and also provides us with real-time data and insights to support business strategy. Not only this, embracing technology also enables HR to be more consultative and proactive; elevating HR’s brand as a strategic partner.

Despite the fact that HR challenges do not change significantly with evolution, the use of new technology provides tools for resolving some issues, gaining insights, and even predicting trends before they occur.

What are some of the challenges plaguing the HR industry, and how can they be mitigated effectively?

In some corners of the world, HR is still seen as a back-office function that is reactive and is only called upon when there is a ‘people problem’. That outdated perception of HR can be very damaging to an organisation. A mature HR offering is one that is proactive and closely aligned to business strategy.

‘I know for some, it can feel daunting, and IT can seem like another language and a group that HR can’t easily partner with. But, I believe we need to boldly embrace technology and partner with IT to collaboratively design tools to gain the insights we need to collaborate with our clients.

There is a behavioural piece here as well. Change is an evolution, and we need to embrace technology to help us to do our jobs smarter, not see it as a threat. If you are able to free up space in your day and have routine tasks automated by utilising technology, it’s an opportunity to focus on the more interesting, value[1]add areas of HR.’

Now, for many we are already partnering with IT. However, as HR professionals we need to shift another gear and really focus on capturing external data/market intelligence to be able to consult with the business in a more agile way.

Could you site some of the trends influencing the HR industry today?

One of the best practices that businesses are implementing or should implement is the incorporation of people-centred projects and processes, which improves employee processes such as onboarding, annual reviews, and promotion while also supporting engagement.

“As the Oil & Gas sector tends to be more traditional, a more traditional approach and tool is typically recommended, particularly to firmly establish current state of workforce engagement”

It’s important to be replicating technology we use in our daily lives in our work lives. It’s about having a personalised employee experience, using AI/machine learning to automate routine processes, where possible. There are platforms already using machine learning to screen candidates in recruitment. How can we take this further into HR for activities such in performance, development and further to provide greater insights.

Taking these trends further in the HR space, aids in increasing overall business agility and elevating HR’s offering to the business.

How would you advice budding entrepreneurs in the world of HR?

First and foremost, HR should not be afraid of technology; rather, maintain an interest in upskilling and learning how technology can help you on the more strategic elements of your role.

Secondly, be agile in your practices; Partner with and source continual feedback from internal and external parties for most, if not all, HR projects; it is about working iteratively and incrementally.

And finally, find the right technologies that support you and your business – the same tools won’t suit everyone and it’s about finding tech that works with you.

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