How is new technology transforming the role of HR? What does it mean for the future of work? MERIT spoke to Dragana Beara, a thought leader and tech evangelist, to get the big picture.
HR leaders now have an opportunity to help decide how and why tech is used, says Dragana, the Global Messaging Director for Augmentation & Immersive Technologies at Dell Technologies. As every workplace becomes increasingly digitised, here is how HR can shape a better future for tech innovation and for people.
What is your advice on how organisations can adapt to increasing digitisation and remote work more effectively?
Covid-19 has created fundamental changes in how we live and work, and it seems that those changes will not be temporary. We are at that inflection point where we need to start thinking about what our world will look like moving forward. A number of organisations were forced to either adapt their operating model to be virtual and digital, or to close and sustain great financial losses.
We are at that inflection point where we need to start thinking about what our world will look like moving forward.
Those who have already ventured on the path of “work anywhere”, or digitisation of their workplace, have had a quicker and easier transition with a lot less disruption. One of the leaders in this domain is my employer, Dell Technologies, whose Connected Workplace Program prior to Covid-19 provided remote work options for over 50% of the workforce.
There are several fundamental principles for creating a productive virtual workplace:
- Providing the workforce with the tools and training they require to be productive virtually,
- Ensuring that management policies and strategies are adjusted to support a virtual workplace,
- Maintaining frequent and transparent communication between employee base and the leadership.
What needs to be recognised is that the experience companies have had with emergency remote work arrangements is not necessarily an experience they would have in a properly planned and executed move to remote work. Organisations need to ensure that employees have what they need to be productive. In addition to the right tools and technology, they need to offer culture and change management programs, such as training, to all employees. First line managers should get support to transition from managing people around them, to managing virtual and distributed teams.
What do you think should change about the culture when people are working remotely?
Covid-19 experience has proven that work is not a location or a time, but an outcome. We shouldn’t be valued for how many hours we log in at the office. Instead, it is what we deliver that should matter. Micromanaging a person’s time and location has been proven to be demotivating and counterproductive, especially for savvy and mature workers.
What longer-term developments do you foresee, if jobs are becoming more location-independent? Do you think we are looking at a globally distributed workforce operating in a gig economy where we are dynamically moving from project to project?
It depends on legislation and regulation. Taxes, in particular, are going to get in the way. In the future, we could have distributed ledger-based contracts that can be automatically executed, without a need for a third-party mediator. When the work is performed in the digital domain, the payout can be connected to the execution of the digital contract deliverables.
We are at the dawn of a global war for talent. As everything gets more technologically enabled and technology starts infiltrating everything, organisations will need tech-savvy people, no matter what industry they are in.
Existing legal and tax systems are old-fashioned as they have been set up around more traditional working structures. To achieve the full potential of a digital and global workforce they will have to evolve and change.
There’s a looming talent shortage in the tech industry and we need to identify and reach all exceptional talent. By 2030, there will be a potential global tech labor shortage of 4.3 million. This U.S. stat also helps put the situation into perspective: By 2024, there will be 1.1 million computing-related job openings – yet only 45% of those jobs can be filled, based on current U.S. graduation rates.
What does that tell us? If the tech companies don’t broaden their talent pool, they will not have the workforce to help them continue to grow and innovate. These companies are not going to start importing people to fill every open position. They’re going to go after the global talent pool. They will allow people to work from wherever they are so that they can fill the shortage. This means we are at the dawn of a global war for talent. As everything gets more technologically enabled and technology starts infiltrating everything, organisations will need tech-savvy people, no matter what industry they are in.
Sounds like there are a lot of great opportunities, but a lot of significant challenges as well.
In any complex situation, there’s an opportunity for those who can figure it out. I think it is the time to be bold, be a visionary, and embrace risk. I think that people who are more risk-averse, and not prepared to change and re-evaluate how they work and how they go to market, will struggle. They’ll potentially be left behind.
Do you think full-time roles will remain the same in the face of emerging technology? Will they start to be a thing of the past?
That’s a really good question. Here is why I think full-time jobs will not go away. People who are loyal to a specific organisation create a network within that organisation. They understand how things are done, and they can be much more effective than a contractor to whom you have to teach the way of working in that environment. Employees also have a view of the legacy work that has been done that could be leveraged – or that you may want to stay away from, because something like that didn’t work out before. So, I think having a core workforce is essential for corporate culture and success.
It’s people, really, who are making organisations productive. We shouldn’t forget that. We can put ourselves into this weird spot of being a third party to industry or technology, but everything that’s being created is being created for people, for the human race. If we work ourselves out of that equation, then what’s the point?
Do you think HR’s role is changing, or will change in the near future? What do you think are the ethical responsibilities that HR has?
I think HR’s role should change. I don’t know if it’s changing, but I really hope it changes.
I think that, traditionally, HR employed more women were expected to play a supporting role to the generally male-dominated executive circle. Times have changed, however, and HR professionals have a great opportunity to put themselves into a leadership position rather than a supportive one.
I think HR’s role should change. I don’t know if it’s changing, but I really hope it changes. With the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and the ethical questions that arise, it would be very beneficial if HR leaders were familiar with AI and its implications.
HR should get more informed about what is happening with technology that’s directed at the workforce and take the lead on that. With the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the ethical questions that arise, it would be very beneficial if HR leaders were familiar with AI and its implications.
AI offers incredible potential for productivity increases (think AI assistants), and a rise in job satisfaction as tedious tasks can be outsourced to AI. But there will be situations where AI is not the best solution, and is not needed. We have to remember that if we can do something, that doesn’t mean we should do it. Maybe there’s a value to not having AI do something. And HR needs to be right there. Because, right now, I am not certain that many HR professionals are involved with AI projects.
How would you imagine a reformed HR department? What would their key functions be, and how would they be driving growth and helping the business and the people?
In my opinion, they need to acquire the knowledge to allow them to get into a leadership position. They have to become AI-literate. They have to become technology-savvy. They have to understand the trends and the market and what’s enabling their competitors to excel.
HR needs to get more agile, more innovative, and more open-minded. They need to realise: there is an opportunity for us and we need to seize it. I think the world would be a better place if HR gets in on it.
Come hear HR and L&D thought leaders discuss digital innovation at the MERIT European Summit, Paris, 18 September. It’s not too late – claim your C-level pass today.
Interview by Ani Kodjabasheva