Ten years ago, a discussion about technology’s value in the workplace would have centered on hardware. Do employees have the coolest new monitors? Are their computers as fast as possible? Will their tools make them feel like they’re working at a cutting-edge company?
Times have changed. Now the question is: “Do people feel that they are advancing their skills with the technology they have access to at work?” says Gretchen Alarcon, vice president for human capital management strategy at Oracle.
Technology is truly valuable to employees when it creates opportunities to learn new skills, build relationships, and develop careers, when it acts “as a tool to help people be more engaged,” Alarcon says.
But only 44% of respondents to Oracle’s 2016 Employee Engagement Survey say their companies use the latest technology to help them do their jobs, she says. The Oracle survey questioned 4,700 employees across 20 markets in 5 regions worldwide.
Based on those results, “there’s an opportunity for companies to really think about what they could do differently,” Alarcon says.
Three Key Areas
Alarcon sees three key areas in which HR technology can drive employee learning.
The first is during the onboarding process, when technology can help you “go from being a brand-new employee to being someone who understands the company, understands our culture, and feels comfortable” within the first 30 to 90 days of employment. One example is a self-service new-employee checklist that provides online access to the applications, benefits, tools, and training necessary to get up and running quickly.
Ongoing engagement and skills development follow, through technology-enabled collaboration. Employees can, for example, create videos to share knowledge with each other. The sender may benefit from raising her profile and extending her network, Alarcon says, and the recipient may say, “I am smarter than I was before I watched this video and I feel more confident about doing my job.”
A third benefit is career development, where HR technology can provide employees with the information to help them understand what it takes to be successful at the company and move forward, Alarcon says. Talent management apps help managers assess expertise and other attributes, identify mentors and successors, build talent pools, and create employee development plans.
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The more employees share about themselves with HR technology, the more their employers can recommend new roles to them based on a number of different factors, Alarcon says. It may be that, based on an employee’s skills, experiences, and recent assignments, the employer determines that a lateral move or a move into working with partners makes the most sense. The system can make lots of different recommendations to show an employee “there are more opportunities within the company than maybe you’re necessarily thinking of if you’re just thinking about your role today,” Alarcon says.
Better Leadership, Stronger Relationships
Technology helps employees “understand career progression in a different way than in the past, where it was really just a one-on-one with your boss,” Alarcon says. While that one-on-one time is still important, it “doesn’t always have to be an hour once a week face to face,” she says.
Oracle’s survey showed the importance of building strong relationships with employees, by giving them regular access to their direct managers and ensuring that those managers are “having regular coaching discussions,” providing feedback, and remaining “aware of what their employees need at the individual level.”
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That consistent contact becomes possible with technology, such as workplace wikis, discussion forums, and videoconferencing, which facilitate daily or weekly conversations.
Longer term, HR and other technologies help with employee retention, creating a bond between employees, their colleagues, and ultimately the company. Employees increasingly see opportunities to take “their skills to other places,” Alarcon notes, so managers and companies need ways to help employees see the opportunities that await them where they are.
An employee may decide to leave after all, Alarcon says, but if “they’ve had that engaged experience, had a peer relationship with their manager, there’s a very good chance that they’ll also look back at that company again the next time they’re ready to make a change.”