How HR leaders can prepare for the future of work: 5 strategies

Technology is revolutionizing the way people work, and HR leaders will play a critical role in these changes, Gartner found.

How to prepare your workforce for the digital era At the 2019 MIT CIO Symposium, Amy DeCastro of Schneider Electric discussed how HR and IT teams can work together to upskill workers.

Only 9% of chief human resources officers (CHROs) said their organization is prepared for the future of work, according to a Gartner press release

SEE: Special report: IT Jobs in 2020: A leader's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Technology contributes significantly to the function of HR professionals, with 82% of HR leaders predicting their roles will be unrecognizable in 10 years, according to Sage's Changing the Face of HR report. HR roles are changing because technology is altering the way they work, particularly with artificial intelligence (AI), according to the release. 

With the integration of tech, HR professionals must also consider how they will use AI tools, how their employees will use the tools, and how this changes interactions in the workplace, said Brian Kropp, distinguished vice president of research at Gartner.

"[The changes in HR] all comes down to a multitude of factors around the changing nature of work itself," added Paul Burrin, vice president of Sage People. "We've got this perfect storm at the moment, where the workplace is essentially wherever you want it to be, whenever you want it to be; there's a talent shortage, a global skills crisis; there's the whole problem about the lack of engagement in the workforce; you've got new regulations with new data privacy and protection, whether it's GDPR or CCPA; plus, there's the continuing shift in technology and things like AI."

To help HR leaders drive their organizations toward success, Kropp outlined five strategies for HR leaders looking ahead. 

How HR pros can prepare for their changing roles 

1. Develop an AI ethics strategy

The majority of organizations (75%) are increasing investments in analytics, according to the release. While AI is a helpful tool, the technology can raise ethical concerns that HR must recognize, Kropp said. 

"One of the realities of the future of work is that there's going to be more decisions that are left up to AI and automation," Kropp said. "There'll be more moral and responsibility decisions that are going to occur. HR will have a new job in the future of work, in addition to the jobs it already has. And that job will be to be the ethical steward of the company in an AI enhanced and embraced world."

For example, when data is collected about employees to help improve the employee experience, HR will need to step in to decide what data is appropriate to collect, Kropp said. 

"While IT will be great at driving innovation, they won't be able to understand the full ethical questions that are out there to be able to balance across this team," Kropp said. "We believe that HR is uniquely responsible and uniquely positioned to do this from the organization."

2. Rethink how employees develop skills

73% of CHROs cited building critical skills and competencies as a top priority, but technology demands new skillsets from employees first, according to the release.

Employee training typically falls under HR's role, which means HR must consider how technology might change their employees' skillsets, Kropp said. 

"As managerial tasks get automated and the role of the manager changes, for example, if you keep doing the same thing, you're going to waste money on developing and training managers that no longer have the right capabilities," Kropp said. "If you don't change your learning and development strategy and rely on old job learning approaches, you're not have the workforce that you need."

3. Build an internal transparency strategy

With the rise of job sites like Glassdoor, which has company salary information publicly available on the internet, candidates expect transparency from employers, the release noted. 

"There's a desire for employees from their employer to be more transparent. Some companies are actually really leaning into transparency," Kropp said. "For example, salesforce.com allows employees to see the upward feedback that all of the other managers in the company get. So, before you take a job working for another manager within the company, you can see what that manager's current direct reports think of them." 

To keep employees happy and attain top talent, HR must promote transparency throughout the hiring process, onboarding process, and daily work life, Kropp said. 

4. Overhaul the role of managers 

"The job of the manager is going to change, because a lot of what a manager does today has the potential to be significantly automated," Kropp said. "Right now a manager does a lot of repeatable tasks: Filling out expense reports, monitoring dashboards, etc. Managers will have to change dramatically and companies need to prepare for what that new managerial role looks like."

In the release, Gartner recommended HR leaders help during this change by determining which management tasks should be automated, establishing new expectations for managers, and designing career paths for growth. 

5. Use AI to create access to jobs 

While many assume AI will destroy jobs, Kropp said HR managers should focus on how AI will increase access to jobs for people that have previously been excluded from the labor market. 

"For example, almost 90% of the employment websites for Fortune 100 companies are not accessible to people with visual disabilities," Kropp said. "There's a whole segment of people that have mobility limitations because of disease or injury that have limited access to jobs. We can start to use AI to create human robot interfaces to give access to jobs for people that historically have been left out of the labor market because of visible disabilities, physical disabilities, and intellectual disabilities."

This application of AI brings new opportunities for HR to play an active role in creating better access to jobs for all workers. HR professionals should assess current barriers to job access at their organization and find ways to implement technology that helps open their labor market, Kropp said. 

For more, check out Leaders tout tech's role in HR and the need for corporate purpose at Work Awesome conference on TechRepublic. 

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