“Pay attention to human solutions too”

The digitisation of HR processes experienced a great boost during the pandemic. According to trend researcher & innovation designer Cécile Cremer, one of the speakers at HRTECH.be, we are at an important crossroads. “We can’t manage without technology anymore, but we also have to cherish the human aspect.” At HRTECH.be, Cécile Cremer from the Netherlands is taking a trip to the future to give us an overview of the new technologies that will impact the how we live and work in a big way. What is the HR status quo and what are the trends with the biggest impact here, “There is a divide between technology and people. We’re at a point of no return, but we have to be critical.”

Are you optimistic when you see the way technology controls our lives? Cécile Cremer: “I am. I am a technology optimist, but I do believe that we need a better approach, we need to be more careful. More education is needed about technology in general and certainly also in the workplace. Employees don’t have enough knowledge sometimes, creating a fear of the unknown. However, technology is a beautiful thing and we won’t and can’t be without it anymore. It is nonsense to say we should do away with it. We do need to manage it with awareness and a critical attitude, so that we do not lose control and end up on a one-way street.”

Does technology contribute effectively in the workplace? Cécile Cremer: “Definitely, yet we are at a crossroads when it comes to the balance between people and technology.We have to be aware of this. We will lose momentum and control over technology if we don’t gradually start prioritising people. Apps and new technologies are popping up everywhere, but we have to ask ourselves whether they are actually useful and contribute to the quality of our work, or just act as ‘gadgets’ that elevate the underlying business model over the intended objective. We have to become more critical to avoid being overwhelmed. The work field is changing,that’s undeniable. For example, new farmers will be operating agri-drones. But people remain the same at heart. We eat, live, work, crave leisure time and want to feel useful. We have to find the balance. It is down to HR and the management team to support employees to rediscover this balance.” Is it actually necessary to solve all problems with technology? Cécile Cremer: “Indeed.There may be a human solution. We need to get back to that, especially in HR -it’s all about people. Why would we want to automate everything? It’s people who offer the added value. You have to feel and see the human spark.This is much more valuable for long-term success than a computer telling you John is the best candidate on paper. This often turns out to be incorrect.Rather, use the technology to prioritise human resources and connect people or implement buddy systems. There is an app in Antwerp that allows residents to suggest what the city should tackle. Residents can vote for the suggestions and they are added to the city council’s agenda. True community-building. It is a fantastic example of technology offering added value. Lots of employees are part of WhatsApp groups, but does this aid productivity? Technology is often an enabling factor for bullying and exclusion too.”

What trends do you envisage in HR technology? Cécile Cremer: “We see a lot of automation of repetitive tasks. AI and Big Data are rather small experiments right now, but they will start to play an even bigger role. It is hard to predict the long-term impact. Bio-tech is also a very predictable bandwagon to jump on; HR is about people and it seems obvious it should be used for screening people more efficiently. Again, the question arises: is this something we should want?We probably all remember the CRISPR babies that enabled us, in plain language,to genetically modify people to our own wishes. Let me just add a side note that plenty of digitisation and automation developments genuinely benefit people. As soon as we facilitate simple tasks to gain time, we have more time to develop new skills. The topic of inclusivity is very interesting. It certainly is a very urgent topic, whereby technology can actually play a positive role by eliminating human bias. And how about VR and AR technologies. This disrupts the playing field too, just as technology increases the globalisation of employees.”

HR managers are sometimes reticent about technology. Is this attitude justified? Cécile Cremer:“It is correct that some people think their jobs will disappear, but it might not necessarily be a negative thing. People might start to fear the unknown if there is a lack of knowledge about technological development. While it may even offer them the opportunity to deepen their skills and reinvent themselves.Nowadays, a lot of technology and innovation is developed from a business model perspective. It earns good money, but what use is it to people and the world? I sometimes refer to it as the technology feedback loop. The telephone isa great example of this. Technology allows us to carry a super-robot in our pockets, but it also has negative connotations, such as sexting or a mobile phone addiction. It is only now that we are working on legislation and regulations, and how far we should go in this. We use technology to solve problems and only afterwards do we consider the impact on people and how to protect those people. There is not enough reasoning from a human angle. Is technology really still the answer, or should we make a u-turn? Technology should be more human in order to improve employees’ quality of life.

What will the work look like in the future? Cécile Cremer: “People are social beings. As such, we won’t continue to work from home, at least not for the full 100 percent.Various studies show that people prefer to work away from the office 2 or 3 days a week. I think we will evolve towards a hybrid form. Many companies have stated they will not travel for international meetings anymore, but instead hold digital meetings, but you do realise that a physical presence creates a different energy level. There are many distractions at home. The physical contact, reconnecting with colleagues and the atmosphere at work do something to employees. It will be a healthy combination. Hopefully we can also let go of the 9 to 5 working hours, and be more flexible. As long as you get your work done, there is no need to start at 9. I suspect we will start to see more freedom in this. It’s up to companies to create a certain framework and provide people with guidelines and direction. After all, it won’t work if they’re given extreme freedom all of a sudden.”