5 minute read 3 Mar 2022

Leveraging future of work challenges through HR data

Authors
Pieter Nobels

EY Belgium People Advisory Services Executive Director

People Innovator. Curious mind, practical focus. Building a Better Working World. Passionate about purpose, education and future of work.

Iasonas Topsis Giotis

EY Belgium People Advisory Services Manager

Data Scientist, Physicist

5 minute read 3 Mar 2022

Listening to and understanding your workforce becomes more important than ever so you better do it efficiently.

In brief:

  • Artificial Intelligence is already being deployed in various domains, HR data is another one where it can thrive.
  • The extensive usage of collaborative platforms increases the available data, making it key to invest in the correct analyzing and interpreting of these insights.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted labour markets globally in the last years. Countless of people either lost their jobs or had to instantly adapt to working from home. This sudden change of the working life caught employees and employers unprepared, with no infrastructure or any planning to be able to endure such huge change, which alongside other factors has led to the Great Attrition experienced during the past year. Looking forward, research shows that also in the upcoming year more than 40% of employees are thinking about or undertaking action to leave their job. This means that listening to and understanding your workforce becomes more important than ever before.

Where before the pandemic redefining the ways of working was a slowly developing process in many companies, it instantly became a present problem needing fast resolutions. The technological sector adapted quickly to this new era, offering tools needed to be able to shift to functional remote working formats. New working habits emerged, such as the structure of the working day, meeting formats, client and employee relationships. Gradually the pandemic crisis is being controlled, employees are returning to the office maintaining however all the habits of the remote working era (many newcomers have not even experienced a different type). As leadership and HR are encouraging their employees’ return to the office, often a mismatch between employees and employers expectations of the new working reality is encountered. Therefore, a well thought out approach to this transformation is needed.

HR data

Employers now more than ever need to better understand their employees. In this new scene, HR data is the most important aspect of this transformation. Even before the crisis there existed a significant amount of unused data, or data that were poorly analyzed and misused, hiding crucial information from the strategy planners. Decisions were based on gut feeling, generic trends or even uneducated opinions of individuals, having nothing to do with the reality or the group they were targeted for. The future of work is an even more unstructured environment were every individual is behaving in a different way. But due to the extensive usage of new collaborative platforms, the opportunity arose to extract a number of new interesting data points and making it key to invest in the correct structuring, analyzing and interpreting of these valuable insights.

Demographic, payroll, absenteeism and all other sources of the standard HR data is a good collection which can be used to extract insights of an organization. On top of these, every day 250 million people are stepping into the virtual workplace of Microsoft Teams, generating data on meeting types, quality, individual workday segmentation, external and internal collaboration data, focus time, networking data, etc. Likewise, other work experience technologies are producing data points which will only accelerate in use in the hybrid working environment. So it is no longer about cumulative speculations on the organization, it is the ground truth in raw format of what is actually happening, in a dynamic daily basis.

The power of continuous listening

This evolution makes it the right time to deploy Continuous Listening to the organization and its employees. In a hybrid working world, managers can no longer manage teams “by walking around”. Moreover, one-time surveys provide a biased static view of the specific moment they were launched. Even more if the low response rate is considered. In particular these type of surveys frustrate employees, are not straightforward to interpret and thus return biased and untrusty results. Continuous Listening is the dynamic approach that is perfectly feasible today and should be adopted by every business regardless their size. Digital Assistants deployed and operating alongside the tools the employees use for their daily activities are the key concept to be understood towards that direction.

Digital Assistants are built upon Natural Language Processing techniques. They are able to host conversations with employees and can proactively reach out to them asking relevant questions in scope. This enables dynamic and individually targeted data extraction on a regular basis that could never be achieved before. And more so, combining data from the Digital Assistants with the Workplace data described above, the knowledge acquired becomes more in depth and detailed. Lastly this type of indirect surveying leads to even higher adoption and response rates.

Machine Learning and AI

The question to be tackled then is how are all of the above sources going to be used to extract valuable insights and be transformed into actions. The answer here is clear and is to extensively use the data science toolkit. Statistics have to be used to perform data cleaning and processing, Machine Learning has to be used to cluster behaviours, predict patterns, construct networks, analyze data towards different outcomes. All different HR or business KPIs could be viewed through a different perspective and trends can be understood on highly non-intuitive datasets. Artificial Intelligence is already being deployed in various domains, HR data is another one where it can thrive through not only Digital Assistants as described above, but throughout all different aspects of the organization.

There is a controversy around Machine Learning saying that it is creating a black box regarding interpretability of the used models, however this cannot be further from the truth. Practicing Machine Learning correctly can lead to deep insights, identifying important features in the organization that are completely hidden, discover opportunities to optimize business processes, measure impact of workflows in productivity, break down silos within the organization, improve managerial practices, optimize sales, transform your employees’ understanding of their work habits etc.

All in all, the future of work is about expanding the HR data diversity, deploying continuous listening and using advanced practices and analysis techniques that go beyond bivariate dashboarding and reporting. There is a ground truth in each organization, a ground truth in each individual’s behaviour and combined together along with the technological toolkits available can lead to a better understanding and better decisions. The future of Work can no longer accept generic solutions, there is an approach for each separate case waiting to be understood.

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Summary

Workforce trends have made it more important than ever to listen to and understand one’s employees. And while new collaborative platforms provide an abundance of new data points it is key to invest in the correct structuring, analyzing and interpreting of these valuable insights to truly understand the needs of your workforce.

About this article

Authors
Pieter Nobels

EY Belgium People Advisory Services Executive Director

People Innovator. Curious mind, practical focus. Building a Better Working World. Passionate about purpose, education and future of work.

Iasonas Topsis Giotis

EY Belgium People Advisory Services Manager

Data Scientist, Physicist