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Why Virtual is the New Normal for HR

 By Ramkumar Chandraeskaran, UK & Ireland HR Director at IT services company, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)

During the pandemic lockdown, businesses and employees have all had to take a fast crash course in digital competencies. Videoconferencing and collaboration tools are now used as naturally as Microsoft Office to connect teams spread across different locations and geographies. These tools have made a rapid transition to working from home possible when not already in place.

The coronavirus crisis could now also result in a breakthrough for other technologies. Especially when serving a business function that is generally not technology-led and is traditionally managed face-to-face: human resources. HR can play a key role in leading the reinvention of organisations through a remote workforce and digitised HR operations.

TCS envisages a range of the latest technologies to assist the HR function and support remote workers.

Virtual Assistant (VA) to support employees

Employees especially need HR support during times of crisis, where people have an avalanche of questions related to wellness, pay, policy, process, supply chain and more. While HR-related webinars and live chats help in broadcasting information, many questions and concerns will emerge as people work in a drastically different post-COVID-19 environment. Addressing each question individually is not efficient or sustainable.

VAs predominantly rely on Natural Language Processing (NLP), a subset of AI, to understand the human language. By adding speech-to-text capability, employees can actually talk to the VAs and get answers to their queries.

VAs can improve the employee experience by giving consistent support, information and customised messages while also reducing HR personnel time and effort, freeing them to focus on priority issues like wellness, talent acquisition, training and employee engagement.

The HR team should, of course ensure that any unanswered questions by the VA are addressed in a timely manner so that employees come to view VAs as a reliable first point of contact.

Virtual Reality (VR) to onboard new joiners

With many employees working from home, new joiners have an entirely different onboarding experience. What previously would have included a tour of the office, an in-person introduction to all the teammates and IT support on hand to sort out laptops and logins, is now completely different. However, with the right tools and technologies, HR can look after new recruits and provide a smooth onboarding experience, even if there are no physical offices or teammates to welcome them in person.

Digital welcome packs, short videos for introducing the company, eLearning courses, virtual meeting rooms, real-time communication using chats or instant messages are all ways that can make onboarding a seamless and engaging process. However, to really take this up a level and maximise engagement, HR can make use of collaboration and meeting technologies such as telepresence, using VR. Telepresence can place the team in virtual conference rooms or any other virtual location, transforming the way employees work and meet, while rendering physical location irrelevant.

This kind of technology can work together with human input – especially in the first few weeks so that new hires can get fully acclimated. Individual and team introductions via video conference, a virtual tour of the physical offices, assigning a manager/mentor as a single point of contact, and setting up regular one-to-one checkpoint conversations are all ways to help a new joiner settle into their new role. The general theory behind all these things is not new, just how we now need to execute them.

HR VAs can alsot as a “virtual buddy”, answering any queries from new employees and guiding them through commons tasks, such as filling out timesheets and applying for leave. They also have a role as a “virtual mentor”, providing personalised learning tracking and recommending training content.

To understand the effectiveness of onboarding and continuously improve the process to implement it at scale, HR leaders should always gather feedback (personal and digital, and in some cases, anonymised), which can be used alongside the analytics captured from a virtual buddy.

Virtual Scenarios to transform the future of HR

Currently, 65% of employees worldwide are working from home. At least 40% are expected to work remotely until 2025, according to a new study from Tata Consultancy Services. As a result, HR should not view this new virtual scenario as a one-off, temporary approach. Instead, it’s an opportunity to introduce the right combination of digital technology, process and planning to evolve operational models faster and at scale. Overcoming a multitude of workplace challenges caused by the pandemic to make the digital assistance, development and training ofmployees the new normal.