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Is There (Still) a Human Touch in Digital HR?

In 2000, 52% of U.S. adults were internet users [1]. Today in 2015, this figure has risen to 84%. We have become a species dependent upon technology, and as software and hardware systems take over more of our interactions, keeping the “human” in HR is more important than ever.

Tech systems are transforming HR into a far more relevant and highly-optimized department that is able to analyze Big Data, make more educated decisions, and have a lasting impact on all areas of a business.

The reasons why HR is fast increasing focus on digitalization address the needs for:

  • - Streamlining global HR processes
  • - Reducing HR administration and compliance costs
  • - Competing for global talent
  • - Improving service and access to data for the workforce
  • - Providing real-time metrics
  • - Allowing decision-makers to spot trends
  • - Managing the workforce more effectively.


While every HR expert understands the business side of why the department needs to digitize, there is little to no consideration of how an increase in technology affects the personal touch!

It is true that the scope of HR has evolved over recent years, heading to a more business-focused approach that listens to the objectives and strategies from the commercial side as much as it listens to  feedback from employees. However a new pattern is emerging where HR employees  must implement budget cuts, new policies and practices that meet the financial needs of the business, while cutting off the personal needs of employees.

Technology and the notion of the temporary team

Research from the management consulting services provider, Accenture [2] shows that 44% of high-growth companies now use temporary teams, while 86% leverage the power of collaboration across employees to achieve high performance.

Although an influx of temporary workers can have an effect on the concept of a workplace community, an increased level of functioning collaboration between staff members can improve creativity and innovative thinking across the board.

Technology and leadership

Accenture also defines a link between digital HR and a more personal, casual form of managing workers: “Digital gives prominence to the practice of ‘horizontal leadership’ – that is the ability to exercise influence without formal authority.”

Horizontal leaders working with remote workers or telecommuters in different locations are much more likely to have a stronger influence on employees they cannot interact with physically. This is a growing situation faced by many organizations in the digital age working with talent gaps and sourcing workers from a distance. This scenario also allows for more employees to work under their own initiative, allotting them a certain level of responsibility that can allow for a higher level of job satisfaction.

 The bottom line is that long distance leadership can encourage collaboration and increase employee engagement, while keeping the human touch..

Engaging with workers in a tech-heavy world

In a business environment where most communication is digital, HR must pay attention to how it can engage personally and humanely with employees. It is all about finding effective ways of engagement to address the challenges of this global, flexible and remote workforce. Failing to establish these personal connections with employees will limit the influence of HR in the business and one then can wonder if HR should still be there at all.

Employees will not come to the department with their issues and questions if the physical HR office is perceived to be switched off. Relationships with remote workers can be forged through video conferences as opposed to endless texts and emails, while consistent HR presence in the workplace can aid in-house employees.

Fixing these issues “will involve creative solutions,” notes KPMG [3], “such as the development of HR policies and approaches that have global application but can be made relevant to local conditions. It will also require new ways to engage meaningfully with a workforce that is less committed to the organization.”

Creative solutions can involve anything from developing new ways to build employee relationships to increasing the bond between executives and their staff. Engagement remains as important as ever for businesses even in the tech world, and in fact retaining key talent is clearly as important as finding them.

Preparing for the reinvention of HR

The digital revolution is changing almost every aspect of the HR industry. Deloitte University Press [4] surveyed over 3,000 businesses and experts from 106 countries, assessing their readiness for HR reinvention in the current climate.

158 European business in the financial sector reported that they believed reinventing HR as important, but less than 50% were ready for the change. 67% of public sector businesses in North America ranked reinvention as important, but only 35% were ready.

As the reinvention of HR relies so heavily on the new world of work and digital influences, HR experts must work harder to prepare themselves for these changes, because they are coming and coming fast. Specific challenges will vary from company to company, and global businesses will face more issues than smaller ones. Considering things like international payroll administration is one big factor, as executives scramble to find a vendor that can meet the needs of an organization distributing pay and reward across borders, without making it so automated that the human touch is completely lost.

A significant amount of HR’s preparation in digital reinvention should be focused on keeping things personal, so as not to completely isolate employees from the brand, policies, and ultimately the company altogether. Computerized systems are streamlining HR processes, but dehumanizing them too.

The digital HR revolution shows no signs of slowing down, and in many ways the department is benefiting from technology which allows it to cement its place in companies that are becoming more dependent upon HR strategies and decisions. But professionals must remember not to lose sight of the human touch, as we become more deeply immersed in  technology.

  1. Pew Research Center – “Americans Internet Access 2000 – 2015”

  1. Accenture Strategy – “Workforce of the Future”

  1. KPMG International – “Rethinking Human Resources in a Changing World”

  1. Deloitte – “Global Human Capital Trends 2015”


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