In the quest for ‘more for less’, organisations are increasingly looking to technology to enhance performance and fill skills gaps. Nothing new in some respects, but the menu of what is now available is raising interesting possibilities and dilemmas for HR professionals.
Has anyone ever sat through an explanation of Second Life without their eyebrows disappearing into their hair line? There always seems to be a mixture of scepticism, disbelief and wonderment. Who, after all, would want to wander around in a virtual world where they can buy goods and services, go to nightclubs and have relationships?
Some organisations are already using the exciting prospect of being represented at Second Life careers fairs where the characters – or avatars – of real people can wander in and get information about real jobs. There are some views that Second Life can be used as a vehicle for more sinister activities, but it would be a shame if the negatives were to outweigh the more positive aspects of what is an amazing innovation. The challenge for HR is to push at the boundaries and make it work for us.
At a recent seminar I attended, the speaker started his session by telling everyone to switch their mobile phones on. This was so that he could use Bluetooth technology to communicate with the audience in a more interactive way. People were encouraged to ask questions and comment by text as he spoke, and every once in a while a few questions would be displayed on screen for everyone to see. This was obviously only one application of the functionality of mobiles the question to the assembled delegates was then ‘so how can you use it?’
The HR community was rocked a few years ago by the news that some organisations were notifying staff of redundancy by text. Maybe this was insensitive, but the other side of the coin was that the message at least got out to everyone at the same time and quickly. Already some recruitment agencies are using this kind of technology to notify temps of possible assignments.
Should texting be developed into a prime channel for staff communication and engagement? Why not? It’s quick, cheap, efficient, two-way and pretty much universal – there are more mobile phones in the UK than people.
Media reports suggest that most organisations, including mine, are preventing the use of social networking sites like Facebook at work. Putting aside the fact that most teenagers seem to be able to have a chat on MSN, listen to music and do their homework simultaneously, at work, employers want a single focus from staff on the tasks they pay for. But are employers brave enough to turn this distraction into something they can use to help their business?
Video-sharing site YouTube is another interesting development. From what I can see, it is a great outlet for creativity and experimentation. Some of it is fun, some deadly serious, but it is nearly all delivered in bite-sized chunks and presents a great opportunity for recruitment.
The generation now joining the workforce is internet savvy, so HR’s strategy for moving forward needs to avoid driving everything at the speed of the slowest ship.
But one caveat concerns those customers and employees who are not so technologically adept. More and more transactions and communications in our daily lives are being conducted online, but HR must be careful not to leave people isolated if they cannot, for one reason or another, use modern technology.
One of HR’s responses to this tidal wave of technology could be to regulate and restrict because it is dealing with the unknown. But maybe we should add thoughts of enabling, encouraging, enhancing and exploiting to ensure that we get the most out of these exciting times
By Alan Warner, corporate director (people and property), Hertfordshire County Council