Should You Believe the Hype? Evaluating 5 HR Tech Trends for Small Businesses

By: on August 24, 2016

“Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the internet’s continuing exponential growth. But I predict the internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

That quote comes from a 1995 InfoWorld column written by tech visionary and Ethernet co-inventor Robert Metcalfe. I bet you can predict what happened next better than he did. 1996 came and went, the internet continued to explode in popularity and Metcalfe eventually had to eat his own words.

No, really… At a keynote speech in 1997, Metcalfe put his column in a blender and ate it.

Such is the nature of trying to predict the future in the fast-moving, ever-changing world of technology. For every iPhone that reaches widespread adoption, there’s a Google Glass that fails to catch on, and it can often be hard to tell which of the two categories a newly hyped tech trend will fall into.

With their lack of flexible capital, small businesses can’t afford to research and invest in costly tech that ends up being just a flash in a pan.

That’s why we’re taking a look at five HR tech trends from Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Human Capital Management Software, 2016 (available for Gartner clients) to determine if small businesses should believe the hype. Then, we’ll look at how they can go about implementing this new tech.

(Click on a link below to jump to that section.)

Trend #1: Workforce Analytics
Trend #2: Virtual Personal Assistants
Trend #3: Consumer Wellness at Work
Trend #4: Alumni Community Management
Trend #5: Mobile HCM
How to Prepare Your Small Business for New HR Tech

Trend #1: Workforce Analytics

What It Is: With every employee in your organization comes thousands of individual data points—from what college degree they have to their preferred managerial style, and even how long they’ve been in their current role.

Collecting this data is meaningless though, unless you can pull out meaningful trends and actionable insights.

That’s where workforce analytics comes in. This beautiful marriage of business intelligence and human resources can be found in best-of-breed players such as Visier and comprehensive HR suites such as SAP SuccessFactors.

They take your disparate data points and connect those dots with real business results from your finance or accounting systems. This can help you make better decisions when it comes to hiring and organizational structure.

Retention insights in Visier


Potential Benefits to Your Small Business: Without a large team to perform various data mining tasks and the time to make sense of all the numbers, small businesses can use workforce analytics to do this work for them and make better decisions, faster.

There are so many potential applications for workforce analytics that it’s impossible to name them all. Here are a few notable examples:

  • Compare personality test results from your current high performers to those from incoming job candidates to make more informed hiring decisions.
  • Analyze historical trends in acquisition and training costs to create more accurate labor budgets.
  • Identify senior leadership that has the highest probability of leaving, along with promising rank-and-file workers that are good candidates to fill their role down the line.

Recruiters can learn more about workforce analytics and how it applies to them in our Beginner’s Guide to Big Data Recruiting and Hiring.

Should You Believe the Hype? Absolutely! Given its wide range of applications and growing importance to HR optimization, it’s unlikely that workforce analytics will simply fade away.

Increased flexibility in data sources and cleaner user interfaces are also ensuring that those who don’t consider themselves “numbers” people can use this tech and benefit from it.

Recognizing the need for even the smallest companies to make sense of all of their data, many affordable workforce analytics platforms have sprung up in recent years or have been incorporated into human capital management (HCM) software suites. Check out systems such as Halogen TalentSpace, Kronos Workforce Ready and PeopleInsight.

Trend #2: Virtual Personal Assistants

What It Is: Have you ever set a lunch meeting at a restaurant on your calendar, and then your phone automatically tells you a) what time you should leave and b) the best route to get there?

This scenario barely scratches the surface of what a virtual personal assistant (VPA) can do for your employees to make their lives easier.

Once only able to answer simple questions, consumer-focused AI apps such as Siri and Google Now, and emerging enterprise platforms such as Openstream’s EVA are getting better at learning user preferences and acting autonomously on the user’s behalf.

These tools can prioritize emails and tasks, schedule meetings and even order groceries to be picked up after work.

Attention streams in Openstream’s EVA


Potential Benefits to Your Small Business: The modern office employee is overwhelmed. Between emails, phone calls, text messages, social media, calendars and a variety of other business systems, there is too much information to sort through and digest, and not enough time in a typical work day to do it.

VPA functionality sorts through the clutter to organize and highlight what’s important. It takes care of tedious necessities automatically, freeing up your employees to focus on revenue-generating activities and growing your business. According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle, a VPA makes “everyday tasks easier and … users more effective.”

With 42 percent of employees switching jobs due to stress, a VPA could also improve employee retention.

Should You Believe the Hype? Not really. On one hand, the sheer scale of platforms available with VPA capabilities means a lot of small businesses can dive into this tech immediately (e.g., your employees can download Inbox by Gmail for free today if they wanted virtual email assistant functionality).

However, SMBs will want to have proper core business systems in place first for things such as personnel tracking and customer relationship management before they invest in a full-fledged VPA platform.

Trend #3: Consumer Wellness at Work

What It Is: Also known as “bring your own wellness (BYOW),” consumer wellness at work is a tech trend piggybacking off of the nation’s growing interest in healthy living.

It relies on employees bringing personal fitness trackers to work, whether it be a mobile app, e.g., MyFitnessPal or a wearable device such as the popular Fitbit. Anything that tracks steps and allows employees to log daily exercise works for this.

Either manually or through a monitoring platform such as Limeade, companies can then pull everyone’s activity data into one place. From there, they can create fitness challenges or organize group events such as walking, exercising and yoga classes—awarding prizes to encourage participation.

limeade mobile wellness

Mobile wellness management in Limeade


Potential Benefits to Your Small Business: The initial argument for consumer wellness at work was a pretty bureaucratic one: By promoting physical fitness, your company could lower its health insurance costs.

A fit employee is less likely to be a sick employee, after all, and small companies can’t afford to have employees who tend to wear multiple hats staying home due to illness.

But there are other benefits to consumer wellness at work too. According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle, it can “positively influence employee engagement and retention, digital dexterity, organizational cultural and business productivity … [while promoting] shared behaviors, a greater sense of community and a culture of well-being that reflects positively on employees and employer alike.”

It can also be an enticing perk to mention in your recruiting efforts to lure health-conscious candidates away from your small business competitors.

Should You Believe the Hype? Yes. Consumer wellness at work is a great, low-cost way to promote culture and community in the workplace. The savings from having healthier employees on your insurance can more than offset implementation costs, even if your company ends up footing the bill for a bunch of fitness trackers.

Many wearables (e.g., Fitbit and Jawbone) come with online portals where you can set up groups and community fitness goals. If your employees end up using a number of different fitness trackers though, you can also have them log their progress manually on a shared spreadsheet, using the honor system. One last note: be sure to promote a body-positive atmosphere to make your program as inclusive as possible.

Trend #4: Alumni Community Management

What It Is: Where do your employees go after they leave the company? That’s not a philosophical question. At an organizational level, most businesses completely cut ties with any workers after they’ve walked out the front door, save for the occasional pay stub or letter of recommendation.

But that line of thinking is beginning to change. Using social media sites such as LinkedIn, or dedicated software platforms such as Conenza, some companies are formalizing university-like alumni networks. Ex-employees can connect with former peers and continue to provide value to the organization long after their last day of work.

Citi Alumni Network created in Conenza


Potential Benefits to Your Small Business: With an alumni community, small businesses can foster a network that they can reach back to again and again for things such as employee referrals and blunt feedback on what your organization can be doing better (workers tend to be a lot more honest when they have nothing to lose).

And, with 40 percent of job seekers considering going back to a company they previously worked for, alumni communities provide a great way to stay in touch with these “boomerang employees” to woo them back.

Over time, Gartner expects these alumni communities to merge with recruiting and talent mining communities, allowing your former employees to act as goodwill brand ambassadors to attract new hires. According to the Hype Cycle, this “perpetuates and strengthens the brand and culture of your organization.”

Should You Believe the Hype? Not yet. For one, small businesses need a significant number of ex-employees that left on good terms and are willing to engage in a community for an alumni network to, well, work. That’s just not possible unless your company has been around long enough and grown to a certain size.Community management would also require attention and effort that should be focused elsewhere.

If you happen to have built up a rabid following however, and want to start an alumni community, invite-only LinkedIn Groups provide an easy, free avenue to dip your toes in the water. You can extend an invite offer during the formal offboarding process.

Trend #5: Mobile HCM

What It Is: Having finally broken away from the desktop ball-and-chain, many HCM software suites such as Zenefits and Namely are now offering tailored web interfaces and dedicated apps for mobile users.

Using these systems, managers, employees and more can handle HR needs such as shift scheduling, absence management, benefits administration, payroll and recruiting directly from their smartphone or tablet. And, they can do it without having to frustratingly pinch, zoom and scroll through a webpage that is not mobile-friendly.

Requesting PTO on mobile in Zenefits

Potential Benefits to Your Small Business: Besides eliminating eye strain on users trying to read impossibly tiny text, mobile HCM allows your employees to do important tasks such as check their schedules, swap shifts, request PTO and review pay stubs on the device they’ve become accustomed to using the most. (The number of mobile-only internet users passed the number of desktop-only users last March).

Employees constantly on the go such as field service reps, construction workers and recruiters can also more easily access your company’s HR system away from their home or office—improving timeliness of updates and flexibility. Gartner’s Hype Cycle adds that mobile HCM capabilities “increase user adoption and the effectiveness of HCM applications.”

Should You Believe the Hype? Definitely. Once merely a “nice-to-have,” mobile HCM has grown to become a vital component in evaluating the effectiveness of an HR software solution. If a vendor offers mobile HCM capabilities, they’re undoubtedly doing so as part of the packaged license cost without any additional fees. This is a no-brainer for small businesses. Adopt, adopt, adopt.

Our HR software page features reviews and functionality write-ups for many affordable systems with great mobile HCM functionality.

How to Prepare Your Small Business for New HR Tech

Without proper preparations, new tech in a small business can often fail to live up to its promise, break repeatedly upon implementation or gather cobwebs from not being used by employees.

Here are some next steps you should take to prepare your small business for VR headsets, robot workers and any other HR tech trend that comes along in the future:

  • Develop a communication plan. Most, if not all parties in a business need to be onboard with a drastic technology change. From purchase to implementation and training, have a communication plan in place to keep workers in the loop so they have a chance to raise any red flags you might not be aware of.
  • Separate your needs from your wants. It sounds obvious, but too often HR software buyers buy into the hype surrounding a popular new tool only to be stuck with an expensive system where they only use half of the functionality. Don’t follow a trend if it doesn’t fit what your business needs at that time.
  • Nail down the basics first. Many bleeding edge HR tech applications rely on integration with core HR systems to truly fulfill their potential. If you don’t already have a system in place to handle basic needs such as personnel tracking, payroll and time and attendance, that’s where you should start.

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