Chris Wiley February 9, 2021 76 min read

[WEBINAR] HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

2021 HR technology trends

The effects of COVID-19 continue to impact daily decisions human resources professionals must make to effectively guide their teams through murky waters. When managing through times of change, leaders often turn to technology to help transition to, improve upon, or completely execute new strategies.

Watch our one-hour webinar to hear from foremost industry experts Anne Burkett and Brad Mandacina on the key trends that will impact HR technology in 2021. Their discussion will help you prioritize technology evaluations, allowing you to meet the demands of your workforce not only today, but well into the future.

Highlights and takeaways

Our on-demand webinar covers:

  • Exploration of how the employee experience will give way to the family experience as a result of COVID-19.
  • Ways “big tech” and new regulations are impacting HR data and analytics.
  • Why it is time to stop "tire-kicking" and start integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning into HR practices.

Webinar slides

Download webinar slides, here.

Webinar recording.

Watch webinar on-demand, here.

HR-Technology-Trends-Webinar-1

Webinar transcript.

Mike Oganyan (00:04):

So at this time without further ado, I would like to hand it over to Chris Wiley, Director of Partnerships with benefitexpress.

Chris Wiley (00:12):

Thanks, Mike. Hey everybody. Welcome. Thanks for joining us. As Mike mentioned, I'm Chris Wiley, Director of Partnerships for benefitexpress. I'm joined today by two of the brightest minds in benefits technology who I'll introduce here momentarily for a quick discussion on HR technology trends in this crazy, crazy world that we live in.

The goal of today is not necessarily to dwell on what was 2020, but I think rather to stop and appreciate what we collectively experienced and the weight of that on us as individuals, as organizations, and as HR leaders. COVID not only transformed the way that we work and continues to do so, but it's driving decisions that HR leaders are making every day trying to get us back to normal.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

And in an attempt to understand all of that, benefitexpress conducted a survey in the back half of last year to just try to understand a couple things. One thing was just learning how organizations were affected: what are we experiencing, what are we going through, and what decisions are driving the things that are molding our organizations?

And then two, being able to provide some peer perspective and shared learnings in a setting like this one. I think when we're managing through times of change, leaders could and should lean on technology for stability to some degree.

And so we're asking questions just to see what you’re using today and is it working. Not surprisingly, most large organizations and the companies that we surveyed had between 3,000 and 20,000 benefits eligible employees.

And while it's not surprising that most of these organizations have something in place today, three quarters of them said that in the next 12 to 18 months, they're either already looking or are going to be looking for a new benefits administration provider. And I think that's not necessarily a reflection on technology. It is a reflection on the fact that needs have definitely evolved from solutions that were in place in 2019 that had to change in 2020.

So I don’t think we can blame COVID for all of it. It’s a host of topics like GDPR, remote workforce, big tech, AI and machine learning, and all those things that are gaining momentum and influencing needs. And so that's really what I think today is all about, recognizing and navigating some of those trends.

And to help us navigate that conversation, we're going to introduce the two keynote speakers for today who we all know and love. We couldn't be happier to have anybody else guiding us through this. Anne Burkett oversees USI's HR technology team and developed tools and resources to help clients navigate all of this. The daunting selection of HR technology in all of its forms: human resources, payroll, system integrations and beyond.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Brad is accountable for Lockton's HR tech practice. They help hundreds of clients every year, evaluate and implement technology, and run their businesses. He does a lot of this keynote speaker work, contributes to publications, and is definitely a leading innovator in our space. So without further ado, I will kick it over to Anne. Maybe we'll kick it off with a poll question here to get everybody's minds working.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Anne Burkett (04:19):

The last year kicked off a lot of challenges, right? So to Chris's point, we're very curious about our audience, and over the next 12 to 18 months, what you’re looking at. Are you looking at changing anything? This will help lay out a foundation for us as we talk through everything, but as we're waiting for results to come in on the poll, I'd say an average employer spends $310 per employee per year on HR technology that represents nine core applications.

That’s according to a PricewaterhouseCooper survey. I found that very interesting, because I feel like $310 to some degree is not a lot of money at all. And on the other side, it is a lot, so it depends on how you look at it.

The other thing that we're finding interesting from a market perspective is the amount of innovation that's happening right now. I think there was a lot going on before COVID and the move to remote workforces. But that is certainly been a catalyst to get a lot of change in the marketplace from a tech perspective. So I'm curious on these results and where we can take this conversation. So, the results show a lot of process automation, that seems to be the main focus. Brad, how do you see this impacting the employee experience?

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Brad Mandacina (06:26):

I think that's really neat to see those results with that automation. And we're certainly prepared and excited to speak to that a little bit today, but as Anne was mentioning, it's $310 per employee per year. That's a lot of money when you think about it. And as employers are investing in tech and exploring these ways to automate things, we're also seeing a shift in the way that people hire and the way that employers hire.

And for a long time, it was really about the employee experience and having bean bag chairs and ping pong tables and free food. It was about culture, and there was a push to become a fun environment. Over the last, 12 or 18 months we started to see this shift to the family experience.

And you'll see on the next slide that employers are really starting to think about things differently and starting to focus on the whole family and that different approach to hiring. And as Anne was saying, the shift has been happening for a few years, but the pandemic really thrust it into the light of day. When you hire somebody, you get their family too.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Oftentimes the family gets you as well as the employer. A perfect example of that is how many times have we all been guilty of this: after dinner, we get back in front of the screen and work. Or after you get the kids in bed, you're back working again. And conversely, how many times when you were working in the office you were coordinating carpool or soccer practice or girl scouts. These two worlds have collided, and this pandemic that we’re in propelled that focus on the family experience.

What we’ve found is these employers of choice are really starting to hire and focus on the entire family. In terms of HR technologies, specifically, it's shifting design and shifting the focus of how and who, the way we hire and how we recruit. A perfect example of the technology that exists today: I'm driving down the road and I can get a text message that reads, "Hey, Brad, flu shots are an important part of your wellness. Down here on the right there's a pharmacy. If you pull in now, you can get your flu shot. There's no waiting. And oh, by the way, it's free. There's no cost." That technology exists today. That's pretty cool.

In terms of this design and this shift in how we hire, we need to be thinking about the family. I carry the insurance for our family. But the reality is that my wife arguably does the lion's share of the work at home. Taking care of the kids, getting them to school, getting them to the doctor's appointments and the dentist and things like that. So it stands to reason that she should be the one receiving that text message about the four flu shot appointments available. Where we see things headed is thinking about the entire family.

And it’s not just about physical health anymore, especially while we're working from home and arguably, many of us are isolated. We were talking about this before in preparation, but we also need to be thinking about the mental health of the employee and the family.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Anne Burkett (10:24):

Yes, mental health is a huge factor. Employers are seeing that the importance of employee mental health is incredibly important. From an employer perspective the family unit is so much a priority, but the mental health component is extremely important too. If you can address it and factor in the whole family, then you're going to have a better, more productive employee. It all works together. It all makes perfect sense regardless of COVID and all that it brought, but it escalated everything and put a huge spotlight on all of us.

I think all of these things have always been important, but the pandemic put a really strong focus on it. Employers were forced to identify where they needed to focus, and bring resources and tools to the table so they could get this done in a way that made sense. 53% of those that were surveyed here are concerned about cost pressures, right? So everything comes with a cost. How do you balance all that you really want to do, but keep within those cost restraints?

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

I thought it was valid to bring in this stat from the Sapient Insights, which some of you may know as Cedar-Sierra Report. They've been doing surveys for twenty-three years I think. So they're masters of this now. When you think of a 2.7 times increase of respondents saying their our budgets are going down and you think about what's happened last year from an economic perspective, with employees laid off, that means budgets are going to get tighter, right?

But it also further drives the importance of the things that you can do as an employer and an HR representative to retain employees and to be sure that when you are recruiting, you're recruiting strongly, and you're providing the type of benefits that want to keep these employees around. We’ve got these things that we have to do and change, but what's truly on the roadmap to get done over the next 12 to 18 months?

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

On the one hand this feels very long-term, 18 months away, but on the short term, we know that it’s right around the corner. Mental health is top priority. That is huge. And the fact that companies are recognizing it is near and dear. My original background is in HR. I've worn that hat for a lot of years, but we're also seeing a lot of interest in financial wellness. Employees’ concerns are: How's my employer doing as a whole? Am I going to have a job next week? What about my spouse? All of that.

We’re seeing a lot of innovation in the financial wellness area as well. I looked at a product the other day that is in essence an aggregator. It allows the employee to input all their financial data (which can be a little nerve wracking), and then it aggregates it and provides tips on how to get to where they want to go. From a retirement perspective, maybe it's a debt consolidation. It provides employees with words of wisdom.. And that's a huge component which factors back to mental health. All of these things tie together. Short-term loans that are payable through payroll deduction; that's another one that's become more and more popular.

There's also been a surge of issues around ID theft. Thieves have had to become a little bit more creative. There’s also been a surge of some of these products that have been around for awhile, but employers maybe haven't had as big of a focus on them. These things are coming back around that fill the gaps from your traditional core benefits. Interesting times often bring around interesting challenges with regulation. I know Brad has a lot of passion about this, so I'm going to hand it back over to him.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Brad Mandacina (16:07):

Thank you. Anne, you mentioned this and you've touched on a number of things that are very important, very powerful. We started with mental health, obviously physical health we spoke about. But you start getting into some of the financial areas, the debt consolidation and the aggregation, maybe even as simple as remote working. As we start to think about some of these changes that employers are going to be making while updating policies and their approaches, I think we're going to be met with a whole bunch of new regulations that directly impact how employers can operate.

We started to see this a little bit at the onset. Chris mentioned this, but there’s global organizations out there, GDPR and the impact of GDPR here in the States, and how people are planning and building around that. Speaking of reading articles, I read one sometime within the last couple of days that California just pushed forward four major changes that will impact their employment law at the state level. And as if California wasn't complex enough, now it's being enhanced.

And I think we're going to continue to see these levels of laws and regulations be announced and pushed forward. And when I say a new era of regulations here on the screen, I don't think these are going to be simple items. These are going to fundamentally change the way employers operate. I'm thinking similar to the terms of Dodd-Frank in knowing your customer, any money laundering, and the like, those big things that are going to impact employers.

And as employers, we look to our technology providers and our tech partners to help us enable these changes and enact these changes. And I think technology is going to continue to lead and influence these regulations. And on the next slide I think the regulations are going to be around a few key areas. I think it's going to really start with all things data, data security, where and how data is being used, how the information is being used, how it's stored, how it's encrypted, really everything about data in terms of regulations.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

I think a second area we're going to see more regulations and laws being pushed down is around labor laws, and gig workers and the gig economy, remote working. For a long time how you treated remote workers wasn't that big of a deal. Well, the last 12 months have really shown us it is a really big deal and we've got to get it right. And the reality is a lot of these risks were there before, but the pandemic just shown a light on them and it was hiding below the surface. It brought it up to the top.

And so I think a lot of these regulations that are coming at us, they're going to change how we operate and that's going to directly impact your HR tech. And so what I would like to do, if we can, I would like to take a poll. So the poll question here is what was your organization's biggest challenge in working from home as a result of COVID-19?

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

It's interesting to see the shift that has occurred from working in an office to working remote and how data security and things like that magnified the problems. And the other side about it is that we were presented with all new sorts of challenges as well. Things that needed to be addressed that weren't there before. And so it was really fascinating to see that. So I'm curious as to where these responses are.

I read a study just recently by Malwarebytes that said 51% of respondents felt that when shifting to this remote work approach because of the pandemic, communications were their biggest challenge. That was the biggest thing for employees to handle, was the communication strategy. And so I'm curious as to see some of these responses.

So there you go. It was almost like we knew where that one was going to go. That's fantastic. So shifting in is new remote model of communication and/or collaboration. I'm not surprised, because we knew that. We knew that a lot of people were struggling with that. Anne anything here that's surprising you or jumping out at you?

Anne Burkett (21:05):

No, I think you nailed it, right? I'm sure our practices deal with the same type of issues, right? Of clients trying to figure out how to navigate all of this and how do you communicate with your employees when everything turned on its head almost overnight. And so, no, I think that does not surprise me. I think it just reaffirms what we're all thinking and seeing. But as a consultant, working with so many clients over the years, it seems like each of these have been at the top of the list.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

At some point or another, I think this is the first time that everything's at the top of the list. And that brings additional challenges to HR on prioritizing. And when you start looking at changing technologies, what does that really mean? How do you go back and go, okay, how are we going to address all of these different areas and be successful? All of these, I mean, look at this 59% reduced in-house resources.

I mentioned, I came from HR. I've been on the consulting side now for a lot of years, I'm going to just say half of my career has been in HR and half it's in consulting. So all those years in HR and wearing the multiple hats and trying to figure out how to do more with less, that hasn't changed. I think one of the things that has changed is, if anything, the needs for HR have gotten more complex, more strategic. There's more on us in HR to do so much more and provide so much more insights. It's not as tactical as it once was. It's definitely still tactical, but that's where technology comes into play and makes a big difference.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

If you look at all of that and then extrapolated out, we consider that clients are looking for new technology they've got to replace. I think the one thing that they learned last year was, wow, I don't think the software I have really does the trick, right? It doesn't do everything that I needed to do.

Especially now, as things have changed and priorities have shifted and compliance is an issue and security concerns, and asking who's going to be a real partner with me. And so data security is by far very important, and I think to Brad's point, we're going to see more ranks on that, right? It's just natural to what's going on. And the fact that so much data sits out in a cloud, where is that cloud?

I think sometimes I wonder like, huh, why can't this cloud talk to that cloud? That's all coming too, right? At the integrations and whatnot. But the data security is a top, top priority as it should be. And then the need for what benefitexpress referred to as personalized customer support. So in the old days, it's customer service that used to be a number one priority.

And it seems like the market has moved to tech, tech, tech, tech, tech, tech's going to solve all your problems. Well, it's not. And we know that realistically, and we see struggles with different solution providers on service, and it's hard to keep up with that.

And so I love the fact that clients are saying, hey, that matters. I need to be taken care of and not just by a machine. I need the human element to help us get through the data security and have confidence that everything is working the way it's supposed to. And so I think from that perspective, we continually see clients say, we need more support, not less from a client support perspective. And this could be a factor that HR maybe is spread too thin.

Maybe because that role is evolving and changing, I think things have gotten more complex, all of that. And so that leads to I think our next topic. I love what you were talking about, I don't want to steal your thunder because this is the normal, this is the new life.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Brad Mandacina (25:56):

Thank you. So I want to actually go back to our first poll. The first poll that Chris ran there where the top response was exploration of automation or something to that effect, employers were intrigued by automation. So I want to spend a couple minutes talking through this and really in all candor, what presentation about tech trends wouldn't be complete without a section on AI?.

When we think about automation and artificial intelligence, which we'll get to in a second, it's fascinating to see all of the changes and experience everything that's taking place here. And I don't know, maybe that's where I think maybe AI light is probably better, or perhaps like augmented intelligence. And I'm really speaking about machine learning, natural language processing, some of those first steps or baby steps towards real automation. And in this space, we are seeing a lot of employers really doing some tire kicking and trying to understand how they might be able to break into this and deploy this type of automated tech.

And what we found is the easiest place to start is to identify the routine and mundane tasks that can easily be replicated. And in this, I actually expect to see a lot of growth in short order. And I think there's a few reasons as to why. First, I think when we look at the current environment and as employers start to explore how they're going to rehire and rebuild after COVID furloughs or layoffs, I think they're going to explore this approach to automation more heavily.

But look, I joke about this often. I think we're a long way away from machines running the world. I don't think we're there yet, not by any means. And I also don't think that machines are going to replace jobs though, either. But what I think we're going to be looking at is the opportunity will be greater for people to re-skill as they re-enter the workforce, or even as people in the workforce, re-skill to work alongside this augmented intelligence and use the machines to take away some of those mundane tasks.

The second reason I think we're going to see the growth here is really related to the employer financials. And as employers in this uncertain environment look to evaluate, they're looking at their top lines. Everyone's looking at their top lines, cash on hand, the economic outlook and so forth. I think we're also going to try to leverage those ways to automate the routine tasks.

And the third reason I think we're going to see a lot here is that I think we should expect to see some people not return to the workforce. And arguably strike out on their own new entrepreneurs, leveraging new innovation and possibly fueling the next industrial revolution. And really as the next slide highlights, the talent management space is ripe for automation.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

I think it's often a lot of routine work that can have tech put around it and process put in place and automate it. A great example. There is technology that exists today that will analyze nonverbal gestures on a video interview call and with really good accuracy predict who will fit and who will fail inside your environment, inside your culture, and in your workforce.

Another example of tech that exists that I think is really pretty cool is around virtual reality for training in manual work environments. And so you've got somebody performing the manual task or learning to do a manual task, wearing the VR goggles. And there'll be a screen that pops up that is instructing them how to perform that manual task, or perhaps helping them when they are stuck in performing that task.

And so it's fascinating to see this in the way that these things are being applied, but like I said a second ago, I think the easiest spot where we're going to find it is specifically with chatbots and specifically in the recruiting and onboarding space. And I think there's a lot here that can be automated and pushed forward that will be really solid and produce valuable results. But now Chris, I want to spend a minute with you on this. It’s not just recruiting and onboarding though, where we are seeing chatbots. In my opinion, chatbots are pervasive in the Ben Admin space too. Would you agree?

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Chris Wiley (31:17):

I would definitely agree, Brad. Just taking a look at this, we kicked off the presentation today with a quick stat on who's using technology and if you are, is it working and are you looking? And 75% of those respondents in that original question said, "Yes, they are." And so this is really just a visual depiction of what is important and how effective are some of those things that are in place today.

And so from left to right, how important is it? And then vertically, how effective is it? So a lot of the stuff we've touched on throughout the presentation, probably not a huge surprise that things that we expect to be super effective, but are also very important, are things that are more heavily regulated, right? Like compliance and data security. But a lot of the things that are in that area, that's underserved with higher expectations or just not quite there yet, are the things that are driven by the interactions that we're having, whether that's with the HR side or with the employees through their experience.

And it really ties back, I think, to the need that Anne mentioned, which is just that human element again. When we think at benefitexpress about the service delivery model, one of the most basic fundamental things that we can try to do for a client is make sure that the work that we do makes their job easier and not harder. And so that service delivery component of it really is crucial.

And at the same time, the better partnerships that we have are the ones that it feels like a warmer experience, right? Where it is more about the relationship. It is more where people are comforted in their ability to come to a service provider and feel like they're going to get help and guidance through a process. And so I think that's what a lot of organizations are looking for, and certainly what we try to deliver.

And it's also a driver of when you think AI, you think chatbot, you think just bells, whistles, technology flare, and a lot of times what people are really looking for in that solution is a better way for their employees to experience the UI of the system, and to be able to get the answers that they need and get help through that process. So anything from either of you on what you see as important or relevant here, or we can just jump to the next poll?

Anne Burkett (33:49):

No, I couldn't agree with both of you more. And I think the trick will be as employers decide to add these new and different benefits, whether it goes directly to something like “we need a Ben Admin to enroll this”, or if it's just something that our employees get when it comes to remote work and flexible work arrangements, and bringing the family in and things like that. So obviously there's a wide variety, but the technology needs to be able to grow at the same pace of what the client needs are.

And so I think we're seeing that in some cases they're ahead. I don't know if every client is ready for a computer telling them how to hire, right? I think there's probably some pushback that'll come there, but that's where it's going. And if a computer can do that better and be more successful than that track record, it'll stand for itself and it'll eventually become mainstream. It's so fascinating to watch the ebbs and flows, or the push versus pull. It's a little bit of both. And so I think employers are primed for a lot of really amazing things to come into play that are going to help them long-term. So that's the fun part I think about what we do.

Brad Mandacina (35:10):

And I would agree with that. I think that we've got a whole other presentation that we can give around the bias and artificial intelligence as you're leaning on that to hire employees. And I think Anne nailed that we can't rely solely on these machines for these decisions, but here is value in that. The thing that I like about this slide, and one of the pieces that jumps out to me, is the fully integrated decision support tool and how important that is.

And as employees, all of us being employees, as we're going through and enrolling in our benefits this year, this may not be the biggest decision that we make, but it's possible it could have the greatest impact on our financials and our livelihood. If that decision is not executed with the forethought and the ability to understand everything that's available to us, be it the ancillary products or the GAP coverages that might be available that we need to lean on or potentially use to the core medical.

And helping with that process of identifying what is right for me and my family at this point in time, and helping me make that smart decision. So I think that is a big, big component to success, to a lot of these programs. And I don't mean to diminish anything else on the screen, but that one really jumps out at me.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Chris Wiley (36:35):

Perfect. Thanks, Brad. All right. So let's jump into the next poll. And this is probably the one that requires the least amount of thought of all of them so far. So if you delayed making an HR tech change in 2020, when do you plan to resume that change? So pretty simple one here, just from a timing standpoint. I think I would also say this is probably a good plug for both Lockton and USI. They do a lot of work in this space, and if you're not sure how to navigate this, there are people certainly that can help. And if there are assumptions that you're making around why the time is not great, it could be financial, it could be just constraint on resources. It could be “fill in the blank.”

There are a lot of ways that partners like us and like them can help you navigate that because the reality is the cost might be higher to do nothing than it is to evaluate a solution that's not working as effectively as it could be. And then I guess on that note, when you're going through this, I find personally that some of the implementations that we get through most successfully are the ones where we have the opportunity to really peel back the curtain in the RFP process and sales process.

And so the more transparent you can be about the things that really do worry you and keep you up at night are really broken. It's not necessarily can you do this, but how would you do this better? Here's what we're doing today, how can you help us do it differently? And I think those are also things that Brad and Anne focused and spent their time on helping clients navigate.

And I think I threw out those words of advice on some deaf ears and maybe somebody will take that to heart, but I know there's a ton of things going on right now, and we saw that throughout 2020, and contracts that are in place are going to drive some of that as well. But if it's just an overwhelming feeling of, “there's just too much right now for me to do”, there might be ways.

Brad Mandacina (38:42):

I think these results are interesting. And I would love to be able to ask second and third questions to follow up around why it's not in the cards right now, or for those that did delay, what was the cause of the delay? And I think there's some obvious answers there of financial question marks or economic uncertainty and so forth. But I think it'd be good to explore this and dig deeper. I would submit that we too saw a lot of employers postpone or hold off on decisions and really evaluate things going forward. So I think it's really neat to see this result.

Anne Burkett (39:18):

Well, and then if you flip it, 50% of respondents are hot and heavy or hopefully hot and heavy, if they're going to make a change in the next six to 18 months. And this probably goes right in line with your practices and what you're seeing. I know it's a crazy little world we live in.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Chris Wiley (39:47):

All right. So we can give it a few minutes here. We want to open it up for questions. I think there are probably a few that came in throughout, but if there's topics that we touched on that you'd like to hear from the experts in a little bit more detail, now's the time to do that. So we'll give it a second here. Let's see what trickles in.

Mike Oganyan (40:07):

Thanks, Chris. We already have a question in there. With the broad array of benefits companies typically offer, what technology solutions exist that help pull it all together to increase employee awareness of what's at their disposal? Then in a company with 20k people, this is a struggle for us.

Anne Burkett (40:26):

I'll start, I’ll let Brad chime in there because I'm sure we both have thoughts. So if we think back to that first polling question, it was around communication to employees that are now remote, right? So I think communication is still critical and probably will always be. I think Brad made the point earlier, benefits is an incredibly important decision to each and every family, and again there's huge cost impact, et cetera. And so they need to have the right information to make a strong decision.

So that could be a really good decision support tool. But I would go so far as to say over-communication is not necessarily a bad thing. And hitting employees multiple ways with texting using your Ben Admin tool videos, you can get them from the carriers, there's all sorts of different ways.

And then there's certainly companies out there that can help streamline your messaging, brand, and all of that. There is still, I'm sure, some value to the postcard that goes to the employee, especially if they're never in the office, right? So there's all sorts of ways to get in front of employees instead of pulling everybody into the break room, which obviously is impossible with 20,000 employees. So Brad, do you have more to chime in on that one?

Brad Mandacina (41:51):

Yes. Thank you. The value of the postcard came back exponentially this year. And so I think you touched on this Anne, the communications and the ability to communicate with those employees, and it's meeting them where they are and delivering that message in a fashion that adheres to them. Certain generations are going to want that postcard in the mail. They're going to want things they can put their hands on and read and sit on the coffee table and come back to later on. Others are going to want it in a text message and one to maybe two sentences.

And so you have the ability to deploy that message through various different mediums, and there's a handful of different technologies out there that can support all of that: print and mail, text messages, email campaigns, push notifications. Whatever that looks like, there are multiple ways to accomplish that, but my guidance would be around identifying your populations. The ways that they want to receive that message and then communicating in that fashion.

The other way is that's more of the push. And then in terms of the pull, there are technologies that exist going back to the chatbots that can lay over top of your system, all of your systems, be it the core HR system to IT requests, or what have you. And so then an employee has a singular location to go where all of their questions can be answered from enrolling in benefits, to logging a vacation day, to filing a request with IT, to get a new cell phone or a new laptop, or what have you.

So I think there's both sides of that, that could potentially be worth exploring certainly in larger organizations, but that doesn't preclude smaller organizations( a few hundred employees) from exploring those same methods and trying to leverage what exists to make it easier for those employees. And I geek out on that stuff. So I would be happy to go in greater detail when the time is right. I don't know who asked that question, but I’m certainly happy to put that in a follow-up if we want to talk through specific technologies, what those look like, methods, mediums, and so forth.

Mike Oganyan (44:15):

Thank you, Brad. Regarding poll two, do you see a trend towards increasing use of personal devices? It presents the tricky balance between info security and a flexible work environment.

Brad Mandacina (44:26):

Yes, this is tough. It is a difficult thing because when you do introduce your own device, the organizations can sometimes lose control of what's on that device and so forth. But anybody's going to lose a phone and leave the phone in an Uber or whatever. It happens all the time. I think it does present a challenge and I think it's an employer by employer decision on what is right for them.

It's certainly something worth exploring. To go even further though, then you run into some potential issues. And I'm not a labor law guy, I don't have JD behind my name. So consult with somebody smarter than me on this, but I think you run into issues potentially if you provide a cell phone, arguably even if you don't, but if you're texting people after hours, if they don't have the ability to turn off that phone, does that constitute over time? And so now we get back into some of those labor laws.

And so I think it's not just as simple as “do we give them a cell phone or not”, but how is that going to be used? Are they hourly, are they salary? What are some of those other factors that contribute to that to help guide and influence that decision? Not to meander here, but I think it's going to be a case by case basis on each employer to have them make that decision of what's right for them.

Anne Burkett (45:51):

Obviously we're both very passionate about all of this stuff. I will say what we have seen some employers limit. Yes, you're going to bring your own device. We get that. But, you can only get behind our firewalls through a very specific VPN or tools like Citrix, et cetera. So to where they lock everything down from a firewall perspective as possible and lock down, for instance, tools like Box and whatnot, I have vendor partners that use these tools, but from a USI perspective, we're not allowed to.

So there's ways to do some of those kinds of limits. But Brad's right. You get into a lot of different factors that could impact labor practices. And I don't think there's one clean answer by any means, but looking at your specific challenges and where you can nicely drive employees to where you need them to be, I think is how you need to look at it.

Mike Oganyan (47:05):

Thank you. We're beginning to POC, Microsoft, Azure, AI language translation, API to serve HR content in multiple languages. Do you have any experience with the quality of translation provided by tech like this?

Anne Burkett (47:19):

Don't use Google. Sorry. All right, Brad go.

Brad Mandacina (47:27):

Yes. I don't know how you follow that up. We have very limited experience. Me personally, I only speak for those with translation services, when we have used translation that has not been around tech, it's been people process. So I don't know that I'd be qualified to answer that one.

Anne Burkett (47:45):

Completely agree. We've seen a lot of challenges with the technology translation tools or technology-based translation tools. We point it back to humans to do those, to capture all of the nuances, which is very challenging.

Mike Oganyan (48:04):

Integrated decision support is a great resource, but do you see clients truly utilizing these tools? We didn't see a huge uptick in response to the pandemic. And just curious about your thoughts.

Brad Mandacina (48:14):

Anne, you want to jump?

Anne Burkett (48:18):

I'll start it. You can finish, right? We'll just keep tag teaming. We see a lot of clients ask for it, but we are not seeing the volume of utilization that we would expect. Based on the ask, right? Those two don't seem to correlate directly. So I'd be curious as if Lockton seeing something different than what we are.

Brad Mandacina (48:46):

No, I think you're right that there's a high interest, but not a lot of utilization. Where I think it's really going to come into play is if you think about your overall comprehensive benefits strategy, are you rolling out new benefits that need a different type of promotion? Are you trying to influence behavior, perhaps you're going to introduce a high deductible plan, something along those lines.

That's typically where we see the big uptake and the big utilization within these decisions for tools. If you're doing a passive enrollment, most people don't spend a lot of time on benefits enrollment to begin with. And so if you're doing a passive enrollment, it's click, click, click, I'm done, onto the next thing. So I think where there's the value is when you're changing things up, adding new things, creating an active enrollment environment, that's where you're really going to see that.

I think it also depends on your culture. Are you trying to help educate employees around the value of their benefits and your overall communications campaign? So not a very succinct answer for that question. And I apologize for that, but I think there's so many moving parts to it that it's difficult to just come up with a yes or no type of answer.

Chris Wiley (50:04):

One other thought on that too. Just if you guys don't mind, if I jump in. So I think obviously you guys know this better than anybody. There's a ton of tools and resources out there. So I guess I just encourage whether you do it through a survey or you interview the employee on if it's not working or if they're not using it and why.

It taking too long to get through might be a reason why people don't finish it or they don't understand it, or some of the questions are too intrusive. There's probably some ways that you can tweak the way that experience feels to an employee to help boost that a little bit.

Brad Mandacina (50:42):

Yes, Chris, that's a great point. If you're decision support tool is 100 questions long. I have a buddy who referred to that as like eating a pound of cheesecake. Sure. It's good, but that's a lot. And so maybe it's the tool and the process. And so there's some things to think about there and the number of questions and the questions that you ask.

Anne Burkett (51:06):

I'll also piggyback with what other tools were available. Was there a call center? Were there those kinds of things to where people were going about it a different way? So there's a lot of factors in there for certain, but I do think as a whole that tool decision support tools can be extremely valuable. They just may not hit every employee every year.

Mike Oganyan (51:29):

Thank you. From an administrative perspective, how do you value technology service model or outside consultant requirements in relation to the total cost of a system?

Brad Mandacina (51:46):

So I don't know that I understand this fully. Is it looking for leveraging a consultant to help along with attack? I don't know. I'd want to understand that better. Anne maybe you've got a better grasp on it.

Anne Burkett (51:58):

No, that's how I interpreted it. So obviously we're in the business to consult with clients. So we think our assistance is extremely valuable. But sometimes how do you quantify that? And in our case with USI, our team's support of a client going through a search and selection processes is a component of the fees they were paying USI. So they're not paying anything extra for our consulting services, which may mean we get highly utilized.

And so when there is a need for a client to go outside of our services, typically we see it around implementation support, which can be very vendor technology specific. So that is where I will say, we see clients go, yes, we need this, we need this. But then when they see the proposal, they start to go, wow, that's a little bit more than what I was really fully understanding that it would cost. So I don't know if that actually answers the question or not. So I apologize.

Mike Oganyan (53:06):

I will do one more question before we close out today's session. How are you seeing clients embrace AI as it relates to HR technology?

Brad Mandacina (53:13):

I alluded to this when I was speaking before, but it's in a number of different ways and really around those easy opportunities to remove the routine and mundane things that are highly routinized and those are great, easy steps into leveraging the machine learning and the natural language processing.

Now I've mentioned chat bots a couple of times, but I think that's an easy starting point. I think you can look at that as a great opportunity to really get into this. And maybe it's a chatbot to support a call center. It could be a chatbot during your enrollment process or during a normal delivery of benefits that answers questions around say Cobra inquiries, or items of that nature, very specific areas, niche areas almost that are good places to start in terms of that. And then I think you can expand from there in terms of leveraging some of that augmented intelligence and the machine learning areas.

Anne Burkett (54:23):

There's not a whole lot to add. I would say the easy questions, right? How much vacation time do I have? Those kinds of things that can easily be pulled and provided to employees just to get them acclimated to a tool like that is beneficial.

Webinar-HR Technology Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Mike Oganyan (54:45):

Well, I want to thank you Anne, Brad and Chris for sharing your knowledge and time with us. This webinar will be available for playback for up to 90 days. Simply log into a world@work.org to access your profile. And please allow 24 hours for that playback to appear. A quick reminder that we are going to send out a short survey at the end of the event, and we will highly appreciate your feedback. If you have not downloaded the presentation from the chat pod, I will post the link again momentarily. Thank you so much, everybody. I'm going to stop the recording now and share the HR SHRM credits.

What to learn more about how to best support employers’ needs during the challenges of COVID-19? Check out our 2020 Trend Report: Top Benefits Priorities for Mid-Market Employers.

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