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3 critical employee experience technologies for the 'new normal'

Since COVID-19 hit, HR leaders and their teams have pivoted to support the employee experience in new ways. Here's how technology has been critical to that support.

The pandemic has forced a rethinking of the employee experience, and technology has served -- and will continue to serve -- a critical role in the "new normal."

As COVID-19 spread across the globe and lockdowns became commonplace, HR leaders needed to address safety issues and help connect a distributed workforce, just to name two challenges. Technology was instrumental to those endeavors, but it has also been critical in ways that haven't gotten as much attention.

To that point, here's a look at three ways technology has become more important to employee experience since the pandemic began.

Conversational AI streamlines talent sourcing

The use of conversational AI -- or chatbots that interact with people in a humanlike way -- is poised for huge growth. Gartner estimated that by 2022, 70% of white-collar workers will use chatbots on a daily basis.

Chatbots have been particularly helpful for some business and HR leaders as they've faced new challenges in the employee lifecycle, especially in sourcing new talent.

For example, National Safety Apparel, a family-owned safety apparel company located in Cleveland, turned to chatbots when it needed to ramp up its workforce during the pandemic.

Within the last year, National Safety Apparel grew its workforce from 200 to 700 to keep up with the increased demand for face masks and protective clothing, said Lindsay DesJardins, vice president of HR at the company. To source new hires such as seamstresses, the company increased its use of recruitment automation bots.

Chatbots enable companies to interact with candidates in a humanlike way, asking and answering questions in a way that mimics a real human conversation.

In the case of National Safety Apparel, rescreening job candidates used to take weeks prior to using conversational AI, said Morgan Farrow, talent acquisition leader at National Safety Apparel. Now with the introduction of the HireVue hiring assistant, previously known as AllyO, the company is scheduling interviews the same day as reaching out to candidates and making job offers within a week. And recruiters no longer have to call candidates to complete phone screens or schedule interviews. This has expedited the hiring process and reduced the cost per hire by 20%.

Tools to improve employee experience
Beyond the three technologies mentioned in this article, HR has a number of employee experience tools from which to choose.

AI boosts internal talent mobility

Artificial intelligence is not only being used to source new hires but also to match the supply and demand of talent internally.

Schneider Electric turned to AI in its quest for improvements to retention and internal mobility after it discovered a need to do better in these areas.

The global leader for energy and automation digital software, with more than 135,000 employees across 100 countries, reviewed exit interviews, said Tina Kao Mylon, chief talent and diversity officer at Schneider. Forty-seven percent of employees who were leaving cited lack of visibility into their career growth as a reason, Mylon said.

To address this business need, the team at Schneider led by Mylon, created Open Talent Market (OTM), an AI-powered internal talent mobility platform matching employees to new part-time and full-time roles, as well as stretch assignments and mentoring engagements.

"The process of matching talent to opportunity took three to four weeks when a manager or HR was involved in this process, and now it takes just 30 to 60 seconds after an employee created a profile on OTM," Mylon said.

OTM helps to democratize career development at Schneider through AI and machine learning coupled with careful analysis to ensure that biases -- for example, against ethnicity, age and gender -- are not incorporated into the algorithms, Mylon said.

While OTM had already been under development for two years, its global launch was accelerated due to the coronavirus, Mylon said. OTM went live globally in the spring of 2020 and now has over 45,000 employees actively engaged on OTM, as well as over 4,000 mentoring engagements, with nearly one-half of these between Schneider Electric employees who connect across geographies to engage in mentoring relationships.

The goal is to go well beyond an internal job board to create an enterprise-wide "gig economy inside the company," Mylon said. To date, Schneider Electric has matched roughly 2,000 employees during the coronavirus pandemic in internal gig or project assignments. As internal talent mobility continues to be used across Schneider Electric, one of the biggest benefits is the ability to quickly deploy employees from low-demand areas of the business to those that are in high demand.

So, in addition to assisting employees in gaining greater visibility into their careers, Schneider is now using OTM to help the business be more agile and adapt quickly to new ways of working. These are critical capabilities during the pandemic, when flexibility, agility and responsiveness are critical.

Employee well-being tech fosters health

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a major toll on mental and emotional health, leaving a crisis in its wake.

Seventy-eight percent of participants in an American Psychological Association survey of 3,409 adults said the pandemic was a significant source of stress. Workers are feeling burned out and cite multiple stressors, including no separation between work and home, unmanageable workloads and worries over job security.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a major toll on mental and emotional health, leaving a crisis in its wake.

A number of reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paint a grim portrait, for example, with increased substance abuse, thoughts of suicide, and especially major mental health impacts on vulnerable populations such as children.

Business and HR leaders are recognizing they need to invest in employee well-being. The mental health of the workforce is no longer a "nice to have" employee perk but an expectation from employees and one that makes good business sense to do.

In fact, the definition of employee well-being is going far beyond physical health to one far more holistic. It includes factors such as mental health, financial literacy and social connectivity, and some companies are making it a priority.

To that point, consulting firm PwC, headquartered in London, defines employee well-being through multiple lenses. Its initiative "Be Well, Work Well" looks at physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. The company disseminates the program partly through its online messaging, which includes the PwC Habit Bank, which has a set of actionable suggestions. These range from reminding employees to stand up for short meetings, wind down prior to sleep, make time to be outside with nature and turn off smartphone notifications.

Some companies are publicly committing to making new investments directly related to improving an employee's well-being.

Robotic process automation vendor UiPath is one such company.

UiPath is investing the equivalent of 1% of salaries to provide employees with free access to health and wellness apps, said Daniel Anastas, head of global total rewards and HRIS. These include: the meditation app, Headspace; the physical fitness app, Aaptiv; and a new one, the physical therapy app, Physera, which is meant to help treat and prevent pain. All these apps are supplemented by weekly discussions for UiPath employees on ways to improve well-being.

In the future, a growing number of companies may go beyond investing in employee well-being to publicly reporting on the outcomes of that investment.

What's clear is that everyone must challenge old perceptions and look for new possibilities -- especially related to new employee experience technologies and strategies -- to be successful in navigating the new normal of working.

Jeanne Meister is managing partner of Future Workplace and founder of Future Workplace Academy.

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