5 takeaways from the final day of HR Tech

From the importance of communication and collaboration tools to ethics in returning to work, here are some of the lessons explored Friday.
By: | October 30, 2020 • 4 min read

The HR Technology Conference and Exposition had its final day Friday, wrapping up four days of content, networking and learning for thousands of attendees.

During Friday’s sessions, speakers spoke about COVID-19 lessons, digital transformation, employee experience and more.

Here are five of the top themes that emerged from Friday’s expert-led sessions.

John Sumser

Supporting mental health and burnout is vital. Industry analyst John Sumser said things are only getting worse in terms of employee burnout and mental health. “You can see and hear the burnout everywhere you go,” he said. “We’ve lost all sense of proper boundaries between life and work … and maybe that’s something we’re going to give up, but it’s gone and we need to figure out what to do with it. Where we are now is neither new, nor normal, nor sustainable.”

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HR leaders will have to try to help or else “it’s going to show up in [employees’] work and their behavior at work.”

“In order to navigate the future of our workplaces, we’re going to have to learn how to talk about mental illness,” he said. “We’re in a time where none of the old rules make sense and the quickest, fastest way to get into trouble is to act as if what we’re going to do is reinstate the old rule.”

Employees will expect more communication post-pandemic. Because of COVID-19 and moving 99% of its employees remote, Lincoln Financial Group amped up its communication efforts with employees. They hosted more virtual townhalls, boosted benefits communications and had more regular conversations with employees, said Lisa Buckingham, the insurance and investment company’s executive vice president and chief people, place and brand officer, during the conference’s closing keynote. And with employees loving the increased transparency and communication, she predicts employees will expect that going forward. “[Employees] have seen the communications we’ve been able to give, they want these communications, and I think it gives them a higher connectivity to senior leadership.”

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Tech without human connection isn’t going to work. Employers have an opportunity to come out of the pandemic stronger than before, Henry Albrecht, CEO of employee experience software company Limeade, said during a session. But to do that they need to focus on care, culture and employee engagement. And when it comes to technology, people should be at the center.

“Putting people first can lead to a different type of culture and a different type of business outcome.” – Henry Albrecht

“Putting people first can lead to a different type of culture and a different type of business outcome,” Albrecht said. “The best technology is largely hidden—you don’t know how or why it works, you just love it.”

HR needs to think ‘ethically’ about the return to work. Ethics should help guide HR to making the right decisions related to COVID-19 and the workplace. For instance, when should employees come back into the office? How can you best keep them safe? How much information should employers give employees about the risks of coming back into the office during a pandemic? How should companies monitor their employees’ health? Should they ask employees about their mental health? How can they improve burnout rates? What tech tools should they lean on and implement? Organizations and HR leaders need to continuously question assumptions and ask themselves what is best for their employees’ health and safety when making those decisions, then embrace tech tools that can help achieve their goals.

“I think ethics is a new way of deciding,” Sumser said, noting that considering ethics also allows for decisions to be made that aren’t permanent. “We want to keep things evolving because we’re learning, and we still don’t know a lot about what’s going on.”

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Sumser recommended that all HR departments and their vendors create an operational ethics function so that decisions can be evaluated with a group of people to make sure everyone is in alignment about what they’re doing and what they are trying to accomplish. Part of the ethical process is to tread carefully and slowly, he said. In this case, employers want to be right more than they want to be fast.

Expect a hybrid work model—and the right tech to achieve it. Moving forward, organizations will embrace a hybrid workforce of remote and in-office employees, said Ken Solon, executive vice president, chief information officer and head of digital at Lincoln Financial Group. And they will adopt more tech to achieve it. “I think collaboration tools will continue to increase in their importance as we stay in a virtual or hybrid type of operating environment. They need to bring teams together in an innovation, decision-making perspective in a virtual environment.”

Read all of our HR Tech Conference coverage here.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.