Q&A with HR Tech Influencer: Brian Kropp

Gartner's chief of HR research explores what's coming down the pike for HR tech in 2021.
By: | December 9, 2020 • 4 min read

The role of HR leaders has never been more important, as organizations struggle to keep up with near-daily changes to the world of work ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic and other global challenges. With such a tall order for HR leaders, it’s beneficial to look to industry experts for their experience and guidance. Earlier this year, HRE and the HR Tech Conference unveiled the second edition of the Top 100 HR Tech Influencers, comprised of HR, business and technology leaders whose insights are needed now more than ever.

Influencer Brian Kropp, chief of research and vice president at Gartner, says the challenges of 2020 have the potential to make empathy a cornerstone of human resources, a shift that tech will undoubtedly support. Kropp recently spoke with HRE about this and other trends on the horizon.

HRE: What will work look like in 2021, and what is that based on?

Kropp: One of the biggest things that has been revealed by the pandemic is the need for companies, and for HR, to become more humane. We have had the opportunity to look inside the homes of our employees and to better understand the unique challenges and situations that they face. Based on these experiences, HR has learned that they need to offer a different type of “deal” to their employees. A deal that is more centered on the emotional and social needs that their employees have, not just the rational needs. Specifically, HR will work with employees to develop a work relationship that pursues radical flexibility over where, when and how much employees work. Employers will work with employees to build a shared purpose around the political, social and cultural issues of the day. Employers will also build deeper connections with their employees to become more deeply involved in the personal and family lives of their employees. These shifts all reflect the more humane deal that will define the employee-employer relationship in 2021 and beyond.

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HRE: What HR tech trend that was gaining steam before COVID-19 has been most disrupted? Why and what’s replacing it, if anything?

Kropp: There is an HR tech trend that has been dramatically accelerated by the pandemic: employee monitoring. Roughly one-third of companies have purchased new employee monitoring software to track their remote employees. This software encompasses everything from tracking how often employees are at their laptop, what websites they are looking at, tracking their eye movements through their camera and other approaches. The reason for this dramatic increase is not only due to the massive increase of remote work during the pandemic, but also due to the expected continued increase in remote work that will continue even after a vaccine is widely put in place. With this move to a more remote workforce, managers are less able to actually see and track the performance of their employees. Given their concerns about whether or not employees are actually working, they have responded with this use of employee monitoring technology as a proxy for measuring employee performance.

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The challenge with using this new technology is balancing the value of it with the question of employee trust. As monitoring increases, HR needs to balance the data and information that is collected through these tools with employee comfort levels over tracking and monitoring. Striking this right balance will be critical for HR going forward.

HRE: What HR technologies and applications should vendors be working on right now? Why?

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Kropp: When comparing remote employees to non-remote employees, there is a very interesting trend that emerges. Even though performance between the two types of employees is comparable, managers are twice as likely to give negative, corrective feedback to remote employees compared to in-office employees. In addition, in-office employees receive twice as much positive, affirming feedback compared to remote employees. Keep in mind, this feedback differential is occurring even though there is no difference in performance between remote and in-office employees.  HR executives need to be examining new types of technologies that support managers in providing balanced and appropriate feedback for their in-office employees compared to their remote employees.

Related: What COVID means to compensation

In addition, even with the same performance scores, managers are likely to give in-office employees a larger raise than employees who work remote. This gap in compensation decisions based on where people work, rather than based on the contributions that employees make, is hugely problematic. HR executives need to make investments in technologies that are ensuring fairness in compensation decisions between these two types of employees.

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