Q&A with HR Tech Influencer: Cecile Alper-Leroux

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, including the recent tumultuous presidential transition. With such a tall order for HR leaders, it’s beneficial to look to industry experts for their experience and guidance. Last 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 Cecile Alper-Leroux, vice president of human capital management innovation at UKG, emphasizes the importance of DEI programs as the pandemic continues on and priorities have changed dramatically from where they were in early 2020. Disability inclusion, which hasn’t received nearly as much attention in the past 12 months as racial and gender concerns, seems to be a beneficiary of overall DEI efforts, she writes.

Read on for more insights from Alper-Leroux’s recent conversation with HRE.

HRE: How can HR leaders–and HR tech buyers–continue to focus on and invest in areas like D&I with business priorities so suddenly shifted?

Cecile Alper-Leroux

Alper-Leroux: DEI initiatives must be ingrained into every aspect of business operations and not viewed as a one-time initiative. Times of crisis must not be used as an excuse to ignore the depth of work required or to make empty statements that won’t be upheld when companies think no one is paying attention. The only way this works is for us to remain vigilant in holding employers accountable for their words and deeds. This includes calling out employment practices and work environments that are not diverse or inclusive, tracking promised actions, and addressing bad-faith actors.

Related: Learn more about DEI at Spring HR Tech.

One area that’s on my mind right now in particular is disability inclusion. A recent report from UKG found that remote work may be boosting disability inclusion and accessibility efforts in the workplace. In order to capitalize on this momentum and ensure these improvements are long-lasting, there are steps every company must take to better support employees with disabilities. First, managers need ongoing, up-to-date training. Next, leaders need to remember to prioritize accessibility inclusion alongside other diversity and belonging initiatives. And above all, companies need to devote the time and resources to support employees with both visible and invisible disabilities, which includes neurodiverse individuals.

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HRE: How do you think the remote work switch will affect employee expectations for workplace technology?

Alper-Leroux: As the world has shifted to a remote work model, employees now expect technology that both supports the virtual workplace and maintains a positive and collaborative company culture. Arming managers with the tools to cultivate and maintain a positive culture among an increasingly distributed workforce is more important than ever.

Communications and management technology are particularly important–but must be utilized and measured in the right ways. For example, if managers are measuring productivity based on whether employees are attending virtual meetings or instantaneous responses through chat applications, they’re setting employees up to fail. An employee may be slow to respond or unable to make it to a morning check-in while juggling homeschooling or other family responsibilities. Without mechanisms in place to communicate and understand an employee’s work-life boundaries, managers may unfairly question that employee’s commitment–regardless of the quality and quantity of their work.

Companies can instead leverage technology to increase transparency and communication across remote teams. When there is transparency in work and expectations, it is easier for managers to support or course-correct employees so they stay on track. These tools can help managers know what employees are doing without constant surveillance.

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HRE: How will tech differentiate the companies that thrive after the pandemic from those that do not?

Alper-Leroux: The companies that thrive during and beyond the pandemic will be those that use technology to both empower employees to do their jobs and forge meaningful connections that link both work and life. It’s about so much more than optimizing productivity.

Immersive tools like virtual reality and augmented reality, for instance, can provide a sense of physical togetherness that is lacking in video conferences, creating the illusion that everyone is gathered around a conference room table. Green screens offering a variety of virtual backgrounds and more vivid projection quality assist the same purpose.

Natural language processing–in combination with machine learning algorithms that search through employee feedback to extrapolate how they feel about their work, lives, hopes and fears–is also at our fingertips. Such sentiment analysis can determine if someone feels included in team meetings or not, or whether they feel their work has purpose and meaning–deeply human questions that technology is uniquely equipped to help us answer.