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Boese: Should 2022 bring new challenges and new technology?

Steve Boese, HR Tech Conference chair
Steve Boese
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®. He also writes a blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at sboese@lrp.com.

First, I’d like to extend my best wishes for continued health and success as we begin the new year! Like many of you, I’m sure, I spent some time over the holiday break cleaning up the office, tossing out some files and notes, and even tidying up old online files. During this process, I ran across a set of notes from a facilitated session that my business and podcast partner Trish McFarlane and I presented at the HR Technology Conference way, way back in 2011. The title of the session was something like “Your Kid Will Never Work in an Office”—a 2011 take on the never-ending “future of work” conversation. I’d like to share some of the notes from that session from 10-plus years ago because I think you’ll find it interesting how similar they sound to many of the workplace and HR technology topics we are talking about in 2022.

Here are just a few ideas from the 2011 session:

  • 56% of senior leaders at Fortune 500 companies believe virtual work will steadily or greatly increase at their company;
  • When our kids grow up, they will refuse to work as many hours as we do;
  • What do employers need to value in new employees? Adaptability, ability to learn on the fly and creative problem solving; and
  • If your organization insists on maintaining a traditional office environment, you’ll struggle to compete for talent versus companies like Google and others who are taking more creative and flexible approaches to how work is done and organized.

I could continue with examples from that 2011 session, but I think you get the point. So much of what very engaged, smart and forward-thinking HR professionals were thinking about a decade ago sounds quite a bit like what HR professionals are working on today.

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See also: The 5 biggest HR tech trends coming your way this year

While we can let ourselves believe that more focus on work/life balance, remote working, constant learning and agility are new concepts brought forth by the pandemic, these notes from 2011 remind us that crucial workplace issues are applicable in every era and in every organization. Our challenges in 2022 are not new, but that doesn’t make them easier to solve. However, it does serve as a good reminder that we can—for the most part, I think—stop searching for the “new normal” or crafting some nebulous “future of work” for our organizations. The “new normal” is just “normal.” And the “future of work” is right now. In fact, it also was 11 years ago—and will be 11 years from now, too.

Related: Learn more about HR tech in 2022 at HR Tech Virtual this spring.

So, what I think this suggests is that HR and organizational leaders should probably focus on just a few basic objectives for 2022—and, shockingly (not really), the 2011 version of this advice would have been similar. For sustained success no matter the year, HR needs to focus on the overall wellbeing of the workforce, push to eliminate or reduce barriers to people’s ability to do their best work and seek ways to improve flexibility and adaptability to processes and ways of working.

Let’s consider what a concentration on these core areas suggests for how we think about HR technology in 2022 and forward. First—and perhaps you are already thinking about this if you have been impacted by the ongoing outage of certain UKG time and attendance systems—in early 2022, it’s time to take a thorough review of your core, essential HR technologies for time tracking, payroll, leave management and benefits administration. The issues at UKG remind all of us that these solutions are the foundation of not only the rest of the HR tech stack, but they form and support the most fundamental promise the organization makes to its people: that they will be paid timely and accurately for their work.

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Beyond that—in the area of payroll and benefits technology, specifically—the last few years have seen considerable innovation and increased focus on empowering employees. Several payroll providers have pioneered efforts that allow employees to review and approve their own paychecks and direct deposit information in advance of the scheduled pay date, have access to early or even daily net pay, and that prioritize the integration of financial wellbeing and planning tools with other solutions. On the benefits side, we’ve seen capabilities like intelligent enrollment tools as well as more employee-friendly and highly personalized user experiences, which have enabled employers to better communicate the availability and value of their benefits offerings. While many other areas of HR technology often seem “sexier,” it’s important to not overlook the additional value that can be created in “boring” functions like payroll and benefits.

Related: How HR can stay ahead of the ‘benefits renaissance’ in 2022

Just like it can be tempting to look for the latest shiny object when it comes to the future of work, so can it be in the HR technology space. But just as I encourage you to focus instead on just a few basic workplace ideas, I would also urge you to start 2022 with an eye toward the underlying, never-changing importance of your “core” HR technologies. This can help you ensure that they are providing all the essential functions you and your employees need, and further, to explore potential areas where you can enhance the services you provide your employees in these areas. Let’s make Q1 2022 the “Quarter of Core” in HR tech.