AI in HR: Putting people at the heart of a hybrid workplace

Written by
Capita People Solutions

29 Mar 2019

29 Mar 2019 • by Capita People Solutions

When it comes to AI in HR, employers must develop a clear strategy for achieving the shift from a human to a hybrid workforce. Capita People Solution’s research among business leaders provides insights into thinking and priorities.

Imagine a workplace where everyone is engaged in high-quality, high-value work, filled with purpose and meaning, that has real impact on the bottom line and drives the business forward. How would that affect their engagement, motivation and creativity?

Now contemplate a workplace where robots, artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning facilitate this increased productivity and value generation by taking over the low-value, repetitious tasks and leaving people free to fulfil their potential. It is not at all far-fetched to envisage an organisation where cutting-edge technology works hand-in-hand with humans to achieve commercial goals, while improving the quality of people’s working lives.

The future workplace is fully digitised and optimised for technology, alongside which human employees work effectively and harmoniously in roles that may not even have been imagined yet but that will enable them to be more efficient, productive and fulfilled. It is part of a profound change that society is undergoing as technology matures and inevitably influences every element of our lives.

Making the transition to humans working with AI and robots in a hybrid workforce

At Capita People Solutions, we have considered the implications of such a transition for organisations and their people, concluding that, if employers manage it properly, it will open the door to sustainable success.

We’ve talked to thousands of UK business leaders, employees and HR professionals to uncover their views on, and expectations around, the move to a hybrid workplace. We define this specifically as “the new dynamic where humans will work in a fully digitised and technologically-optimised environment, and increasingly work alongside robots and AI, over the next 10 years”.

Rather than focusing on the potential negative impact of technology on people (for example, recent warnings from the Office for National Statistics that 1.5 million workers are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation), we’ve taken a people-first approach to how organisations can prepare themselves for transition by putting a highly skilled, engaged and productive workforce at the centre of their plans to introduce new technology.

We’ve produced a comprehensive study of current and future workforce dynamics in the UK, providing deep insights into the impact these dynamics will have – and are already having – right across the employee lifecycle. Being prepared to make the most of these changes means prioritising three strategic levers (digital, data and people) along the journey from a human to a hybrid workforce.

Our research has revealed that both business leaders and employees are fully aware of the changes on the horizon and of the need to act now to ensure future success: 72% of business leaders see the transition to a hybrid workforce as the biggest challenge facing businesses over the next five years, and 93% believe they need to start proactively managing this shift over the next year.

Business and HR leaders are largely positive about the shift but, unsurprisingly, employees are more cautious: they have concerns about how the workplace will evolve and how their individual roles will be affected. They’re open to change and optimistic about the future but are looking to their employers to provide the reassurance, learning and opportunities to prepare themselves that they’ll need to be successful.

More than half (51%) of the employees we talked to said they would leave their organisations if they did not manage the transition to a hybrid workforce properly.

Three strategic levers for AI in HR: digital technology, data, and people

It is clear, then, that organisations must develop a coherent strategy for transitioning from a human to a hybrid workforce; one that ensures they retain the human employees whose skills, agility, engagement, creativity, vision and ambition will mean the difference between failure and success.

This will involve addressing workers’ concerns in order to overcome anxiety and resistance to change; proactively reskilling and upskilling their workers, so that they can remain relevant and productive in the new workplace, and optimising technology so that it delivers on its potential.

The clear majority of participants in our research (88%) predicted that, in order to make a successful transition to a hybrid workforce, organisations will need to focus on three core areas: digital (technological capability), data (workforce insights) and people (skills, culture and leadership). These strategic levers will deliver better experiences and outcomes for employees, in turn driving improved performance and business outcomes.

There is a lot of work to do to achieve this: almost half (46%) of business leaders feel they have made the most progress in the digital area so far, while 45% say they have made the least amount of progress around data; 44% say they have made the second-highest level of progress on the people agenda.

When it comes to the latter, organisations must focus on equipping their people with the relevant skills to thrive in a hybrid workforce; creating a culture of continuous learning; rethinking loyalty, and communicating more openly, building processes that allow for more fluid relationships with their employees.

Leaders in businesses must drive and own the transition, given its scale, complexity and importance, rather than simply letting it happen.

Technology is certain to become an increasingly critical enabler for people, supporting and empowering them to adapt and thrive in working environments that are becoming more unpredictable. But it will be organisations’ ability to develop highly skilled, agile and engaged workforces, and to maximise their people’s creativity, vision and ambition, that will make the difference.

To find out more about how you can prepare yourself and your organisation for a hybrid future, download Human to Hybrid: The next workforce frontier.