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HR tech in 2021: What’s hot and what’s not

HR tech will shape the future of work — but what key technologies will play a pivotal role in the hybrid working environment?

Yessi Bello-Perez


HR tech

Unleash Your Technology A look at the HR tech market, what’s hot, what’s not, and what technologies are likely to drive investment in the space over the next year.

  • What HR technologies will shape the future of work?
  • Why artificial intelligence and automation will be increasingly prevalent in offices and businesses across the globe.
  • Employee management solutions and advanced analytics platforms will play a huge role in the future of work.

For centuries, technology has changed how we work, helping businesses drive efficiencies and liberate workers from menial tasks. 

Now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, HR departments across the globe are having to explore, buy, and sell-in new technologies to swiftly adapt to the new world of work.

Just last week, a McKinsey report noted that COVID-19 would supercharge the adoption of automation and artificial intelligence in offices across the globe – but what other technologies should HR leaders have on their radar and potentially add to their tech stacks?

“We navigate unprecedented times. HR’s role has proven itself to be mission-critical for business success. The CFO was the focus during the 2008 financial crisis, now, with the pandemic, the focus is on the CHRO,” Jacqui Sim, managing director at Growth Path Partners, told UNLEASH.

[Read more: 4 ways AI can transform HR]

Employee Management

With a vast proportion of the world’s labor force now working remotely, employee management is unsurprisingly one of the top priorities for investors looking to back promising HR tech propositions.

“A trend that started with uncovering what external customers want (customer experience, product experience, brand experience, etc) has expanded inwards into the organization and now encompasses both employee and recruitment candidate listening, feedback, and engagement,’ Sim added.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence have the potential to revolutionize several key HR processes, driving efficiencies across candidate screening, skilling, and reskilling.

“Internal mobility, skills mapping and competency models are becoming a business imperative. Consequently, areas that are currently in major demand range from access to unique talent pools, candidate assessment and skills matching, to managing a distributed workforce and contingent workers,” Sim said.

Pascal Suhrcke, an investor at BACKED, a human-centric venture capital fund, said his team had been heavily focused on tools leveraging AI and recruitment over the past year. 

“Traditional hiring processes are biased, unscalable, and prone to human error. Although imperfect themselves, AI-driven solutions hold the potential to rectify many of these problems by removing humans from the equation.”

[Read more: How HR Can Use AI Chatbots To Drive Employee Trust]

Advanced analytics

Several large-scale organizations, including Salesforce, have declared that the 9-to-5 workday is dead and many more companies are actively recognizing that the future of work is distributed. With this in mind, Suhrcke said HR technologists must deeply understand advanced analytics:

“Advanced analytics will transform HR decision-making. By leveraging data, organizations can streamline hiring, diversify recruiting, access individual performance, and distribute rewards in a much more scalable and equitable way.”

With remote work becoming more prevalent, Suhrcke was quick to note that the acceptance of remote working practices and growth of international talent pools may forever displace centralized offices as the status quo. 

“As a result, HR technologists should be mindful to embed data at the heart of their products, whilst building to cater to the complexities of distributed vs. centralized teams,” he added. 

COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a profound effect on VC’s investment strategies, with many now looking to capitalize on innovative technologies that will enable HR teams to implement changes at scale.

“As a result [of the pandemic], we re-focused our efforts on startups building the suite of tools to support this new reality. Most notably, we looked closely at tools facilitating remote collaboration, including virtual offices, live events platforms, and asynchronous voice apps. 

“In a similar vein, we also spent time speaking to startups building the infrastructure to support remote employees, for example, handling local employment, payroll, and benefits,” he noted.

Interestingly, data shows that global investors doubled down on HR technology in 2020 pouring $4.98 billion into the space — the second-highest amount of growth capital to flood into the market over the past decade.

Stress management

The pandemic has blurred the lines between personal and professional, and many employees are suffering the consequences.

“Workplace stress is exacting an ever-higher toll on employees, decreasing productivity, and increasing turnover,” Suhrcke noted, adding;

“This situation grew particularly acute over the past 12 months, with employees isolated and stuck inside. In this context, we believe we’ll see significant innovation in the workplace wellbeing space, for example employee engagement tools, benefits platforms, and mental health offerings.”

[Read more: Mental Wellbeing Must Be An HR Priority in 2021 (And Beyond)]

Learning and development

Looking ahed, Suhrcke says he thinks there are two categories that will continue to perform well in 2021.

“Firstly, learning & development (L&D) will continue to benefit from growing pressure linked to growing digital skill-gaps. Advances in technology are happening in ever shorter cycles, changing the nature of the jobs that need to be done and the skills required to do them. In light of this, employers are increasingly investing in building out internal L&D capabilities, including learning management systems and content platforms.”

Secondly, Suhrcke believes we’ll see a continued focus on tooling to facilitate remote work.

“With traditional use-cases now largely covered, it’s likely we will observe the ‘unbundling of Zoom’ continue for more niche categories (e.g., workshops). Also, we expect to see startups double-down on asynchronous communication tools to better cater to remote employees working on different schedules,” he concluded.

Many organizations are still grappling with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, and while many questions remain unanswered, it’s obvious that HR technology will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of work.

Key takeaways for HR technologists:

  • Consider building business cases for automation and artificial intelligence tools. These technologies will likely have a huge impact on workers’ eventual return to the workplace and will help drive efficiencies across the board.
  • Employee and stress management platforms will be key in the months to come.
  • Leverage learning and development technologies to close skills gaps and equip your workforce with the tools need to thrive in this heightened digital environment.
  • Look at platforms that allow for asynchronous working — empowering employees to work smart.

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