What We Learned At HR Tech 2020

As we inch closer and closer to 2021, we must take every opportunity to look back at the past year to help guide us through the next one. What have we accomplished? What can we be doing better? Is there a more effective way to do this? Many of us look at annual conferences as the moment to pause and reflect on ways to answer those questions. The HR Tech Conference and Expo was the perfect time to do just that and last week we had the incredible opportunity to sponsor a portion of the conference. During our time there, we collected so much in the way of data and knowledge from our peers in the industry that we thought it would be beneficial to share what we’ve learned. Here’s everything we learned at this year’s HR Tech 2020.

COVID Accelerated The Need For Digital Transformation

It should come as no surprise that COVID was the catalyst to many of the conversations being had at HR Tech this year. Just the need of an all digital conference ensured that COVID’s presence was felt throughout the week.

COVID’s impact specifically on the tech market was one crucial point made during a keynote session led by Jason Averbook, CEO and co-founder of Leapgen. Said Averbook, “It’s time to reshape everything we know. Wipe the slate clean…Sunset what no longer works and write a new strategy for what we call the now of work…COVID-19 accelerated companies’ digital communications strategies by an average of six years…while 97% of enterprise decision-makers believe the pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation. It is the digital accelerator of the decade, and digital communication is the new lifeblood of business. If we’re not digital, we’re dying.” It’s quite an impactful statement but one that certainly rings true now even 10 months into the pandemic.

A digital transformation is no longer an option especially as it relates to hiring in the new workforce. With some organizations employing a suddenly smaller workforce, executives are turning to their HR and Talent Acquisition teams to push the way forward. But rising unemployment coupled with the necessity of remote work has left many in the HR space scratching their heads as to how to exactly to accomplish that. For some teams, that way forward has been utilizing automation where available.

Automation in the age of a pandemic has become the “secret weapon” for many HR Tech attendees. Early adopters of this digital trend showcased how they used automation to help place the rebuilding blocks needed to thrive in 2021.

HR Tech 2020 Attendees Want To Invest In Empathy

So many sessions at HR Tech 2020 revolved around addressing the needs and concerns of employees at every level. The societal and collective stress of living in 2020 was palpable in many conversations but the light at the end of the tunnel was all the incredible way companies were looking to address concerns.

It’s not enough for companies to simply hire anymore, retention is at the forefront of thought leadership, and what better way to retain the employees you’ve worked so hard to source than by assisting their mental health needs. According to John Sumser, “You can see and hear the burnout everywhere you go…We’ve lost all sense of proper boundaries between life and work … and maybe that’s something we’re going to give up, but it’s gone, and we need to figure out what to do with it. Where we are now is neither new nor normal nor sustainable.” And with that, many experts at HR Tech were attempting to help the industry uncover new ways to care for their employees’ mental health.

According to expert and HR Tech keynote speaker Josh Bersin, this is just HR going back to basics. “It’s bringing out the core of HR that’s always been there…HR professionals tend to bury people issues, depending on the needs of the company at the time. So, this is surfacing many of the core strengths and values that HR has always had from the beginning.” And how could this be accomplished? Through the use of, you guessed it, digital platforms. Some of the methods presented were internal employee data collection to gauge mental health concerns, trainings, webinars and digital wellness initiatives.

Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion No Longer Exists In The Abstract

As a result of the civil unrest in the summer months, the topic of bringing Diversity and Inclusion into the workplace was eagerly discussed throughout the conference. In the past, managing compliance numbers was considered enough but we’ve learned that absolutely isn’t the case. So, for some, the need to bring diversity into the forefront of the conversation was crucial.

According to Human Resource Executive, “Keynoter Stacia Garr, co-founder of RedThread Research, noted in discussing organizational purpose that the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black citizens this year heightened corporate America’s awareness of racial injustice. ‘And, as a result,’ she said, ‘we have seen organizations talking about social justice in ways they haven’t before and, for many of them, doing things that are remarkably and demonstrably different than they have in the past.'” And companies are using technology to gain deeper understanding.

One of the most innovative ways we saw tech tackle the diversity topic was during a session focused on some of the most progressive tools on the market. Erica Lee COO of Pluto presented the platform to roughly 20,000 HR Tech attendees. In a mad libs style form, Pluto creates employee diversity stories that are sent to management. Employees can self-identify in a number of ways while also providing necessary feedback within these anonymous stories ensuring an honest, fear-free dialogue. C-suite executives and upper management can then take this data and feedback so that they are better equipped to address the needs of their employee base while also gathering the data to show areas of improvement.

The HR landscape is vast and it would be impossible to address everything in just a few days but there were thousands of incredible conversations happening at HR Tech 2020. It’s hopeful to see an industry come together to learn from each other and we can’t wait to see what happens in the new year.

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