READ the August 2021 issue of our magazine: The Rise of Work Tech
Disruption. Transformation. Agility, Remote Work: those are some of the words that largely described the world of work in the year 2020. But the fact is all these changes have been happening for a while now well before the pandemic. However, the pace of change and the way several trends came roaring together dramatically was unprecedented. Over the last one and half years, technologies have been playing a crucial role in keeping us functional, and these technologies and disruptive digital innovations may have a long-lasting impact beyond the pandemic.
The HR landscape is undergoing a drastic shift. Next-gen technologies that helped facilitate "work" in remote mode have gone from being something of an experiment to essential for survival. With a growing level of investment from organizations, the HR technology landscape continued to fascinate a lot of hype. HR Tech, which was by design meant for the benefit of the employer has now shifted to work tech which puts employees at the center stage. HR applications have now invaded areas beyond payroll and employee administration to support a larger set of work arrangements. Another important development in the HR tech market is the mounting focus on the overall employee experience (EX) and the growth of HR tools designed for employees.
To find out more on HR tech is shaping up, we have an interaction with Anne Fulton, CEO, and Founder of Fuel50, an AI-powered opportunity marketplace that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling.
Anne Fulton is the author of The Career Engagement Game, and is an experienced Organization Transformation expert with a passion for career enablement, talent optimization, and workforce agility. CEO and Founder of Fuel50 which is now operating in 28 countries, and winners of the HRTech Awesome New Technology in 2014, Brandon hall Career Pathing Gold Excellence Award 2015 and 2016, and Employee Engagement Award US Vendor of the Year 2018, Top HRE Product 2020, Anne and the Fuel50 team are delivering retention, engagement gains and transforming the employee experience in organizations across the world.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
The pandemic has changed the work dynamics in a never-before way. How do you see the current business landscape and the evolving role of HR in enabling employees to stay productive amid all this chaos?
The current business landscape is focused on the disruption caused by the global pandemic and lockdown, and how we all cope with that. It has magnified the need for organizations to be able to change and change rapidly. The new buzzwords are things like "agility" and "flexibility," and this speaks to the reality that the only effective way to deal with chaos and uncertainty is by being able and willing to react quickly and make smart changes as business conditions change.
HR, as you might imagine, is at the heart of this.
The HR team has always had to collaborate across the organization, but now, this is more important than ever. HR leaders need to be collaborating more with employees at every level because they are the people that most employees look to for answers to in this chaotic and uncertain time. The more HR is involved, and the more assistance they can give in helping people to navigate the rapidly-changing business landscape, the more productive the workforce will be.
How do you see the larger HR tech landscape today amid all this chaos? What are the areas HR and talent leaders should focus on right now?
The global pandemic HAS created chaos in a great many areas, and HR technology is not immune. There is a rapid evolution going on in every HR domain from payroll to recruiting to technology, and just about every tech company is trying to build an operating model or a framework to make its products future-ready because the goal today is to make sure that our clients can utilize their technology solutions to help tackle both the problems of today AND the problems of tomorrow.
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We are finding accelerated demand right now for an agile workforce, and for a talent marketplace solution that supports workforce agility, reskilling, and the delivery of an inclusive career experience for all employees that is based on principles of fairness and transparency.
How has the impact of the COVID-19 been on your business? How are you sailing through tough times? Can you share some of your biggest learnings and experiences from the ongoing crisis with our readers?
Our clients have been under immense pressure and we have had to be responsive and humane in our response too. For example, one of our clients in the UK is Travelodge and they pivoted to support the homeless during these tough times, so we wanted to absolutely support any of our clients who are also doing good work.
Other clients like one of the world’s leading BioTech companies that we work with, were also the first to release a COVID-19 test and we know they used FuelGigs and had delivered over a million reskilling hours over the last year, which meant their workforce was ready to pivot and respond. We are very proud to support them and the important work they do.
We are also pivoting around the new inclusivity imperative that has swept the world as a result of the BlackLivesMatter movement. We have always had a deep business commitment to fairness, transparency, and inclusivity and these values have absolutely driven the way we have responded to the pandemic we found ourselves surrounded by as we had to make some tough decisions to future-proof our business too and ensure our team could respond to the surging demands we were experiencing in these unprecedented times.
What are the key areas of HR function have you seen maximum tech implementations in the last few months, and the categories seeing the greatest levels of innovation from the service provider side?
We have seen a huge surge in the demand for inclusive talent marketplaces and for agile career frameworks, both to support the rapid redeployment of the workforce and to support workforce agility during these unprecedented times. We have also seen an increase in demand for agile career architectures as no organization has the structure it had 6 months ago, so there is a huge demand for the AI agile approach to career frameworks and skills architecture to ensure we are still delivering organizational clarity and building the talent intelligence that is needed across the organization to ensure there are the right people in the right places to match to their organizations’ rapidly changing demands.
Given your expertise in HR tech, can you share some of the most common workplace challenges that global companies are now trying to solve with technology?
One big challenge that technology is helping with today is what Gartner refers to as "The Distance Economy."
Conferences, meetings, and in-person events were the norm for many businesses prior to 2020, and that's especially true for the HR space, but COVID-19 has changed all that. Gartner makes the case that the global pandemic has "influenced the emergence of the distance economy or business activities that don’t rely on face-to-face activity. Organizations with operating models that depend on first-party or hosted events have switched quickly to virtual alternatives."
This has given rise to all manner of technology-driven meeting solutions that attempt to replace in-person gatherings, client interactions, and a variety of business activities that are now all virtual.
Companies are also trying to leverage technology to reskill and improve their workforces, and this is what Fuel50 has been doing. Our talent solution is built on ethical artificial intelligence, and our platform leverages AI to connect people to each other, to their organizations, and to themselves in a fair, transparent, and inclusive way. Leaders can develop relationships with their people like never before.
Organizations are trying to cope with the huge changes that have come their way, and they're looking for ways to not only better connect with their people, but also to better develop and change their workforce to deal with the new business realities of 2021. And, they are looking for technology solutions to make it all happen.
How do you see the investment in the HR tech space? What do investors look for before investing in startups like yours?
There is still a lot of interest in the Future of Workspace, so we are getting a lot of investment interest now. We believe that investors are looking for the ability to deliver product-market validation with a proven revenue model that is built on beautiful technology execution and that delivers value back into our client organizations. We also think that a well-rounded, passionate dedicated, and innovative executive leadership team that is mission-aligned makes a difference to a true investor-entrepreneur partnership.
What do you think will be the biggest workplace struggle going into the future? What do you predict for workplace trends and HR tech in the next 5-10 years?
This past weekend, The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article by Nicholas Christakis, the director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University -- The Long Shadow of the Pandemic: 2024 & Beyond. His point is that the impact from the Coronavirus is going to last for quite some time and that we won't be into the post-pandemic era until 2024 at the earliest.
Yes, that's a sobering thought because it says that we are going to be dealing with the business and workplace chaos we're currently experiencing for a lot longer than we have been thinking.
The good news is that knowledge is power, and by having the knowledge that what we're dealing with today will be the reality for the near future, we will be able to better plan and not continue to think this is just a temporary cycle we're in.
I'm not sure what the biggest workplace struggle will be, but I agree with Prof. Christakis and his view that "the shift to working from home will linger." Organizations that allowed people to work from home as a last resort will now have to confront the reality that they may need to make the decision more permanent. But, that may be a good thing, in the long run, both for the organization as well as the employees involved.
In addition, workforce dynamics are changing, and how we cope with that will determine how successful our businesses are moving ahead, How do we build a better workplace culture if the staff never, ever comes to work in the same place anymore? What happens to the spur-of-the-moment brainstorming that can accidentally happen in an office environment if there is no office?
We may have lots of challenges ahead, but also a lot of possibilities too, and from great possibilities come great results. Remembering that will help keep us ALL going as we push ahead and help our businesses and workplaces evolve.