Article: Our investments in HR tech in pre-pandemic times helped us navigate the crisis better: C.H. Robinson’s CHRO

HR Technology

Our investments in HR tech in pre-pandemic times helped us navigate the crisis better: C.H. Robinson’s CHRO

Prior to the pandemic, we had already begun to make significant investments in human capital management software for our employees across the globe. These investments paid off when lockdowns and the shift to remote work began last year, says Angie Freeman, Chief Human Resources Officer, C.H. Robinson, in an interaction with us.
Our investments in HR tech in pre-pandemic times helped us navigate the crisis better: C.H. Robinson’s CHRO

READ the August 2021 issue of our magazine: The Rise of Work Tech

Angie was named Chief Human Resources Officer in January 2015. Prior to that, she served as Vice President of human resources from August 2012 to December 2014. Additional positions with C.H. Robinson include Vice President of investor relations and public affairs from January 2009 to August 2012 and Director of Investor Relations and Director of Marketing Communications. She also serves as the President the C.H. Robinson Worldwide Foundation.

Here are the excerpts.

Over the last 1.5 years, the concept of the workplace has been turned on its head. With companies across the globe having undergone a massive remote working experiment like no other, it Is safe to say that the world of work has been disrupted. How are organizations adapting to the changing needs?

With the digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, it is almost impossible for companies to avoid the impact on the workplace. With the implementation of travel restrictions, health concerns, and employees working remotely, the need for seamless collaboration became even more evident as both employees and employers realize that they could, in fact, work anywhere and everywhere, with the right support. 

At C.H. Robinson, we have always seen our people as a core business priority. They are the people our customers and carriers rely on to get their freight moving. Prior to the pandemic, we had already begun to make significant investments in human capital management software for our employees across the globe. This allowed us to streamline talent management, payroll solutions, and people analytics within one platform. These investments paid off when lockdowns across the globe and the shift to remote work began last year, and we were able to help new and current employees manage their workload efficiently and effectively regardless of their location. 

It is safe to say that the pandemic has changed the role of human resources forever. In the new era of work, human resources professionals will have to guide their companies and employees through the transition to a more digital and distributed work environment. At the same time, HR leaders will have to ensure employees continue to be equipped with the tools and skills needed to perform and develop. 

We have seen how HR technologies that helped facilitate ‘work’ in remote mode have gone from being something of an experiment to essential for survival. With the rise of such work technologies, how do you see the increasing role of next-gen HR technologies such as AI, VR, cloud-based employee training tools? What are some of the roadblocks to tech adoption? 

In a remote and hybrid work setting, technology has a direct impact on how employees collaborate on daily tasks. According to the Gartner 2021 HR Leaders Agenda Poll survey, 48 percent of chief human resources officers (CHROs) stated that their current HR technology solutions hinder, rather than improve, employee experience. 

Indeed, while the rise of work technologies brings about tools that CHROs can leverage to help employees flourish – it is not always about adopting the most expensive and latest technology. Rather, it is about implementing the solutions that can meet current business needs and fit with your company’s culture. I believe that CHROs must be able to take a step back and think: ‘How can technology tools help our people and help the business grow?’

Regarding roadblocks, research does show that businesses have been boosting spending on HR technologies over the last year. Despite this, we know that there are challenges – such as poor user experience and unclear benefits – to enabling and motivating employees to commit to using these tools. It is key for CHROs to ensure adequate training and development is provided for employees and to help navigate the implementation of such tech tools with a human touch. Putting employees at the heart of change and allowing them to understand what’s driving the need for these tools can go a long way in preventing change fatigue. 

The pandemic brought about an unprecedented level of change to the workplace and the rise of HR technology. What do you see as a priority in your role as HR leader of C.H. Robinson during this time?  

We see the role of HR as a key function in supporting our great people and building our company’s talent pipeline. This includes ensuring we continue to recruit motivated candidates who are agile and ready to embrace change amidst the logistics industry’s fast-moving transformation. Upskilling and reskilling initiatives form a core pillar of our talent strategy, where we offer frequent internal training programs to help staff develop the necessary skillsets.  

Since the pandemic, more hybrid and remote work opportunities have become available for employees, and it is important for businesses to prioritize employees’ well-being and training even when they’re not physically in the office. We have found that virtual onboarding programs, alongside virtual workplace social gatherings, can be impactful if these sessions give new employees a sense of encouragement and belonging within our corporate culture. 

In a workplace that no longer functions on human interaction, the only way HR personnel can ensure employees have a smooth experience is through the adoption of tech tools. How can technology help equip employees with the right skills along the supply chain network? 

Here at C.H. Robinson, we continue to believe that human interaction will be at the core of how we work – just in a more flexible and adaptable way. Our challenge now is to make this new reality work for our employees, for the company, and for our customers and carriers.

Traditional supply chains are characterized by often burdensome paperwork, varied data accuracy, and delays resulting from manual processes. In fact, McKinsey research found that about 58 percent of worldwide activities in operationally intensive sectors – including logistics – could be automated using currently demonstrated technologies. With these tools, employees can make smarter decisions and focus on innovation.

Even as C.H. Robinson embraces new technologies within our operations, we continue to enable and encourage our employees to make decisions about issues such as customer service or process improvements. This shift away from a one-size-fits-all development approach also helps allow for personalized development opportunities for each employee.

The logistics industry has seen significant disruptions due to the pandemic and incidents such as the Suez Canal blockage. What do leaders need to focus on when building future-ready HR teams in the logistics industry?

The ideal employee skillset for the supply chain industry has evolved. Considering that logistics disruptions have become more frequent now, logistics companies will need to build teams that are agile, able to harness the benefits of technology, and are able to make swift decisions in the event of a disruption. 

As forecasting and order fulfillment becomes more automated, job functions are also increasingly shifting towards running scenarios to see how to deal with exceptions and supply chain disruptions. For example, at C.H. Robinson, we are not only looking for candidates who boast supply chain knowledge but also analytical and engineering skills to help our customers overcome future challenges. Most importantly, we are also looking for people who are problem-solvers at heart and can adapt quickly if things do not happen exactly the way the process is laid out. Ultimately, we aim to empower our employees to make the right decisions, based on data and insights from our logistics platform, Navisphere, for our customers.

As countries begin to recover from the ongoing crisis, what does the post-pandemic world look like for HR? What will leaders need to focus on in terms of talent management strategy in our new normal?

I think it is important that CHROs come to view the pandemic as not just a crisis, but rather an opportunity for businesses and employees to grow and reach new heights. Indeed, as companies recover and adapt to the new way of working, the HR department will be one of the main drivers that keep the corporate engine going. 

Looking forward, CHROs will need to see how we can help employees maximize the value they add to their organization, and how we can better adopt appropriate digital solutions for maximum productivity, growth, and career satisfaction. As COVID-19 accelerates talent management trends, CHROs can act now to craft a strong talent strategy for later. Effective talent management will be the foundation of forming productive workforces that are aligned to meet business goals. 

For example, in terms of effective and efficient recruitment in the supply chain landscape – HR leaders must understand the needs of a rapidly transforming industry and a broader range of talent and experience, and a more diverse one, that brings all our talents to bear. Moreover, recruiting and retaining talent is no longer about simply telling potential candidates why the company is a great one to work at, but providing candidates a place for them to meet their needs and achieve their dreams.


Read full story

Topics: HR Technology, #RiseofWorkTech, #HRTech

Did you find this story helpful?



What are the top work tech investment focus areas for your company currently?

Have you been reviewing your tech and IT strategy in the aftermath of digital acceleration?

READ our latest issue to find out how others are adapting their digital approach today.