In the first week of December last year, something very interesting slipped out of sight in the midst of the global online outrage over the manner and timing of en masse firing by the CEO of an online mortgage company in the US. Enough has been said and written about the moral vacuum at the very top of the organisation to a firing-squad style of sacking that led to a global PR disaster.
The company's CEO, among other things, cited the poor productivity of many of the employees as the reason for the drastic steps he had to take. His language may not merit being repeated here. Still, it was also about the larger issue of managing workforce productivity when remote working has become a norm for millions worldwide.
Workforce productivity is as old, persistent, and an all-industry challenge for as long as we can remember. Since F W Tylor's 'time and motion study' created in the early years of the previous century to today's Kaizen, business leaders and industrial scholars have dealt with this challenge with varying degrees of success. In fact, contemporary tech companies consider 'revenue per employee' as one of the key measures of their growth. Even within the startup space, funding deals are sealed based on 'operations efficiency', often a euphemism for customers or revenue per employee. So if there is any apparent anxiety over productivity, particularly among managers and leaders in an 'open office' environment, it is quite understandable.
But to understand this better, we need to look a little closer at the evolving HR industry and the increasing role of technology in that space. This is ground-zero for the current disruption in the larger area of HR. We are currently in the third phase of tech-driven evolution in the HR industry. Starting as a simple payroll/administrative tool several decades ago and evolving into a talent management solution, technology in the HR space is now getting increasingly focused on individual productivity. This third evolution, generally known as WorkTech. is headlined by popular tools like video conferences, sales and projects collaboration tools, automated weekly planners etc. The outcome of this third phase is all about the productivity of people, and an evolving definition of 'quality of hire'.
Conventionally 'quality of hire' has been understood as the ratio of the number of hires to the number of interviews conducted. This conversation rate measures productivity of our hiring process. However, a small and growing number of people (replace with HR specialists) are offering a more enlightened definition of 'quality of hire' to include the quality of the people who have been hired. In other words, the value delivered by a hire to the organisation. Today, we have tools to measure and improve specific deliverables like the call to multiple sale conversion, the number of lines of codes produced in a day, etc. Such attention to detail that may seem like a case of micro-management in smaller organisations has become a vital tool in larger organisations running thousands of collaborations across locations. It is all about productivity.
As HR industry expert Josh Bersin recently puts it, "Companies of all sizes have sent their employees home and are adopting remote work, remote meetings, and remote management at scale. Technologies purchased as experiments have become mission-critical, and every piece of HR technology is moving from "good to have" to "essential to survival."
What we are witnessing is the emergence of a new architecture that is more tuned to WorkTech. The collaboration tools, for example, are not only enabling employees to collaborate better but are also giving managers visibility on the ground level. Collaboration tools are not just looked at as SAAS platform but as HR Tech platform. That is the fundamental shift. Collaboration has become a very important part because people are working remotely. This is the future architecture for HR Tech. Earlier it was only two layers, now a new layer is being added which is WorkTech helping people to be more productive.
There could be some legitimate questions about the boundaries that define individual privacy. The experience so far favours WorkTech tools as far as the tracking is handled professionally. The future of work is being productive anywhere. It's less about the place and more about the people and their ability to seamlessly collaborate to achieve their goals. With the rise of tools like Slack, Zoom, Zapier and many others, WorkTech is gaining a lot of mainstream focus and will continue to do so.
The story in India is still evolving. Application of productivity tools as a key strategy or relying more on WorkTech to stay competitive is still not commonplace. The focus is still more on the rate of new hires than the quality of the people who are hired. But this is about to change. Remote work environment is here to stay. This is a challenge for HR practitioners across the board, whether they are a part of the employer organisation or a professional staffing company.