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TecHRseries Interview with Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer at People First

The new normal is all about adapting to changes that no one has had prior experience dealing with, both personally and at the workplace. Catch this interview where Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer at People First talks about his journey in HR and HR Tech while sharing employee best practices for this crucial time.

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Tell us a little about yourself Iain. What are some of the biggest highlights of being in the HR / HR Tech space today for you?

Over the past 35 years I’ve had a variety of roles in the HR tech solutions space from software developer to manager, consultant and leader.  The golden thread throughout has been helping organizations adapt to new technology and achieving true business value.

Looking back, one of the most rewarding parts of my career has been the opportunity to work with so many brilliant and inspiring people. HR is a rich source of deep thinking around the future of work and the motivators that drive us. It’s also a window into our relationship with technology −particularly now as AI starts to take on more of a human aspect.

I’ve learned that great HR technology is about the simplification of processes and delivering a great end-user experience, rather than the technology itself. We are seeing that today as innovations around cloud and platform-as-a-service create greater accessibility – that opportunity is driving an explosion of solutions focused around areas such as improved motivation, productivity, coaching, professional development and well-being.

We are also at a unique point in time where we are seeing the power of a public health crisis − and the social and economic disruption that goes along with it − to drive change more rapidly. The global pandemic we are dealing with now is forcing us all to reimagine aspects of work, and in doing so, the roles we play in HR and HR tech.

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How did you venture into this segment and given your time in this industry, how have you seen it evolve over the years – and what are some of your near-future predictions for this segment?

My first proper job was in software development in 1984 but I actually started selling software to local businesses while I was in high school. I worked in IT and landed a larger project in the National Health Service in Scotland to implement an HR & payroll solution, and stayed on to develop patient systems, finance systems and analytics solutions. It was during the early nineties that I began to work with HR departments, gathering requirements and developing solutions. At that time, the focus was on compliance processing and basic record keeping.

Today, the focus is largely around employee experience and engagement and I am genuinely pleased to see this. Over the years I’ve always been surprised by the general perception of HR as detached from the day-to-day business, considering the volume of evidence we have about the positive impact good HR management practices can have on productivity, morale, well-being, and the top and bottom line. When I engage with companies today, it’s exciting to see how HR is becoming such an integral part of the day-to-day. The current age of customer and employee journey mapping and experience is a key to integrating HR technology, strategy and day-to-day process with business performance.

When I look to the future, I see AI and machine learning playing an increasingly growing role in the areas of simplification, scalability, knowledge sharing and performance optimization for both transactional, low value tasks as well as higher value tasks around policy, governance and advisory.

I also see the rise of workplace flexibility driving a greater need to enable collaborative teams working around a shared purpose. Along with this will be the need for tools to measure and assess progress, performance and learning. Creating these capabilities to enable business performance will be another area of growth for HR tech.

Given the industry challenges for the global workforce due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic enforcing work from home models for so many teams: how have you seen companies and leaders manage their distributed workforce? Could you share some best practices on what leaders should follow as work-from-home picks up pace for the near-future because of Covid-19?

Since the pandemic really took hold a few months ago, I’ve come to realize how closely the physical workplace is associated with personal identity, cultural cues, relationships and social behavior. Unfortunately many remote workplace tools on the market are associated with performing tasks as opposed to how we feel at work.

This is why the companies that are faring the best during this challenging period are those that use communication and collaboration solutions to reinforce mission and values. These companies are also increasing their focus on the mental health and well-being of their workforce, as well as the purposeful introduction of good news and fun communications to reinforce identify and connectedness in the workforce.

How are they doing it? For the most part, these companies are using a mash-up of cloud drives, planning tools, SharePoint and similar platforms, video conferencing, email and social media tools – to name a few. While these solutions may be working for the time being, it is important to keep it mind that these platforms do not have any analytic functionality.  The remote model isn’t going away anytime soon, and you will ultimately need a solution that can measure the balance between the task-driven and more social, emotionally engaging aspects of the work day.

When it comes to measuring employee productivity for a distributed workforce: what are some of the top HR Tech products you’d advise teams to implement as part of their tech stack: what other suggestions do you have here to address the issue of measuring productivity while ensuring motivation levels are kept at an all-time high given the personal challenges employees have been facing during this uncertain time. 

Understanding and maintaining perspective on performance gets many of its cues from the physical workspace with things such as informal meetings with managers and non-verbal cues.  In the remote world, regular communication and purposeful check-ins (not check-ups!) are going to be much more important for gauging productivity, motivational levels, well-being, clarifying expectations and tracking progress.

Technology, of course, will play a key role here. The following are three key areas to focus on:

  1. Activity planning and tracking: ASANA, Monday.com, and Trello are some of the more popular platforms in this space.
  2. Video conferencing: Combined with activity planning and tracking, video conferencing can be used to support regular check-ins with staff.
  3. Collaboration tools: There are a variety of solutions used for remote collaboration, including SharePoint, Google Drive, OneDrive, Slack, MS Teams and People First.

Ideally, both managers and employees can initiate check-in meetings, and the meetings shouldn’t be onerous. Check-ins are simply a demonstration of great day-to-day management, and remind us to pause and touch base on whether anything needs to be clarified, if we’re on track, where feedback is needed, what we are learning, and what  we need to do next.

Typically each check-in should take around 30-40 minutes. When done often and well, the process saves significant downstream time associated with correcting mistakes, avoiding wasted effort, or losing motivation and productivity through a lack of feedback, coaching and support. Pre-pandemic, most of our customers were doing check-ins every 4 weeks. As long as the workplace remains remote, it makes more sense to do check-ins on a weekly basis. This is a sensible balance that both parties can get used to.

Read More: How HR and Executive Management Can Work Together to Innovate Human Resources 

What are some of the biggest pros of having remote teams throughout the organizational hierarchy and what are some of the biggest cons? Would you say that companies should have a balance of both – work-from-office and work from home cultures imposed over time? Or, do you think one is better than the other on the whole?

When it comes to the advantages of working remotely, the flexibility of when to perform work, a reduction of the stress caused by the commute, and a greater capacity to consider different work patterns and sources of talent are all good outcomes. Another positive outcome that we don’t talk about as much is the environmental impact.  The pandemic has given us a rare opportunity to see first hand the impact commuting has on our planet in terms of carbon emissions, air pollution and use of plastics and paper.

When we think about the cons, it largely comes down to a person’s ability to deal with feelings of isolation often associated with ongoing remote work. We have an instinctive social need to identify with teams, and employers need to address this concern. There is also the potential of the remote workplace to disperse and erode the company culture.  However, if organizations ensure the proper management skillsets to support remote workers, and provide the necessary adjustments to manage culture and systems in a remote working environment, then many of these cons can be significantly mitigated.

I don’t believe that any kind of pre-defined balance of these two options should be imposed − other than in situations like COVID-19.  Whether one is better than another really depends on the company’s employees. Choice and flexibility are the key.

What top best practices would you share with employers to ensure they are able to maintain the overall workplace and company culture while they work from home and as they slowly return to a work-from-office model over the next few weeks and months?

To my earlier point, I believe organizations need to recognize the need for solutions that address the balance between task-based and the more emotionally engaging and social aspects of work in a single digital format.  When that is coupled with bi-directional communication that can reach and engage the entire workforce, the task of maintaining cultural cohesion and measuring the pulse of the organization becomes much easier.

A few general thoughts / tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic?

Organizations and the people they employ are going to be challenged by more change and ambiguity at a faster pace. While COVID-19 is an extreme example of that paradigm, I believe we will come through this as we have with previous recessions, depressions and social crises.

I do not view our current situation in terms of pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 norms. The real new normal is going to be all about dealing with ongoing change and ambiguity. That is our future challenge on a personal, social and economic level. Remote working will have a critical role to play here in terms of building sustainable and resilient businesses, and that role will requirement investment in technology solutions that support remote culture, motivation and performance.

People First is a human-centric HR solution, it provides businesses with the tools and thinking to nurture and engage talent while increasing retention and driving productivity, promoting the workplace of the future. The software contains all the functionality for teams to thrive, including social collaboration tools, team management, working patterns, benefits management, time and attendance, automated recruitment and pragmatic people analytics. It helps to facilitate regular face-to-face communication between managers and employees – critical to ensuring everyone in the workplace is heard.