The Covid-19 pandemic is enforcing a change in company and employee cultures. In terms of cultural transformation as a result of COVID-19, being able to support flexible working to the extent that you can in your business, recognizing the range of personal circumstances that exist within a team, being intentional about fostering virtual connections and better collaboration, while communicating more are crucial to the everyday role of business leaders and HR says Kimberley Gilmour, Chief People Officer at UneeQ in this interview. In this QnA she shares more about UneeQ’s experience dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and which HR Technologies will eventually become must-haves for companies. Catch more here:
Tell us a little about yourself Kimberley. We’d love to hear about your biggest takeaways from your journey in HR within the B2B / Tech marketplace!
I’ve been fortunate to have had amazing opportunities to lead the “people” function at some inspirational and innovative high-growth tech companies including Vend (point of sale SaaS), 8i (Augmented Reality), and now – UneeQ. I love exploring the possibilities that new technologies offer and the mindset of always looking for new and better ways to do things – internally, as well as with customers. I also have a strong interest in health and wellbeing and am currently working toward my master’s in health psychology. One of the things that most attracted me to this opportunity with UneeQ, aside from getting to work alongside an incredible leadership team, is the tremendous opportunity that exists for technology (including ours) to transform and personalize a range of industries at scale, in particular health.
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How according to you will the role of HR change in the B2B / Tech marketplace as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; what according to you will the role of HR in 2021 and beyond look like?
To me the role of HR is, and will continue to be, about supporting people and businesses, helping them to thrive, and creating and nurturing the culture and conditions that enable this. As the world of work changes, so will our roles. In fact, managing and supporting change is, I believe, one of the key focuses of HR now and going forward.
It’s fair to say 2020 has not turned out how many people planned! The COVID-19 pandemic meant that business leaders had to take swift action to ensure the safety of their people and the future of their businesses. In my role, this meant an increased focus on intentional and inclusive communications: finding novel ways to stay connected while being physically distant from each other, fostering virtual collaboration, ensuring strong feedback loops with our team, managing change, and paying extra attention to wellbeing. One of the key changes to how we work in many industries has been the increasing shift to remote working. This heightened flexibility over where we work is likely something that will remain in some form, even when people are able to return to the office. I believe that supporting and nurturing culture and productivity within remote teams will be a key focus for HR going forward.
I think the pandemic has also shone a light on the importance of supporting health and wellbeing. Not only ensuring the physical health and safety of our teams but also supporting wellbeing more generally. I know I have a slight bias here given my academic background, but to me it is absolutely fundamental to put the mental health of our employees as a top priority. I don’t believe you can have a high performing team or an engaged team without paying attention to and supporting wellbeing – HR plays a huge role in that.
Could you tell us about some of the key initiatives for employee engagement/motivation that were undertaken at UneeQ during the Covid-19 lockdowns?
The key focus areas for us around employee engagement and motivation through the COVID-19 lockdowns were communicating quickly and clearly, creating novel and regular opportunities for people to stay connected with each other, and supporting our team’s health and wellbeing.
Key communication initiatives included clear information about what COVID-19 meant for our teams in all our different locations, providing guidelines on working remotely, regular personal check-ins with each person on the team, and setting up new communication channels to share ideas and tips for WFH – especially for those with children at home with them.
We converted some previously planned office-based social activities to virtual events; including coffee catch ups, Friday drinks, birthday celebrations – we even ran our annual black-tie awards event virtually. We also hosted a series of activities and challenges (e.g. step challenge, bake off, onesie day, quiz night) and invited families to be part of the fun.
We continued to remind the team about the free and confidential counselling services they can access through the company, rolled out a wellbeing app (Mentemia) and ran a virtual wellbeing workshop.
UneeQ uses a tool to continuously monitor employee engagement and we kept a close eye on trends and feedback during that period. Interestingly the relationship with peer’s metric increased during the lockdown! We conducted a separate survey to check in with our team, identify any challenges, ask for feedback, and find out what additional social activities people wanted or any help they needed. When the results of the survey were shared, we wanted to act quickly and put the ideas in motion.
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As the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic play out over the next few months, what capabilities will HR teams need more of, from their tech stacks? In the near future: what according to you will be some of the must-have HR technologies that B2B organizations would swear by?
For me, the key capabilities HR teams need from their tech stacks are tools that yield meaningful, real-time information and insights, as well as tools that offer intuitive and compelling user interfaces. Many companies already use a range of tools throughout the employee lifecycle for recruiting, onboarding, learning and development, engagement, and information management. They can give the HR team useful information but they’re not always easy or enjoyable for current and potential employees to use. There are a number of emerging technologies for employee engagement, recruitment and wellbeing that utilize conversational artificial intelligence to personalize experiences and engage users as well as analyze information and offer unique user insights. I think in the near future, these will become increasingly commonplace.
At UneeQ, we’re already working with some of our customers to take this to the next level by having a digital human interface in the recruitment process and in internal FAQs. Additionally, we also use an internal digital human as part of our onboarding process; an AI assistant that can answer questions new employees may have about fellow staff members, our company values, and other information. One great thing is that we can capture the questions that people ask the digital human, identify gaps in our current onboarding processes, and continually refine and improve the experience for future new hires.
During this phase: remote employee screening and hiring practices are picking up pace: what are your top tips to keep in mind?
Great people always have a range of opportunities, so how do you make a memorable first impression and stand out? Top tip for remote employee screening and hiring is to make the experience as engaging and personal as possible. Leverage the benefits of available technologies, have a strong employer brand and utilize highly skilled recruiters and hiring managers to help ease the transition.
It is worth considering some of the incredible advances in HR tech that exist to support remote hiring. Ten years ago, the company I worked for was scaling globally and hiring was a large part of my role. To help with time zone and capacity constraints, I implemented video interviewing technology to help with the screening stage of the recruitment process. Variants of this technology are still in use today, a decade later, with improvements in quality and overall experience. Many of these tools work well; however, it is still a one-way conversation, with the candidate simply answering questions. Newer technologies powered by conversational AI allow application and screening to take place at scale, with the added benefit of the process being much more interactive. Candidates can ask questions rather than simply answer them. Application information is captured in a personalized, engaging, and natural way through a conversation with either a chatbot or a digital human. This can be a great way to hire at scale while retaining the human touch.
A few general thoughts/tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic?
Accept that this pandemic has changed the way we work and engage with each other and in many ways, we can’t go back to how things were before. We don’t know how long lockdown restrictions will remain in place and even when they are removed, they can return just as swiftly, as we recently learned in New Zealand (after several months of pretty free movement, we had a small spike in COVID-19 cases so our largest city Auckland, where many of our team are based, was quarantined again to prevent a widespread outbreak). Adopt and embrace new ways of communicating and connecting with each other and with customers. Find ways to collaborate better virtually. Take care of your people!
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