The increased implementation of automation and digitalization in the modern workplace has dramatically changed the role of human resources (HR) officers. Industry insiders agree that rather than rendering the HR department obsolete, this development represents an opportunity for HR to take on a more imaginative role.
As Carla Adriana Soto Tejeda, People and Culture Director, Casai, notes, new digital tools are fulfilling many of the traditional HR tasks, freeing up HR officers to contribute in other ways. José Ramón Fernández Domenech, CHRO, Coppel, concurs, arguing that HR’s role has moved beyond administration and talent management to comprise elements of strategic planning. With a wealth of technology now available to assess employee performance, HR can expand their offering by setting objectives to improve equipment and enable employees to maximize their talent.
Ana Isabel Orihuela Fuchs, Head of People Success, Digital@FEMSA, welcomes this dynamic shift in the role of HR: “Technology is transforming everything in our daily lives, HR needs to move forward too. We need to make use of all these technologies to make life easier,” adding that while others assess the value proposition of new technologies, it is the role of HR to foster a tech-driven approach in the modern office. In doing so, HR officers can be visionaries. “It is also up to us to make employees feel that they can be a part of these changes that affect their everyday lives. We do not want them to fear change or think new technologies are too difficult to use. It is our responsibility to encourage them and explain how technology makes their jobs easier, so that they learn to embrace change,” said Orihuela. “HR executives are ambassadors for technology implementation in their organization,” agreed Manuela Vélez, Head of People, Tul.
Implementing new technology can yield a wealth of benefits. José Carlos Aguilar, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Palenca, celebrated how the digital revolution is leveling the playing field for startups. New companies that lack infrastructure can rely on digitalization as a stand-in, like Palenca did during its early stages throughout the pandemic. With just 10 full-time employees and limited resources on hand, applications like Runa have been an invaluable asset helping Palenca get off the ground, fulfilling 95 percent of the traditional HR role. Runa simplifies the tedious and time-consuming tasks of paying taxes and sorting out wages. As the Palenca CEO argues, the time of small and medium-sized companies is simply too valuable: “SMEs must digitalize their HR processes and take advantage of technology. Spending hours on Excel sheets is no longer an option,” said Aguilar.
Orihuela agreed, explaining how despite its challenges, the pandemic allowed FEMSA to see the potential of apps like Google Workspace. While working remotely, Orihuela also praised the value offered by apps such as Slack, which in many ways served as the virtual office that kept communication and collaboration alive. Even after the return to the office, the software enables HR departments to monitor how long employees have been logged in for, with the aim of preventing burnout.
She also noted that HR must be attentive to any problems raised by employees surrounding new equipment. The demographics of an office can influence HR decisions, too. One generation of employees might be set in their ways and resistant to change, having been used to one set of software of operating systems their entire work lives. However, a new generation of employees might view this same equipment as cumbersome and obsolete. For this reason, Orihuela underscores the importance of gradual, fluid change over sudden overhauls: “Little tweaks every now and again are better than major, sudden changes.”
Vélez also celebrated the role of industry-oriented social media networks in helping companies overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic. In Tul’s case, they have also kept the option open for employees to work remotely. Vélez, for example, oversees her responsibilities from Miami, making use of the management platform HiBob to create journey maps for each employee. “A journey map is a visualization of the process that people go through to accomplish their goals. At its most basic, journey mapping starts by compiling a series of user actions into a timeline. Next, the timeline is fleshed out with user thoughts and emotions to create a narrative for that process,” she explained. The maps also help employees connect individual goals with wider company objectives.
Fernández, however, advises caution. In his view, a good HR officer must always ask if the implementation of new technology is worthwhile. "Before committing to a digital tool or solution, companies must evaluate their current standing and readiness in relation to digitalization,” he said. If technology is underused or considered a waste of time and money, HR will be held accountable if they were the ones that pushed for it. “There is no point being tech-savvy just for the sake of it. We do not need to fix what is not broken,” Fernández added, pointing out that companies should not be resistant to change but remain pragmatic, as was the case for Coppel’s new technology which has allowed it to manage its vast portfolio of branches.
Fernández underscores the importance of assessing whether a company is ready to undergo such transformations. In his view, management tasks HR with creating a company culture and analyzing its maturation to provide useful insights. As such, the main role of HR is introspection.
Orihuela agreed, underlining the importance of free trials to sample the latest software solutions without fully committing to their implementation: “This makes employees participants in the decision-making process. They pick the solutions which help them work best. It is never a decision taken from above in which they have no say.”