HR technology is having a moment. Every technology is getting pumped with artificial intelligence (AI), while many people ponder the ramifications of this technology flooding their work – and lives. What will this mean for jobs and livelihood? How can people ensure they remain relevant? At the same time, there are other advanced technologies with the potential to change work.

Already, employers are deploying spyware to keep tabs on employees, especially those working remotely. In addition, the metaverse – with a lower case m as opposed to the one with a capital M that Meta, the parent company of Facebook tried to put into the universe – promises to transform how remote workers interact with each other, managers, and customers online. Much like the metaverse has already done with video games, it will be a virtual reality, where people’s avatars can sit at a desk, chat at the water cooler, collaborate in groups, and come as close as possible to being in the same room.

Recently, HR Exchange Network held its sixth edition of All Access: HR Tech North America. It proved to be an exciting couple of days discussing what emerging technologies, including generative AI, metaverse, and spyware, mean for the future of work and the role of HR professionals. Joined by thought leaders from Microsoft, Comcast, HP, Poshmark, ChenMed and more participants delved into the benefits, practicalities, and ethics of these new technologies that are transforming the workplace. During the course of the event, the audience responded to poll questions, and the results were revealing.

AI in the Workplace

On the topic of utilizing AI at work, the results were surprising. Attendees were asked “Are you using AI at work?” with the largest group responding with never (39.6%). The second largest group (33.6%) told us that they only use AI sometimes, and 17.2% of attendees stated they use AI frequently but not daily. Only 9.7% of attendees told us that they are using AI daily. As generative AI becomes more established in work over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how this split changes.

“How many of us today can raise our hands and say, we don’t use internet? Anyone? No, right? That’s what AI is going to become,” said Prerna Ajmera, the General Manager of HR Digital Strategy and Innovation at Microsoft at the HR Tech event. “So, if you’re going to get scared and run away from this, there’s no escape. Right? So, embrace it. Learn it. Be the first one. The second thing that I would say is, don’t be lazy. If you feel like your job, is going to be taken away, if you’re not making AI work for you, [remember] there will never be a case when there’s no HR. professional needed. There will be two categories. There will be HR professionals who will use AI effectively and the ones who do not.”

AI is only just beginning to make its mark on the workplace. Those in Human Resources are trying to determine the role they should play in determining how to use this technology at work. How should HR keep talent relevant? What are the rules and regulations for using this ethically? How can AI make people more efficient without making them obsolete?

The Role of HR in Leading AI Transformation

These questions have arisen after the event as well. HR Exchange Network kept the conversation going on Featured, which was formerly known as HR has the power to lead people through this next phase of work. They can be the voice of reason and help humans recognize their true potential in a world powered by AI. Now is the time for HR to take the reins.

“Generative AI is here to stay, and its potential to reshape job roles is undeniable. That’s why HR must play a vital role in guiding employees through the associated risks by proactively devising strategies that foster relevance and adaptability. Educating employees about AI and its impact becomes the initial step to raise awareness, facilitate skill development, and foster a culture of continuous learning and growth,” Atul Mankad, Domain Expert at Naman HR. “This involves identifying the sought-after skills and providing relevant training opportunities to upskill and reskill. Additionally, they can encourage a work environment that values innovation, creativity, and transparency, empowering employees to come up with new ideas and solutions. Moreover, HR’s efforts must prioritize promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, ensuring that every employee has equal access to opportunities. These strategies, among others, empower employees to thrive, adapt, and maintain their relevance amid the evolving landscape of AI.”

However, not everyone is on board with HR overseeing the AI revolution at work. Some in Human Resources believe workplaces would be better served leaving HR out of it.

There are several key phrases to address in answering these questions. The first answer is that, as yet, HR in many organizations isn’t playing enough of a role. The primary reason for that is that their plates were already overflowing before AI began dominating conversations…again,” says Jeremy Ames, Leader in Workplace Technology. “This had begun in the mid-to-late 2010s and had gone on hiatus until ‘workforce productivity’ is formally added to HR’s strategic outcomes. They shouldn’t necessarily be tagged with capitalizing on AI. Rather, they should a) remain connected to the functions in the organization that will help them monitor the effects on the employee base, and b) help make sure the workforce is upskilled to incorporate the necessary components of AI into their work.  ‘Relevance,’ in the context of AI, isn’t necessarily about replacement. It’s about not being left behind on the benefits.”

Spying on Workers

Indeed, monitoring employees seems to be top of mind as remote work becomes more possible and mainstream after the pandemic forced it upon everyone. In fact, attendees of the HR Tech event were open to employee monitoring but only in certain circumstances. When asked, “What is your view on employee monitoring?” only 5.2% of attendees gave unqualified approval of the practice with 25.4% stating their disapproval. The remaining 69.4% of attendees were more nuanced in their approach to employee monitoring and said they preferred a tailored approach to the situation.

The Metaverse as a Solution – Or Not!

A solution to this need that some employers seem to have to use spyware is getting people back in the office. When that’s not possible or desirable, the metaverse provides some hope. After all, a person’s avatar could interact with others in a virtual reality office online. Still, the concept is not fully winning over leaders.

When asked at HR Tech, “Do you think your organization should invest in the metaverse?” attendees wanted to see more of the possible pros and cons with 61.2% stating they were unsure. Nearly a quarter of attendees (23.9%) were vehemently against adopting the emerging technology with a minority of respondents (14.9%) approving investment in the metaverse.

However, at least three leaders, who responded to a question on about the metaverse, thought it could be useful in the workplace. They suggested that it could be applied to onboarding, learning and development, and enhancing employee engagement. Time will determine if virtual reality equipment becomes more affordable and therefore more accessible – and whether the metaverse, typically used for entertainment, can get serious enough for employers.

“Those who don’t continue to explore and learn risk falling behind in a fast-moving field,” writes Markus Bernhardt, a panelist at HR Tech and chief consultant at ChangeUp Operations, which provides deeptech AI solutions for corporate learning, development, and more, in a Forbes article about his takeaways from the conversations at the HR Exchange Network event. “Staying on top of recent developments and learning about the strengths and weaknesses of these new tools, as well as their limitations, is key. This is reskilling and up-skilling in action, in an ever-faster changing environment. Staying on top of developments will be a key differentiator, across all areas of business, and agnostic to roles and seniority.”

By Francesca Di Meglio

Originally posted on HR Exchange Network

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