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Take it From a Futurist: Technology and Humans Must Work Towards Symbiosis

Cornerstone Editors

Editor's Note: We would never dream of trying to predict the future—that's why we left it up to the futurists. In this series, we interview experts in HR, recruiting and the future of work to get their take on what's next.

As a researcher who studies the intersection of people and technology at work, Ben Eubanks examines each side of a two-faced coin. On one side is tech—"how we use technology to hire, train and engage the workforce; the other is human—"the trends side of how employers are performing these activities."

Eubanks, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory and author of 2019’s Artificial Intelligence of HR, has a background in human resources and now works as a researcher, speaker and writer. The career shift is one he calls "a natural extension of my life’s mission: to improve the field of human resources, one HR pro at a time."

In his research, Eubanks has been very attune to lasting trends in the industry—and spot those that are on the horizon. Lately, he’s noticed standout trends like a focus on overall employee wellbeing, increased use of artificial intelligence and the importance of prioritizing skills that are uniquely human.

1) Wellbeing Is a Focus—Now More Than Ever

Across today’s HR landscape, Eubanks has noticed a shift from a focus on physical wellness (an exercise stipend or weekly group workouts) to a more holistic approach to wellness.

The topic of overall wellness is one of seven explored in Lighthouse Research & Advisory’s 2020 talent and HR trends report, Eubanks notes, so it's on the mind of many. And it’s even more pressing now—as we move through the pandemic largely in isolation, mental wellbeing should be a priority.

"Being healthy is absolutely a good thing, and research shows that exercise, rest and good nutrition can lead to improved attention, memory and mood—all positive indicators for individual performance," the report reads. "However, if someone is facing financial struggles, they will still fail to perform at their best on the job."

Financial factors, as well as variables like stress and anxiety levels, may influence employees’ productivity rates. Lighthouse suggests employers get to know employees and "serve them in a tailored way," offering the example of a company that caters to its specific employee pool by providing benefits like financial literacy training, transportation solutions to help employees get to and from work and matching funds for savings accounts.

2) Artificial Intelligence is More Than a Buzzword

AI isn’t a far off technology reserved for expert coders or highly technical industries these days. It’s in everyone’s day-to-day, from autocorrect on our emails to suggested learning playlists. To this point, Eubanks says he’s seen increased emphasis on AI in what he calls "practical solutions" for HR teams.

These solutions include speeding up the hiring process, analyzing engagement in a deeper way and increasing workplace equitability. Lighthouse’s upcoming research plans include exploring the multitude of ways in which narrowly-focused algorithms can be used in employee hiring, engagement and retention.

Noted in the report, of course, the potential downfalls of AI if not implemented with a clear purpose in mind: "The problem comes when we automate just for the sake of automation. We may get efficiency, but we ruin any chance we had for engaging the person at the other end of the experience in a positive way."

3) Human Skills Remain Front and Center

The way we measure good work has changed. While collecting appropriate data points on hard skills remains important, a well-rounded employee also fosters skills like creativity and collaboration. In fact, these softer skills should be prioritized over "traditional measures like workforce productivity," Eubanks argues.

"One of my soap box topics as of late is to push HR and business leaders to focus more heavily on productivity but not in the traditional sense," he says. "We see the oncoming wave of automation and disruption from technology—what will the jobs look like that are left behind? They will prioritize human skills that can't be automated by an algorithm, such as curiosity and critical thinking."

This means pushing for opportunities with an emphasis on what Eubanks calls deep, creative work.

"We need to be prioritizing employee time to ensure that they have opportunities to create collaboratively or think critically about bigger, long-term problems," he says. "That’s the true future of work."

Want to learn more about how you can guide your company (and employees) towards the future of work, now? Check out some of Cornerstone’s development products here.

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