When asked to consider how technology is transforming the world of work, an HR executive may point to advancements in applicant tracking systems, the growth of on-demand learning platforms and better employee analytics. These are just a few of the exciting new tools having a profound impact on HR, but what about the many broader technologies that are shaking up the status quo across industries?
From 5G and blockchain, to deep learning and augmented reality, these technologies are more than buzzwords. In fact, there are already proven use cases demonstrating these technologies’ promise in industries like retail, finance and healthcare. And there’s plenty of potential for them to transform HR as well.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the seven tech trends making work more connected and efficient.
1) Deep Learning
A form of artificial intelligence, deep learning uses algorithms that can learn without direct input from humans. If you want a computer to differentiate between pictures of toddlers and puppies, a person wouldn’t need to label specific attributes of both categories. Instead, artificial neural networks could send data through various layers, with each one defining key features of various pictures and, finally, pinpointing the right identifiers for classifying the images.
The technology is powerful when it comes to interpreting large amounts of disparate data and coming up with highly nuanced inferences about customer behavior. Case in point: Recruiters will be able to pinpoint promising candidates more efficiently, since they won’t be limited by the data in their company’s traditional applicant tracking systems. Instead, their deep learning-enabled technology will be able to aggregate and analyze data from social media sites like LinkedIn and other sources like personal websites or portfolios to gain a better understanding of applicants as individuals. "The deep learning can layer in additional data sets to provide insights into the next best steps," says Daniel Newman, principal analyst of Futurum Research.
2) Augmented Reality
With augmented reality, digitally generated images, sound and graphics enhance objects in the real world. While it has led to popular entertainment like Snapchat’s gender-swap lens and Pokemon Go, AR also is having an effect on how we work. For example, AR now makes it easier for teams to work remotely. At Braustin Homes, a San Antonio-based company that sells factory-built houses, customers can shop for one of the firm’s 24 home models entirely online or over the phone. Customers can take materials home with them, download an AR app and view floor plans of each model. For the staff, it means employees don’t need to meet customers in-person or at construction sites, saving them travel time and money and giving them the flexibility to work from wherever they want.
Workers can also use AR-enabled glasses to, say, perform a task that requires many steps without first having to memorize all those instructions. Instead, workers can use an AR-enabled headset to view instructions or tutorials through a display overlay— all while they work. Or an expert located at another location can offer guidance. The result for workers: More time to work on other, more challenging projects.
Bots can run automated tasks, enabling them to perform repetitive tasks such as sending emails or scheduling appointments at a higher rate than a human. While companies are already increasingly using these bots for internal processes, the next step iteration will be what Christopher Creel, author of Adaptive: Scaling Empathy and Trust to Create Workplace Nirvana, calls "intelligent chatbots." These bots use deep learning algorithms operating inside of collaborative applications like Slack. As a result, they can perform such tasks as collecting regular feedback from colleagues, doing away with the need for annual reviews. In addition, using natural language analysis, bots can coach managers on how to phrase feedback to be most effective. The upshot: a dramatic improvement in our performance as managers—and a more pleasant employee experience.
4) Conversational AI
Over the next few years, virtual assistants operated through voice commands like Siri and Alexa will become a lot more sophisticated. That’s because, with the next phase of artificial intelligence, the software’s algorithms will be able to consider context and make inferences. Thus, your digital assistant will not only be able to let you know when you have two conflicting meetings, but also help you prioritize your schedule based on, say, which person is higher up in the company hierarchy or other important factors. "You’ll have a continuous stream of conversation that’s more like talking to another person," says Newman.
So how will that impact the way we work? For one thing, the technology should significantly boost our day-to-day efficiency by taking menial tasks off the plates of workers. An AI-powered assistant can schedule interviews between candidates and hiring managers, for example, giving human HR executives more time to better prepare for innately human tasks, such as phone screen interviews. Plus, by sussing out potential political conflicts or other inter-personal considerations, it’s likely to improve our relationships within our organization and maybe even lead to quicker promotions, Newman suggests.
5) Municipal Broadband
A growing number of towns and cities are building and managing their own broadband infrastructure systems, offering the service to residents in a certain area. They’re particularly important for rural regions that commercial providers find too expensive to enter. For gig workers and freelancers in these areas, the systems can make it easier to work from even the most remote rural areas.
This next-generation cellular wireless technology promises faster speed, lower latencies (the time it takes for data to travel from a device to the cloud and back) and the ability to connect massive numbers of sensors and smart devices within a network. The impact on work will be substantial. For example, faster, more reliable Internet connections will improve remote communication and collaboration tools like video calls. In addition, there will be advances like enhanced virtual conference rooms, combining AI, connected objects and virtual reality. For instance, a speaker’s name and title might appear on the screen, a helpful piece of information for big meetings with many strangers. It all will make virtual meetings more like real life and further boost the ability to work remotely.
7) Distributed Ledger Technologies
Blockchain, often called a digitized ledger, contains batches of transactions linked to other blocks that are time-stamped and tamper-proof. While it’s widely known as the underpinning for cryptocurrency, the technology is also used for a wide variety of other applications, such as tracking the progress of a product through a particular supply chain. And that’s likely to have a larger impact on the workplace by making it easier to collaborate with everyone from vendors to banks. "You’re going to have a greater amount of trust in whomever you’re working with if you can track everything that’s happening without wondering about the integrity of the system," says Michael Biltz, managing director of Accenture Technology Vision. Plus, blockchain has the potential to add more transparency to recruiting and hiring, serving as a virtual resume that’s unchangeable and offers verified credentials.
As these technologies continue to evolve, it’s critical for HR to consider how they might transform and improve their organizations. After all, we spend too much time at work to miss out on opportunities to work better.
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