The Art of People Business – Technology in the Workplace

I was an HR professional for 10+ years; and in that timespan, there was one aspect of work that was a constant. That constant was change. I saw processes come and go, people come and go, and companies come and go. And, I witnessed first-hand how technology played a role in everything of significance that changed in the workplace.

Now, I mentioned before that there’s no possible way to exhaust the subject of technology in a blog post. And even multiple non-fiction and scholarly books and articles can’t possibly do the subject justice in one fell swoop. So, I’m not going to even try to conquer the giant.

I’m not going to try and dazzle you with numbers, statistics, the history of technology, or any of the other drier material that you can find in your global academic, scientific, historical, or newsworthy periodical, article, or textbook. I simply want to provide a real-life human being’s perspective on the matter.

Therefore, I’ve decided to focus on three main areas, where I’ve seen technology in the workplace make its greatest impact in my personal experiences. And, I’ve decided to tackle the subject by discussing the pros and cons for each main area in real-talk fashion.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

Technology in How People Apply for Jobs

When I started out in HR, I remember the times when applicants could physically come into our office space and fill out a paper application for employment. They could fill out the application right then and there in the office and we, HR folks, would be available to assist them with any questions they may have. Or, applicants were able to take the applications home with them and complete them at their convenience, coming back to our office to drop them off or mailing them to our office, when completed. Not a bad process. It worked for many years, until technology happened.

So, we evolved into setting up computer kiosks for applicants, so they could come into our office and complete their applications online. But initially, we still had the old paper applications available as well. And for those applicants who preferred to complete their applications in privacy, they weren’t confined to completing the forms in our office. Anywhere you had computer and Internet access, you could complete the online form. However, the paper applications didn’t receive as much flexibility. At the point the computer kiosks were rolled out, anyone completing a paper form had to complete it on the premises.

As you might guess, the overall goal was to eventually phase out the paper applications and direct all applicants to complete their forms online. Okay, good and fine, but not really. (I’ll temper myself for the moment and address the good and not so good aspects of this change in the pros and cons section of this discussion, so sit tight).

Online Application

Inevitably, we eventually moved into an all online process for completing applications. How could we not? Any viable company, trying to move with the times, had to move in this direction. It was a given and became the norm. No longer could applicants simply fill out a paper copy and leave it with us. They had to be computer literate enough to get an online application in our systems for processing (unless they weren’t computer literate, that is).

It might surprise you how many people weren’t too keen on computers some 10 years or so ago, and you better believe there are some people still in that category today. As a matter of fact, I can vouch for that affirmation and state it as a fact. I absolutely know there are those individuals who simply do not use computers on any electronic devices, because some of them are in my daily circle and others I know on a personal level. (Bet you know some, too.) Anyway, I got a hard lesson on how technology can change processes a lot quicker than it can change people.

Toward the finale of my HR career, I ended up working in totally different HR settings, where we had absolutely no paper copies (of course) and no office accommodations for applicants to come in and complete online applications. The majority of the time, our personnel functioned operator-style and directed individuals (by phone) to complete their applications online. That right there had its own complexities.

Furthermore, in the facility I worked at that had a reception area, applicants could get through the door and enter the front office of HR; but upon inquiring about the process to apply for a job, we very dutifully presented the applicant with a card that contained all of the online application directions included. In that instance, applicants were basically directed to go out and complete the application elsewhere. How inconvenient for them.

Again, I don’t criticize the companies in any of the application process changes that technology forced (maybe I should say “created” instead of forced). To stay alive, you had to do what the times demanded. How could your company remain at the starting line, while everyone else was covering some substantial distance, and still win the race?

So, while I readily admit that technology forces change and some of that change is for the common good, I still recognize that there are some very major pain points that are caused when people aren’t necessarily ready or receptive to that change.

From my personal perspective, here come the pros and cons of going from paper applications to an online application process.

Pros:

  • A less manual and more automated process led to opportunities for staff to work on other responsibilities. HR professionals had more time to tend to other customer service tasks for employees as well as manage more administrative functions, when the application process became more offsite and electronic.
  • Online applications provided an option for individuals who preferred using computer technology and viewed the online process as more time-efficient. Applicants didn’t have to worry about their application getting misplaced on someone’s desk or accidentally thrown away. Their form made its way into the system as soon as they submitted it and then received that confirmation message saying the submission of the form was successful.
  • Going to an online application process saved HR time in reviewing materials (quicker processing of the application because it was housed in an automated applicant tracking system) and money (no paper consumption or waste was involved).
  • Online applications could be completed anywhere a computer and Internet access were provided. Applicants didn’t have to come into an HR office and retrieve a paper application to apply. They could also easily review all of the open positions and get job descriptions and requirements for all of them.
  • Once HR went paperless for the applications, we also went paperless for the open positions listings. It was so much easier to update open positions online than it was to update the job posting by paper copy, especially since positions opened and closed multiple times a day. (It was quite difficult to keep the paper postings up-to-date.)
  • By closing off reception areas to applicants, there was less non-employee traffic in the HR building. With the rise in violent acts on work premises, such moves to close off easy access to the public was beneficial for safety and security purposes.

Cons:

  • Having applicants complete forms in-office provided more of a customer service feel for the applicant. You could also assist individuals immediately and answer questions while they were present instead of receiving phone calls later for assistance. Moving to a less customer service focus resulted in a missing “human” touch in human resources.
  • Filling out paper applications tended to be a process that was easier for the majority of applicants. Even with language barriers, it tended to be a process that was most accepted by those whose first language wasn’t English. (We did have interpreters on site to help with translating.) While completing the paper copies may have been challenging for those with language barriers, moving to an online process was even more cumbersome for them and posed excessive communication and time issues for the HR staff assisting them. (It was commonplace in our HR office to note a high correlation between our clientele who didn’t speak English well and the fact that they weren’t fluent in computer language either.)
  • For individuals who didn’t use computers or desire to use them, applying for jobs online was a forced experience. The applicants had no choice but to work their way through a process that was foreign to them. Oftentimes, they would require extensive amounts of HR’s time to help them complete the applications, whether it was in-person assistance or direction over-the-phone. And, it’s quite an uphill battle to direct someone (over-the-phone) on how to apply online when they don’t know how to use a computer or even have a computer at their disposal. Then, add the language barrier to the mix and the complexity goes to an even higher level. (When applicants didn’t have a computer of their own, we usually directed them to the public library or the Workforce Alliance Center. The Workforce Alliance Center had staff available to assist applicants with completing applications.)
  • For people who have an aversion to putting their personal information online, the online application process is a scary beast. While most applications I’ve experienced in my lifetime don’t usually ask for your social security number or exact birth date, they may ask for other information that individuals may be hesitant to provide. Peoples’ personal information (submitted online to employers and other companies) has been known to get into the wrong hands of horrible hackers and identity thieves.

Wow! I’ve been going on about the application process for some time now. I haven’t gotten past my first main area of discussion in this post and I’m sitting at enough words to comfortably end the discussion and not wear out my welcome too badly. So, I have a change of plans here. It looks like I’m going to draw this discussion out a little bit longer than I anticipated. I want to do the topic of technology some semblance of justice, so please hang in there with me while I move the second area of technology in the workplace:

Technology Replacing the Human Factor

to next week’s The Art of People Business.

And honestly, I don’t know when the third area:

Technology Efficiencies in the Actual Work

will make its full-length debut on this blog (hopefully, no more than two weeks from now). But, we’ll just have to see.

Since I’m not programmed like a robot, my unpredictable human nature is telling me to just go with the flow and be flexible. I hope you’ll be flexible with me as well. Regardless, I’ll just keep plugging along until I’ve made sure to get across what I hope to be scenarios and experiences that we all have faced in our own unique ways or scenarios relatable enough to provide some human connection that we can all tap into.

Our “real” talk on technology is to be continued . . .

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