Yssine is a 28-year-old HR professional living and working in London. This interview was recorded over Zoom in the fourth week of lockdown and has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
I've been working in HR for 10 years. I've never worked in any other field. I like that HR gives you exposure to all aspects of a company, from strategic planning to operations, leadership development to interpersonal relationships.
I'm a millennial, so as long as I’ve been working almost everything’s been digital. Today we can do everything, in the UK at least, with digital signatures. Thanks to automation, we can handle much higher volumes of enquiries. Analytics is perhaps the biggest development I’ve seen — we have dashboards now that let us look at so much data, patterns and trends. Sometimes it's hard to make all these systems talk to each other, but it's much better now. New tools have helped with integration and have removed a lot of duplication, which means less human error too.
The era of global communication, and the fact we can access information anywhere in the world, has changed the way we deal with employees. It's brought more of a marketing approach to HR. We think about the customer experience side of the candidate's journey. And HR processes like performance aren’t just a review at the end of the year anymore. It's a continuous process. People don't wait six months for an answer in any other aspect of daily life, so they're not going to wait six months for feedback from their boss. I don't think that's a millennial thing, so much as a reflection of how we use technology across our lives now.
There are artificial intelligence (AI) powered tools for every aspect of HR. I've been using automation tools for background checks, sourcing, performance management, learning, wellness, benefits and so on. I use video assessment as well, where you record questions and candidates answer in their own time. This is useful because when all the candidates you've put forward have answered, you can review them all in one go. It's great when you have high-volume recruitment, especially for more junior roles. Everyone gets the same questions in the same order, so it's fairer. It's possible some candidates are uncomfortable and don't perform as well, but that also happens in real life. Accessibility and ease with technology can be an issue, though. In some industries people aren't used to it — yet.
I always keep tabs on what new tools are coming out. But I don't rush to every one. If you don't have the processes to support them and make use of the data, or if the tools don't talk to each other, there's no point in having them. They have to really work. Also, a tool is only as good as the person using it. We have the opportunity to be fairer, but a tool won't make your company more inclusive. If your hiring managers are discriminating face-to-face, they'll have the same behaviours when using a tool. The outcome will be the same. We have to look at how that tool gets used.
In any case, these tools are all meant for decision support, rather than decision-making. They complement our work, but they don't replace anything. We're quite far from AI tools making autonomous decisions. We're also limited in how far we take this by GDPR. In recruitment, you can't make decisions based solely on automatic processes without disclosing this to the candidates and offering them the possibility to appeal, to get a human involved.
I'm working in HR for technology and cybersecurity, so I'm not so much impacted [by COVID-19]. All our employees are used to working remotely. In the long run, I think the pandemic will have a huge impact on the relationship between people and companies. There will be long-lasting effects on the confidence, loyalty and pride that employees take in their company. Some companies laid off 300 employees in a single Zoom meeting, for example. Whether companies handle this well or not will be something people won't soon forget. I also expect to see much more working from home long after. When people have been working for months at home, how can we tell them to go back to commuting to an office every day?
But the biggest HR learning will be crisis management. So many companies were totally unprepared for a crisis. No remote working tools. Some people didn't even have up-to-date contact details for everyone in the company! Companies will be looking even more at how to be transparent when dealing with uncertainty. The furlough scheme, for instance — the government issued four or five iterations of this, which was a huge headache for HR professionals trying to update employees. We'll have to learn to be more comfortable admitting when we don't have an answer.
Beyond the pandemic, there's a big discussion in the technology industry that we need to have around accessibility, diversity and inclusion.
We've had examples of biased tech. Facial recognition systems that don't detect darker skin tones, speech recognition that can't pick up accents. Discriminatory AI. I believe the best way to make sure this is addressed is to make sure the teams working on these technologies are diverse, and represent users.
I also think we need more transparency about where we're really at with the progress of technology. We hear a lot about big data and AI, but really, most data isn’t easily actionable and most AI models aren't nearly mature enough for the complexity of the human being. For that reason I don't expect my role will change significantly, even in five or ten years. There will be more personalisation for employees, and HR professionals will have more technology for support in decision-making, but ultimately humans will still be making the decisions. We will need to develop the capability to use the technology, our digital literacy.
Outside of HR, however, there will definitely be whole industries that will change completely or disappear altogether. There's a lot we're doing today that we won't be doing tomorrow. Currently, we have thousands of tech jobs unfilled because we don't have people with the skills. Technology changes so fast, there will be a lot of new roles, but we have to give people in roles today the opportunity to train and move to fill those gaps. And we have to make sure that kids learning now are moving towards sectors where there will still be jobs. Is this being addressed in the educational sector? I really hope so.