Using HR tech to meet the challenges of COVID-19

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(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series on coronavirus strategies and priorities for HR leaders—from HR’s top experts.

*As workforces around the world adjust to the changes being ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic, technology will likely be more important than ever.

At IBM, the company’s investments in online learning and collaboration tools are paying off, says CHRO Diane Gherson. Employees are using the tools to aid other employees in addition to getting their own work done.

“Every minute, I’ve been getting messages about employees assisting each other on these platforms,” says Gherson, HRE’s 2018 HR Executive of the Year. IBMers have created pages of resources on topics ranging from technical advice to taking care of toddlers while working. “It’s been incredible, this rallying around. It’s led to a community that people can go to for help when they have specific questions.”

Even when the bulk of IBM’s workforce returns to the office (as at many organizations, a number of IBMers have continued their on-site work), health and safety will be paramount, says Gherson.

“We anticipate there may be a ‘bounce’ in infections requiring us to go back home, so people will need to focus on wellbeing and safety in greater numbers than before,” she says.

Technology innovations will make this easier, says Gherson.

“We’re going to need to screen people for symptoms for the foreseeable future while maintaining their privacy,” she says. “We see a role for blockchain there.”

Blockchain, which creates an immutable record of data, may make screening more efficient and private. Wearables will also make it easier for individuals and organizations to monitor symptoms.

“These innovations will enable us to capture real-time data that could support public health,” says Gherson.

The smart use of data analytics will let HR play a prominent role in helping their organizations return to prosperity, says Frank Girimonte, associate principal at the Hackett Group.

“Some leaders are saying, ‘What if we give everyone a 10% salary cut?’ ” he says. “Finance might say, ‘This is what we’ll save,’ but HR could look at different segments of the workforce, model the potential impact and come up with potentially better solutions,” he says. Certain segments might get a higher cut while other, more vulnerable sectors would get smaller pay cuts.

“HR would look at it more strategically in terms of the implications for talent,” says Girimonte. “They could save the company money while preserving its ability to ramp up quickly when needed.”