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Published on 2019-03-13

Forward-thinking HR leaders embrace robot co-workers to attract top talent and to support dialogue on AI and future of work initiatives.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been gaining ground across industries. HR is no exception, with AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) being used to streamline complex and/or repetitive processes and save costs for applications ranging from recruitment and assessments, to training.

Forward-thinking enterprises are not just looking to use AI and RPA to improve HR team efficiency and effectiveness. They are also finding value in using service robots to make a visible statement about their innovative approaches and add dimension to their recruitment and onboarding efforts. For example, a growing number of organizations are exploring the use of human-friendly robots in their HR operations to attract attention, make vital connections with top candidates, and to serve as “brand ambassadors” in social media, via corporate intranets, at job fairs, and through in-person visits.

The rapid advances in robotics technology, combined with the sophistication and availability of AI and improved connectivity, have contributed to a more robust design and development ecosystem. Service robots already have the potential to take on a greater role in HR, and this potential will continue to grow throughout the next decade.

The role of robots and their growing acceptance in HR

The HR function has been one of the earliest adopters of AI because of the tremendous number of processes that are repeatable, predictable, and lend themselves well to RPA and digital transformation. Some of the HR functions that are being taken on by robots include screening applicant resumés, writing job descriptions, setting up payroll and benefits, issuing training directives, and filing compliance reports.

But HR is also a people business. HR specialists spend a lot of time and effort building relationships and networking. They now have an opportunity to test and refine ways for service robots to help HR staff focus on high-value and relationship-building activities and be even more effective in delivering the desired results for their business.

Through innovative user interaction design and development work, AI-driven applications are being created and tested to deliver face-to- face robot experiences that add value and expand the capacity of HR staff to deliver the results that they need in recruiting, skills assessment, and/or training.

Put a best face forward

With a shrinking global talent market, organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to attract top talent, particulary in areas of advanced technology. In this competitive environment, HR recruitment teams are discovering that leveraging new technologies such as robots makes a tangible statement about their modern, tech-forward cultures and can contribute to the bottom line.

Rather than de-personalizing the experience, field research indicates that, in some cases, people are in fact more willing to interact with robots than their human counterparts.

Robots can also help level the playing field for HR staff who may be great contributors but have trouble expressing themselves in high-stress or highly competitive environments such as a career fairs, interviews, or training workshops. Robots can also be used to role-play difficult conversations and to solicit feedback in challenging situations such as exit interviews, or on sensitive topics such as harassment complaints or performance reviews. For example, Rabobank in the Netherlands has used robots to help train staff on handling difficult conversations.

Recruitment and onboarding

Some of the most time-consuming HR functions are in the areas of recruitment and onboarding. While companies invest a lot of time and money developing content for their websites and brochures, the reality is that one-on-one interviews between HR and potential candidates are typically spent answering the same questions over and over again. Once candidates are hired, the repetition continues through onboarding new employees. Often orientation can span days and weeks depending on the level of complexity of the business and the position. If HR assigns the onboarding activities to the hiring manager, they run the risk of inconsistent answers and policies not being followed.

Service robots can reduce the frustration associated with HR staff having to repeatedly answer the same questions. Unlike their human counterparts, robots never get upset, irritated, or bored. And with tailored interactive design, they can deliver the right answers in a variety of ways that maintain a high level of engagement with candidates and employees.

What drives engagement with the technology?

A good app design both engages users and produces the desired results. This can vary by company and by situation. Variables may include the length of time a person will interact with a robot. In some scenarios, a short interaction is all that is needed so that a robot can interact with more people in a given period of time.

There’s also the question of which elements on the screen of a robot are most popular. Again, this will vary depending on whether people speak to the robot or press buttons on screen. Will users want to scan a QR code and connect with an organization’s website or career portal? The key to good app design lies in getting a clear picture of user satisfaction with the interaction.

Apps should be refreshed regularly to keep up with evolving expectations and norms. But the robot hardware itself also contributes to engagement. Depending on the target audience and use cases, there are numerous form factors and design choices to help support engagement such as screen size, robot ‘face’ and expressions, voice, height, movement, and customized branding options.

According to 2016 Gallup research, there’s a worldwide employee engagement crisis. Engagement levels were at 13%, which, in 2015, cost the U.S. economy between $319 billion to $398 billion in lost business. When deployed effectively, robot co-workers can help to address a number of factors that can contribute to improvements in employee engagement.

Talent Scout Use Case

There are many examples of how HR functions have been enhanced by robots. One financial institution recently leveraged its customized ‘talent scout’ robot at recruitment events to attract applicants, gather leads, and provide interesting information about the company culture. At one such event, they credited the robot talent scout with attracting 200 applicants to their career portal, plus an additional 120 candidates via the robot’s social media profile (monitored by a human co-worker). HR specialists who also staffed the booth were delighted to have their robot co-workers beside them to provide a highly visible, tech-forward message to potential candidates.

The Security Question

Security and protection of data is always a concern for HR and leaders across the enterprise. At this point, a simple QR code embedded in a recruitment app can lead potential employees to a secure web portal, allowing them to safely input personal information for applications and further discussions. By designing the robot interaction to lead candidates to a secure web portal, security gaps surrounding the storage of personal information are addressed, although it is not a seamless process or experience yet. Moving forward, innovation in security will set the stage for more robust and sophisticated use cases that will take robot productivity and engagement to new heights.

The Path Forward

Whatever the technology in question, meaningful dialogue is a crucial starting point for understanding the challenges and opportunities that employees are facing as they interact with new technologies and processes. It is essential for business leaders to help employees learn to feel comfortable with new technologies as part of their digital transformation initiatives – including robots.

About the Author
Janneke Ritchie is the founder and CEO of Orange Gate, a design and development studio and innovation lab where the staff includes five robot co-workers. Orange Gate specializes in developing customized apps that allow robots and humans to interact in a business environment.

A seasoned executive, Janneke has a keen eye for the next big thing in technology adoption. She’s a communications, organizational change and IT governance expert with more than two decades of experience in helping organizations in financial, IT, pharmaceutical, and resource industries generate business value from the latest technologies.

Contact Information: www.orangegaterobots.com

Volume:
22
Issue:
1
Year:
2019


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