How IoT is leading to a more connected workforce

This year, the number of connected devices in use worldwide will reach 6.4 billion. This is the prediction of analyst house, Gartner. We’re still using mobile devices, but we’ve now added tablets and smart watches to the ever-multiplying list of end-points we use to access applications and information. Gartner refers to this trend as ‘the device mesh’, and believes it has the potential to ‘profoundly impact an organisation's long-term plans, programmes and initiatives’. In other words, how we use and interact with connected devices will change the way that companies do business and transform how employees access and act on digital information.

With the proliferation of sensors as part of the Internet of Things (think iBeacons in shops, the accelerometer in your phone, the sleep sensor in your Fitbit), our devices are becoming smarter as they gather more data. Gartner predicts that over time, these sensors will increasingly connect together, forming a richer picture of our daily lives in work and on the move.

What does IoT mean for HR?

For HR leaders, it means that processes and software will also increasingly ‘mesh’ together as their companies start to integrate their back-end systems, such as talent acquisition, payroll, employee engagement, and benefits. This also has implications for employees. It means that their work experiences will be contextualised, more connected across devices, and streamlined. With workers being increasingly mobile, enterprises are now focused on supporting the growing number of employees who use mobile devices to access HR services at the office, from home, and while travelling.

As Bersin recently pointed out in its Bersin by Deloitte Predictions for 2016, ‘digital life is “forcing us to rethink HR from top to bottom.” From how we design programs and tools, to the methods we use to roll out and communicate solutions’. Bersin predicts a major move towards ‘Digital HR’, stating that although, ‘IT will help HR build apps and adopt the right infrastructure, it is HR’s job to design apps that are as easy to use as Facebook & Instagram’.

The need for user-friendly technology

This highlights how expectations towards technology have changed in the workplace. Today’s employees are used to easy, effortless, and highly intuitive software experiences outside of their workplaces. To keep employees happy and productive, organisations need to offer the same exceptionally high quality experience, regardless of device, whether it’s a mobile or web app. This extends to benefits and rewards software too. Employees want to interact with simple user interfaces, and be met with mobile-responsive technology that gives them access to their benefits information at any time. To meet these demands, companies increasingly need to proactively invest in forward-thinking HR and benefits technology that can adapt to change (pensions legislation is a prime example), but also helps to guide and educate employees into making good decisions.

According to recent research, few organisations are currently maximising technology, or offering employees the kind of real-time communications they’ve come to expect from their customer experiences. The survey found that only 13 per cent of companies currently use mobile apps to communicate employee benefits. Considering that the average Brit checks their phone 27 times a day, a huge number of organisations are missing the opportunity to differentiate themselves with an engaging and accessible mobile benefits platform.

In fact, introducing user-friendly employee-facing benefits portals is the top benefits technology investment priority for over half (55 per cent) of HR professionals surveyed. Online tools are also becoming more prevalent, with 44 per cent of organisations looking to introduce them over the coming year. Employers that fail to keep up with mobile-friendly firms are risking their benefits spend not being recognised or appreciated by employees, quick to judge what the competition is offering.

Mobility in practice

Some organisations are already making great progress in the innovative use of technology. One of our clients for example, a major technology firm, recently ran a communications campaign around their benefits scheme using Blippar, an augmented reality application. The app allows the user to interact with everyday objects to enhance brand communications. For example, employees may use the app to scan a specially designed poster, which would then give them access to information and video content about an ongoing health and wellbeing scheme.

It’s not just mobiles and smartphones that are making a difference. The growth of wearables has opened up new ways for companies to personalise employee benefits and create experiences that are truly engaging their workforces. This is particularly true of health and wellbeing benefits. Organisations are always striving to improve employees’ health and happiness, factors which have a knock-on impact on productivity. Wearables have the potential to offer valuable insight into these.

While some organisations will be uncomfortable with the data-sharing elements of such devices, others will embrace their potential to identify lifestyle benefits that could make a tangible difference to employees’ lives. If employees were struggling to sleep for example, after-work yoga sessions could help them unwind and enjoy a more peaceful evening. The move towards wearables is also likely to be popular with more proactive employees, as they also enable employers to reward healthy behaviour. Just imagine going to the gym or for a run, and having your employer top up your holiday time for example.

Globally and across sectors, businesses are experiencing a growing demand for personalisation and customisation, from both customers and employees. The device mesh plays a significant role in achieving this. By increasing the number of touchpoints, technology is paving the way for new, more agile business processes that empower the workforce and allow organisations to engage their employees in fundamentally new ways.

Pete Craghill, CTO of Thomsons Online Benefits