The pandemic accelerated the need for HR digital technologies. Do you have a strategy?

COVID19 has accelerated companies’ digital communications strategies by an average of six years, said Jason Averbook when he spoke at the HR Technology Conference. Unfortunately, research on spending for HR Tech is predicted to be anemic in 2021, meaning organizations are not making the investments they need in digital technology to overcome the obstacles presented by the pandemic and the new world of remote work and the future office. Are we cutting off our noses to despite our faces?

This incongruous strategy is being made despite the evidence from McKinsey and Company and other researchers showing companies who implement bold and comprehensive digital strategies outperform their rivals and benefit from higher revenue and EBIT growth, even after including the cost of digitalization.  That last part bears repeating: even after investing in the cost of digitization.

COVID19 has significantly changed how we work. We are not returning to normal. Due to the time it takes to deploy an effective vaccine and the success with remote work, it may take us another year to create a new normal that works in each industry and for each company’s customers, culture, and workforce.

We do know that 80 percent of office workers are working from home. Fifty percent of them want to work from home three days or more a week after the Pandemic abates. Due to the rapid adoption of digital technologies such as ZOOM, Slack and Teams, 80 percent of these workers and their managers say that remote workers are as productive or more productive than when they were in the office.

We know that ‘online anything’ is in demand, whether for retail shopping, real estate sales, doctor’s appointments, and project team meetings. Yet, we still need front-line, health care, supply chain, research lab and manufacturing workers on the job as before the pandemic—and we need to keep them safe, as well.

Last year was the year of employee experiences and chatbots at HR Tech. This year is the year of digital technologies to improve remote work across the HR domain: employee communications, recruiting, collaboration tools, digital learning and development, diversity, equity and inclusion, and talent management platforms that allow companies to redeploy their employees and gig workers to the skills they need.

The awards for best HR Product Technology were in the areas of Core HR, Diversity and Inclusion, Employee Experience, Learning/Reskilling, Talent Acquisition, and Talent Management. You can learn which HR Tech Products were the award winners here.

But, the biggest headline of all is the reduction of money being spent on HR Tech, except for learning and development. According to Stacey Harris from the Sierra-Cedar/Sapient Insights HR Systems Survey, only 30 percent of organizations planned to increase spending on HR Tech in 2020, down from 43 percent in 2019.

Fewer companies are planning to increase their HR tech budgets in 2021. Only four percent plan to increase spending on HR Tech in 2021 compared to 15 percent this time last year. Harris explains that these stingy budgets will affect the planned expansion of talent management tool–most commonly, HRIS upgrades, analytics, and other emerging technology initiatives, Harris explains. The decrease in HR technology spending is due to the pandemic, according to 78 percent of the respondents who anticipated these decreases.

Higher-outcome organizations were much more strategic and focused on moving forward, according to Harris. They increased salaries for those in essential roles, rapidly hired essential workers, increased tech infrastructure spends and redistributed workers. Meanwhile, lower-outcome organizations reduced management and executive salaries, eliminated contract workers, laid-off employees and furloughed workers.

“They were quickly making decisions that had long-term impacts on their organizations. And probably not always a good one,” Harris said.

The pandemic has exposed false narratives such as ones suggesting that remote workers are not productive, or aren’t innovative, or that a doctor has to see you in the office to refill your prescriptions, or that you have to fly coast-to-coast  to maintain relationships with customers. But the executive team of each company needs to define its new normal and business model. The early mover with digital technology wins the prize of improved revenue and EBIT.

I have questions for every CEO and chief officer of digital transformation, IT and HR. They are: What is your strategy for remote work? How will you redesign the office and keeping employees safe? How does digital technology help you achieve these strategies? How does it improve your business? What ROI are you expecting?

Once you decide to invest in digital HR technology, here is my advice:

  1. Have a thorough list of requirements.
  2. Know your return on Investment (ROI) target. This is more than a price comparison of competing products. ROI also includes the savings from this investment, which may enable hiring faster, lower turnover, better productivity, saved time, or lower costs.
  3. Do not get snowed by the product demonstration. It is supposed to “wow” you.
  4. The product should work “80/20” out-of-the-box without the need for a new revision or update.
  5. Involve your stakeholders in the selection.
  6. Talk to current users of the product.
  7. Have a competitive bid.

COVID19 has accelerated our need for digital technology in HR and for leading our remote workforces. This is not the time to defer investments. It is the time to lead with a new vision and invest in the smart technology that provides you an ROI.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at 


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