How AI Is Transforming Employee Self-Service in 2021

AI Employee Self-Service


Improvements in employee engagement. Streamlined productivity. Instant access to employee data. These are all tangible benefits of employee self-service portals for HR, and employees have come to expect them. In 2018, Paychex documented a 16% increase over the previous two years in the number of employee online sessions that included a self-service action. Younger workers, especially, have come to expect better technology at work. That includes the opportunity to access work schedules, pay information, and benefits from their personal devices.

And that was before the pandemic sent millions of employees to work at home.

When COVID-19 disrupted daily work routines, remote access to HR information became an essential way to keep employees engaged, informed, and connected. Using a self-service portal, workers can access pay stubs, benefits information, time and attendance data, and time-off requests all from their phone or laptop. But access isn’t the only thing employees are looking for. They also want to interact with their workplace technology in ways that mirror the tech they use in everywhere else.

Enter AI.

For the past several years, AI has been making inroads into HCM self-service tools, and it has the potential to transform the employee experience. Here’s how you can use these tools to benefit your workforce. 

What Types of AI Are We Talking About for HR?

Some of the best innovations in AI for Human Resources are designed to improve communication and facilitate better human-tech interactions. Here are a few of the ways you might encounter AI in your HCM:

  • Chatbots – Ask a question, get directed to the answer – no searching involved. Chatbots can answer questions about HR policies, help employees find the information they’re looking for, or direct users to forms or applications.
  • Natural Language Processing – Natural language processing evaluates a user’s text-based entries. It is often used to evaluate answers to survey questions, process feedback, or analyze performance reviews. Some tools, like UKG’s AI and machine learning platform Xander, can assess employee engagement using sentiment analysis. This technology evaluates words and phrases that indicate an employee’s state of mind.
  • Machine Learning – As employees interact with the portal, machine learning tools become more efficient at delivering the information they are looking for. By using an employee’s interaction history and data usage, the algorithm delivers up better experiences over time.
  • Prescriptive Analytics – Like any analytics tool, prescriptive analytics technology collects and analyzes information. But then it moves a step farther to suggest actions based on predictive data. For example, it can analyze employee benefit selections that indicate a trend toward retirement to make future hiring and staffing recommendations.  

How Can AI Tools Improve Employee Self-Service Experiences?

Any AI tool must be understood and implemented within the context of human experiences. Prescriptive analytics, for example, is still in its early stages. Recommendations may require additional interpretation or evaluation based on the specifics of the scenario.

Still, AI-based self-service tools have the potential to impact employee experiences for the better. Let’s take a look at four ways both employees and HR can benefit.

  • Streamlining Tasks – When an employee needs a specific form or piece of information, they don’t want to waste time searching. AI-powered chatbots can reduce the amount of time needed for mundane tasks like this. Instead of scanning a lengthy list of documents, employees can use the chatbot to immediately locate the correct link.

    Here are some additional ways AI can help managers and employees make the most of their time:
    • Use chatbots to answer questions about check stubs, 401(k) information, benefits, and W-2 forms.
    • Suggest actions based on the employee’s role, employment status, or upcoming milestones (such as a performance review).
    • Personalize employee experiences using machine learning.
    • Detect anomalies in employee behavior or data so managers can reach out to them (for example, applying for internal job postings or taking several sick days).
    • Finding documents or forms through a chatbot.
  • Performance Reviews – Natural language processing tools like Xander can help employers gather more informative feedback from employees. This allows you to create nuanced questions rather than relying on the bare bones data of a standard Likert-scale survey. With AI, you still use technology to review and record employee data in these scenarios. At the same time, you can gain deeper insights into your employees’ experiences and state of mind.

    You can also use your self-service tools to remind employees about surveys or suggest a course of action when indicated. For example, SAP SuccessFactors uses machine learning and natural language processing to analyze employee survey responses. Using those analytics and predictive data, you can improve engagement by taking timely, strategic action.
  • Personalized Learning Experiences – Millennials and Generation Z value professional development opportunities when considering a new job. That’s especially true in this new age of remote work. Development opportunities also offer critical ways to improve individual and overall performance. Research from Brandon Hall Group found that 95% of companies believe personalization improves the link between learning and individual performance. Nearly as many believe it also improves organization performance.

    Machine learning tools provide customized learning experiences via your self-service portal to serve this growing percentage of the workforce. As employees use the platform, AI analyzes their interests and activity and then provides recommended content or learning tracks. Managers can also contribute to the learning experience by making recommendations for specific individuals based on performance or career goals.
  • Onboarding Tasks – Onboarding no longer consists of just one day signing papers and printing name badges. GlassDoor reports that intentional, phased onboarding processes can improve retention by more than 80%. The best onboarding programs include technology that supports on-demand learning so that employees can complete tasks on their own schedule.

    AI makes these programs even more targeted by offering content recommendations and suggested next steps for new hires. They can also flag data anomalies and alert managers to new employees who may not be fully engaged. For example, AI can support onboarding with:
    • Automated content specific to a particular role or job
    • Chatbots to answer new hire questions 24/7
    • Improved engagement through gamification
    • Automated distribution of paperwork
    • Tracking which documents have been read or tasks completed

As AI-powered self-service tools have matured, they have become more relevant to the daily functions of HR. That’s even more critical now that a significant percentage of the workforce operates remotely at least part of the time.

While AI can streamline processes and data management, personal touch still plays a crucial role in employee engagement. In 2021 and beyond, HR leaders must find the right balance of personal touch and technology to help employees do their best work.

5 Questions to Nail Down Your Back-to-Work Strategy

Back-to-work strategy

Ready or not, many employees across the U.S. are heading back to work. While conditions and statistics vary from state to state, it has been encouraging to see a downward trend in coronavirus cases. Still, there are plenty of things to consider as you create your back-to-work strategy and decide when and how to bring your employees back to the office in person.

Even if you’re not quite ready to start the process, it’s wise to have your plan ready to go when the time is right. Your team has been working from home for several months now, and it will take some time to transition back to an in-office schedule and routine. On top of that, employees will also be facing new safety and health protocols at work. Many may still have concerns about virus spread, and others may care for children who are attending school virtually.

With all of these factor to consider, you need a well-planned strategy to help employees transition back to the office as smoothly as possible. Here are 5 questions that will help you formulate your back-to-work strategy.

1. Should any positions remain permanently remote?

Remote work has been a holy grail for younger workers long before COVID-19 came knocking. But now that it’s an enforced reality, some are rethinking. The truth is that remote work during COVID-19 is not what many envisioned, and 39% of Millennials say they are looking forward to going back to work in the office. An even more impressive 86% say that they want to work for a company that has a great office culture.

The point is that remote work isn’t right for everyone, and many people (Millennials and otherwise) are more productive in the office. That means your decision about keeping jobs remote should consider a variety of factors. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Cost – Think about costs of maintaining the technology and infrastructure to support specific roles on site versus the costs of supporting a remote team. Which roles could save you money by not requiring office space, and which ones might cost more in terms of lost productivity if you keep them remote?
  • Pros and Cons – How has your company adapted to a remote workforce? Are teams still working well together? Have you found a good rhythm for remote project management, communication, and collaboration? Can you maintain consistent productivity levels with a remote workforce? Have outcomes for certain positions improved, suffered, or remained the same?
  • Business Processes – What processes have had to change as a result of remote work? Are you happy with those changes or would teams function better in the office?

2. Can some positions follow a hybrid model?

In some cases, you may be able to get the best of both worlds by transitioning to a part-time remote model. If it makes sense for the role, employees could work from home part of the time and come in to the office only for meetings, presentations, or other specific parts of the job. There are several advantages to following a hybrid remote work model:

  • Cost savings – By allowing a portion of your workforce to continue working remotely at least part of the time, you’ll save money on office space and technology infrastructure that would otherwise be required for them on site.
  • Collaboration – At the same time, you’ll benefit from better communication and collaboration as employees interact in-person on an as-needed basis.
  • Expanded recruitment – If you decide to truly create remote work opportunities (as opposed to work-from-home arrangements), you’ll be able to expand your geographical recruiting area. You may be able to hire people who live in other locations and have them come into the office once a month (or as necessary for meetings and client interactions).
  • Flexibility – For those employees who need the flexibility to care for children or who have other extenuating factors, a hybrid remote work model may be an ideal fit.

3. What technology set-ups will you need?

Undoubtedly, you have already addressed certain technology needs for your employees as they have worked from home over the past few months. However, you may need to provide additional support if you intend to transition some employees to remote arrangements permanently. You may also need to rearrange technology setups as part of your back-to-work strategy. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Collaboration tools – If you are already using Slack, Teams, or other project management and collaboration tools, consider whether they are sufficient for your long-term needs. Can you continue what you are doing indefinitely, or have there been process hiccups? Will you need a more robust platform? Will remote and in-office employees need better or more reliable ways to interact?
  • At-home technology – If employees will continue working at home, do they have a sufficient interact connection and enough bandwidth to meet work expectations? Do they have the right kind of monitor, headset, and phone setup?
  • Access to applications and software – Again, you probably already have a stop-gap measure in place to ensure that employees can access what they need. But will it serve your long-term needs? Can your HR software support remote interactions between employees and managers? Do you need productivity tracking software? Is it time to upgrade your enterprise software, re-examine your IT architecture, or take the leap into the cloud?
  • Remote learning opportunities – Do you have sufficient remote learning infrastructure in place for onboarding, training, and professional development? If you are planning to keep some positions remote long-term, you may need to create new virtual learning resources and assets to support employees.

4. How can you create a safe workplace for those coming back to the office?

This question is probably already at the forefront of your mind. Social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer should definitely be part of any back-to-work plan, but what else should you consider?

  • Safety protocols – What safety protocols will you need to implement to reduce the risk of germ transmission? These might include hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, limits on the number of people in a given space, daily health and temperature screenings, and new protocols for sanitizing workspaces and shared equipment like printers and copy machines.
  • Safety training -Daily work probably won’t look the same when your employees come back. Implement safety training workshops to keep employees up to date on policies regarding person-to-person interaction, break room use, and social distancing.
  • Office configuration – There may be elements of the physical office that need to be addressed. For example, can you increase ventilation, install more efficient air filters, set up partitions, or reconfigure desks and cubicles to create more distance?
  • Sickness policies – Establish clear policies for how employees should handle suspected COVID-19 exposure. Policies should cover reporting to managers, self-monitoring, quarantining, and when/how an employee may return to work.

5. Is your business continuity plan sufficient?

COVID-19 has tested the ability of many business continuity plans to do what they are intended to do: keep your business functioning in the event of a crisis. The pandemic may have exposed gaps in your plan that need to be addressed. For example, you may need to reconsider your ERP software, move additional applications to the cloud, or re-evaluate your data storage needs.

It’s also a good idea to take another look at your security protocols, especially if a significant chunk of your workforce will be working remotely for the foreseeable future. For example, should you implement two-factor authentication for remote access? Do you need to update your VPN solution? Do your employees need to update their antivirus protection?

Implementing Your Back-to-Work Strategy

No one knows how COVID-19 will progress over the coming months. Downward trends in case counts have been encouraging; still, as more schools and business open and flu season ramps up, a COVID-19 flareup is possible. That’s why any back-to-work strategy must include the flexibility to pivot if circumstances change.

It’s also wise to consider taking a phased approach to bring employees back to the office. This would entail prioritizing the roles that most urgently need an in-person environment for efficiency and productivity, and then limiting how many employees return to the office at each stage.

It may take some time to return to a fully-staffed in-person office environment. A well-developed back-to-work strategy will help you navigate that process safely as you continue to place the highest priority on employee health and wellbeing.

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5 Ways HR Tech Supports Your Diversity Recruiting Strategy

5 Ways HR Tech Supports Your Diversity Recruiting Strategy

Is bias in recruiting still a problem in today’s workforce? Well, yes and no. If you’ve been paying attention to recruiting trends over the past decade or so, you know that diversity is a key consideration for any hiring strategy. Cultivating a diverse workforce from top to bottom delivers higher financial returns over time and supports growth and innovation

Beyond that, pursuing diversity in recruiting and hiring is just the right thing to do. 

The problem is that we don’t always know what we don’t know. In other words, unintentional bias can creep into even the most conscientious of companies. It can happen because our networks tend to consist of people like us, and we don’t always recognize that. It can happen because of the wording used in job postings, or because we “go with our gut” in an interview without truly understanding why. 

The good news, though, is that technology can help us overcome unconscious bias and create a stronger diversity recruiting strategy based on data and merit. 

5 Ways to Improve Your Diversity Recruiting Strategy With HR Tech

At last year’s HR Tech conference, Ryan Browning of consulting firm Mercer and Richard Lopez of Dell Technologies talked about how design thinking can help you implement technology solutions to solve unconscious bias. It’s important to start from the ground up so that you aren’t just applying technology bandaids to deep cultural problems. But if you start from a problem-solving perspective, technology tools can be essential resources for eliminating bias in the recruiting and hiring process.

Here are five ways to get started.

  1. AI for Job Descriptions – Job descriptions are often the first contact a candidate has with your company. That’s why they must speak to all qualified candidates equally. For example, using gendered pronouns to describe an applicant (he/him) can discourage female candidates from applying. Beyond specific word usage, the structure of your description may also discourage some candidates from applying . Studies show, for example, that listing too many requirements can turn excellent female candidates away. This happens because women usually only apply for a job when they meet 100% of the requirements, while men will apply if they meet about 60%.

    New AI tools like Textio help you optimize your job descriptions based on research. Textio evaluates your description and offers recommendations for wording changes and structure so job posts appeal to appeal to all candidates including women, minorities, and older individuals.

  2. Expanded Talent Pool – Limiting your talent pool to candidates in your immediate network can also create diversity challenges. It happens because networks tend to consist of people like us, with similar backgrounds and experiences. Technology can help you reach more diverse candidates by extending your database. For example, Blendoor uses crowdsourcing, strategic partners, and talent events to connect companies with candidates through their jobs app. 

  3. Blind Resume Screening– Companies routinely use tools embedded in applicant tracking systems (ATS) to do an initial resume screen. HR tech vendors often include this capability in their software, saving HR managers the time and effort of reading each resume personally. Ascentis, for example, offers resume parsing through their career portal. This feature helps hiring managers evaluate resumes based on how well they meet job requirements.  

    New tools like TalVista take this even further by redacting identifying information from resumes. Once managers are ready to narrow down candidate lists and schedule interviews, they can evaluate each candidate based on credentials and skills only. This prevents unconscious bias from creeping in based on a name, educational institution, or photo. 

  4. Blind Pre-Hire Assessments – Once they have selected a short list of candidates, many companies will ask them to complete a skills assessment to evaluate specific abilities. These skills assessments introduce another level of bias as demonstrated by the “Orchestra Study.” In the study, female musicians were 50% more likely to advance out of preliminary rounds if blind auditions were used. This happened even though evaluators believed they were assessing each musician based on talent alone. 

    GapJumpers has taken this knowledge and applied it to the pre-hire assessment. Using their technology, companies can eliminate bias by creating anonymous assessments to test candidate skills. 

  5. Predictive Analytics for Candidate Selection – Predictive analytics helps managers assess how a candidate will perform in the role over time. Will he or she be a good cultural fit? What can you expect in terms of retention? Which candidates are likely to be most successful? Rather than hiring based on gut feelings about these questions, managers can use predictive software to get real answers based on data. 

    Ultimate Software, for example uses both predictive analytics (what is the most likely outcome) and prescriptive analytics (what should I do to achieve the best outcome) to hire top candidates and support them after they join the team. 

Can Technology Really Eliminate Bias From the Hiring Process?

Unfortunately, technology can’t eliminate all bias everywhere. There is still an essential human element in the hiring process. That human touch is vital for making final decisions, promoting candidate engagement and creating a positive candidate experience. While this interaction is important and necessary, it also introduces the possibility for unconscious bias along the way. Humans may also inadvertantly introduce bias to technology at the coding level or during the data collection process. If the data itself is not inclusive, then the technology will produce skewed results.  

That’s why you also need to intentionally develop a culture of diversity and inclusion in your workplace, starting with training. Google Vice President Dmitri Krakovsky addressed this issue at the 2019 HR Tech Conference. In his session, he stressed the importance of collecting diverse, representative data so that AI algorithms will not reflect bias in their outcomes. 

Technology is not perfect. Still, it’s a step in the right direction. If we can create AI that “learns” based on unbiased data samples, said Krakovsky, we will “have the potential to be transformational in promoting inclusivity and diversity in recruitment.” 

And that’s the ultimate goal.

4 Ways to Move Beyond Zoom with Collaborative Remote Work Technology

Working from Home

We’re over a month deep into our new working from home reality. How’s it going for your business? Many of us are feeling the strain, with multiple Zoom meetings every day, remote team management, and a host of other at-a-distance challenges. And while tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are a godsend for this environment, there is also a growing need to document and integrate those tools with your HRIS.

Read more

4 Signs It’s Time to Upgrade Your HRIS Platform

Are your HR processes still operating in the 20th century? Do you still keep massive paper files and use clunky technology that can’t really do what you need it to do? Are you less productive than you could be because you spend too much time sorting, filing, searching, and processing everything manually?

If that sounds like you, then it’s time to take another look at your HRIS. As the keystone for your HR processes and the foundation for any additional steps you want to take with HR technology, your HRIS has the power to deliver benefits like cost savings, increased productivity, and better retention and engagement. But it can’t do that if it doesn’t have the functionality to support a 21st century HR strategy.

How do you know if your HRIS isn’t making the grade? Here are four telltale signs. Read more