2020 saw a lot of changes to the world and employee management, welfare and engagement was greatly impacted as well. With all these changes and the pandemic still ravaging many parts of Southeast Asia, we asked hrtech founders and entrepreneurs to look back at the year and share what 2020 was like for hrtech.

Understanding the changes is important for the industry to adapt and move faster towards a new and better future,.

These three experts gave us a holistic view of the industry and what has changed in the last 12 months.

Adrian Tan, PeopleStrong

PeopleStrong Southeast Asia lead Adrian Tan stressed the need for HR to go digital along with everything else.

HR Tech has been swept onto the giant wave created by Covid19. With office closures, companies are forced to operate remotely and in a decentralised manner. That could only be made possible if the tools and platforms they use in the course of their work (including the ones that are used to communicate, apply for leaves, seek reimbursements, etc) are accessible outside of the office. Going onto the cloud became a non-negotiable as IT department quickly get over concerns of security issues that cloud services may present (they don’t).

HR digitalisation projects that took 8 years to ponder over, went live in 6 months. Since the last thing a company wants to buy is a white elephant, ensuring that the tech is consumer-grade (easy to pick up like your iPhone) becomes a key criterion over just getting the cheapest one on the shelf. User-centricity becomes key instead of just ensuring that the tool is useful for HR (and sucks for everyone else).

Again because of Covid19, mental wellness has gotten a spotlight as the line between work and home disappear. Even with time saved on commute and dressing, over time becomes a norm and mealtime becomes as short as a toilet break. Stress level is piling up and employees need help on how to manage their stress and wellbeing. That led to huge traction for apps that are focusing in that area such as Mindfi, Headspace and Ten Percent.

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James Chia, Arclab

For Arclab CEO James, HRtech didn’t change, but the mindset of the industry did and it had a lot of impact on the region.

I wouldn’t say HRtech has changed all that significantly in 2020. However, the pandemic induced a significant change in mindset – previous inertia & internal barriers to HRTech adoption and HR (Tech) Transformation were crushed – through sheer necessity. We’ve all seen the by-now now-classic meme – who led the digital transformation of your company – CEO / CFO / CTO / COVID-19… and the answer for many organisations this year was COVID-19

I would take a different perspective: that corporate leadership (and the workforce) now truly appreciate the value that HR teams bring to their organisations. COVID-induced lockdowns globally meant teams could no longer gather in the workplace. So Remote Work became the default arrangement. HR teams became organisations’ champions, helping staff in many organisations transition to the new remote work arrangement. A task made harder by schools also moving to home-based learning at the same time. For HR, this would prove to be their shining moment. Many proved their mettle and it’s only apt that we give a shoutout to our HR professionals — who got going when the going got tough. 

With newfound support, HR teams could then put in place many of the tech tools to aid WFH – digital collaboration platforms (Zoom / Slack / Trello etc.), employee engagement, people analytics, digital learning & development – all to support remote teams and ensure everyone is equipped, engaged, and receives the right messages to pull the organisation forward in the same direction. 

For the work that ArcLab helps our customers with – we’re seeing organisations digitise EXISTING performance support material – Training Manuals, 101s, Primers, Standard Operating Procedures that are needed for staff to do their tasks, at the time they need it. These Performance Support Materials can now be made digital so staff can easily access information for them to do their jobs AS-AND-WHEN they need it, on their mobile phones which they use everyday- to do their job better. This is especially important in today’s remote work environment where you can no longer gather staff in a training room, especially across country boundaries. Furthermore, one key benefit we provide organisations’ HR is the ability to glean important data and analytics about their workforce’s learning & ability to perform the required job role. This is true of any HRTech platform worth their salt.

Last but probably most important, much as we think tech & digital (and I make this point even with ArcLab as a tech platform) is the be-all-and-end-all, it really isn’t. We have to start with people. Understanding the workforce’s needs, what motivates them, and how to align with the goals of the organisation, with the right mindsets, right incentives, the right tool kit. That’s where support from the very top is needed, and change starts with our leaders first. COVID has helped to refocus company leadership attention on HR, and not a day too late.

Rayvan Ho and Farhan Suhada Bin Rasip, ACKTEC

Rayvan Ho, CEO of ACKTEC

Both Rayvan and Farhan from ACKTEC expect the industry to continue to adapt to the decentralised style of work that the region had to adapt to.

The intent of HRtech is to allow HR practitioners to better assist companies at recruitment and training. This is to allow jobseekers to be better trained and allow them to be placed into their jobs as soon as they are selected. As ACKTEC is a edtech company who is also very intimately attached with the L&D of businesses, we saw an increase in awareness among Large and Medium Size enterprises who have already adopted edtech solutions like ours, that L&D should be streamlined into HR technology. 

On that note, we are all familiar with HRMS (Human Resource Management System) and almost every company uses their own HRMS to store employee databases, payroll, training and leave management. With the growth of the internet then, intranets became popular within the workplace. Since before the pandemic, these have provided an essential social interaction between employees and HR departments. Some of the key technologies used are as follows:

1) To better enhance the interaction, the HR live chat and HR self-service portal was born. These provided employees access to resources for onboarding and FAQ, and allowed submission of leave bookings.

2) With artificial intelligence on the rise, chatbots are the next logical step. When coupled with different applications and/or platforms, responses to enquiries can be completed much faster and on a much greater scale than before. Using natural language processing, conversational AI chatbots can break down messages sent and filter the information to find the best response from the huge library of knowledge base. This helps the HR department to save time in replying to every single email and enquiry that could have been found within the company’s documentation. The rapid development into artificial intelligence and deep-machine learning has paved the way for more efficient HR management processes.

On the side of L&D amidst the pandemic, the large-scale physical training sessions that are normally held have been halted for good, and it is inefficient to conduct the same training for smaller groups of employees. Even meetings have to be done either remotely most of the time. In a way, the pandemic has brought about a new normal in how training and L&D can be carried out.

We have seen an increase in adoption of immersive learning technology in areas where labour force or technical applications are required, for example in the transportation sector, like bus operations on different models, engineering repair sectors, cleantech, F&B and banking. COVID-19 has been a big reason for the push towards immersive learning, due the need to maintain sustainable, structured training amidst the restrictions on physical attendance. Plus, these sectors require a lot of hands-on learning — for example,. apprenticeship-style training or On-the-Job type learning) — immersive training allows learners to receive training and practice skills remotely, closing the gaps for these sectors and allowing them to increase their knowledge retention.

The concept of mobile learning for L&D and adult learning is also gaining more prominence, becoming more apparent and more acceptable in today’s learning. When learning starts to move into the skilled workforce, the main avenues for remote learning are mobile devices versus the laptop or desktop, and this choice is partly driven by cost and by convenience. There is a need for a holistic plan to assist companies in the transformation from offline to online training: The companies we work with do not just require us to provide a technology solution, often, they also wish for us to weave an element of L&D consultancy to provide advice in how the mobile courses that we developed can be linked with their company’s L&D progress.

At ACKTEC, we have developed an innovative and ground-breaking methodology to digitise learning content for learners to learn from home and on mobile. Think of a typical hands-on workshop that can only cater to 20 participants at a time. ACKTECLEARN takes immersive learning onto a mobile platform: the same workshop can cater to a limitless number of participants at the same time! This not only saves the manpower and costs needed to conduct the same training, but exponentially trains more participants faster!

At Tech Collective, we want to know what you think defined hrtech in 2020. Share your thoughts in the comments or drop us a message. We’d love to hear from you and also share your thoughts and opinions with our community