A woman with dark hair wearing a pink blazer and white blouse smiles at the camera against a dark wall. She is Susanne Jeffery from Accenture.
Susanne Jeffery. Image: Accenture

HR requires a balance between tech and human connection

16 Sep 2020

Accenture’s Susanne Jeffery believes that while technology in HR can help us work smarter, the human connection has never been more important.

The working world we once knew has changed drastically in just a few months. During Future of Work Week, our team examined the various workplace trends that have been accelerated due to Covid-19, from office design changes to the potential of a four-day week.

But while employees around the world grapple with new ways of working, how is it affecting those who work within the HR area? Susanne Jeffery is the global employee experience director at Accenture, based at The Dock in Dublin.

Her team is made up of HR functional experts, design thinking experts, organisational psychologists and data scientists. “This diverse skillset allows us listen deeply to understand our people’s experience, design new and enhanced experiences through co-creation and measure what our people have told us that is truly important to them.”

Jeffery said one of the many things the Covid-19 pandemic has taught people is that “we can do things we never thought possible.”

“Perhaps we had assumptions that our roles must be done in the office but now we know actually there is so much we can do virtually. We have seen innovation happening at speed, developing and leveraging new technologies, collaborating to an even greater degree to formulate creative solutions to complex problems.”

She added that one of the major areas employees find challenging now is managing their boundaries when it comes to work-life balance. “Organisations have to help solve for this so that our people can achieve a healthy balance for all the priorities they are managing,” she said.

The future of HR tech

One of the biggest HR trends in recent years is the adoption of HR tech, which Jeffery said makes everyday HR tasks easier and provides more transparency to help HR professionals personalise the employee experience.

“Automation and artificial intelligence, coupled with advanced analytics, can increasingly be used to predict and pre-empt issues, helping reduce frustration and increase workforce engagement,” she said.

“However, while technology continues to enable us to work smarter and provide the workforce with access to information and resources anywhere, any time, the human connection has never been more important. Balancing proactive technology with delivery that comes from human contact builds a more efficient and nurturing organisation.”

‘We have to see past the process to look at the experience that it is driving’

While the future of HR will continue to see more automation, analytics advancement and other tech tools, Jeffery believes that those who work in the sector must remember that people are still at the centre of their work.

“We can design what we think are the most streamlined, people-friendly processes, but ultimately we have to see past the process to look at the experience that it is driving. We need to really understand what is important to our people and focus on solving for what matters most. Only then can we drive real value to our people.”

‘I have my dream job’

Jeffery said she was always fascinated with psychology and working with people. She started her career in nursing before moving into the business world and falling in love with the discipline of HR.

“I have worked in HR across a number of industries and joined Accenture 14 years ago. I held the position of HR director for Ireland for 10 years and was then offered the opportunity to take on this global role leading up employee experience for Accenture,” she said.

“I have my dream job. I believe very deeply in what we are doing because we can help our people have the best possible experience and that is what shapes our culture and drives outcomes like engagement and morale.”

When she thinks about the future of work and what is to come, she once again talks about the importance of driving a greater human connection. “Leaders need to lead with compassion and care, to drive trust and create great experiences, especially in today’s uncertain environment,” she said.

“We also need to consider what the office space of the future looks like, what we use it for and how we configure it. With that, we need to sustain new digital workers by redesigning work so that it can be completed more effectively from home and train managers so that they can manage hybrid virtual/physical teams.”

Jeffery also noted that the need to always stay focused on equality, especially during the pandemic. “We know that women have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 in terms of caring responsibilities, while also maintaining a focus on their work responsibilities,” she said.

“There has been significant progress on the path to equality – we need to make sure we don’t go backwards. It will be important for leaders to set and communicate their remote and flexible working policies to guide and reassure all employees, irrespective of gender.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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