Mobile HR Technology Is on the Move

By Sarah Fister Gale

Mar. 18, 2014

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.

It appears that 2014 is the unofficial year of mobile HR technology. Mobile seems to be at the top of everyone’s  “HR tech trends to watch” list, as technology vendors are churning out mobile talent management tools faster than people can download them, and employees are clamoring for more and better ways to use their mobile devices in the workplace.

But what does all of this mean for human resources leaders? Do you now have to conduct performance reviews on your mobile phone? Send text alerts for benefits enrollment? Start taking app development courses?


When choosing mobile workforce apps, look for interfaces that allow users to move seamlessly from one device to the next.

—Amy Wilson, Workday Inc.

Nobody needs to panic, said Paul Belliveau, managing director of Avancé HCM Advisors in Boston. “Mobile isn’t a new strategy, it is simply a new way to support the same strategies that you already follow,” he said. He likens it to the move from paper personnel files to HR information systems. “That was a much bigger transition, and we all survived.”

Though there are some things that HR can do to make the move to mobile more successful.

1.             Don’t get in the way.

People already have mobile devices that are likely more powerful and have more memory than their company-issued desktops. And they are using them to get their work done, Belliveau said. “Why wouldn’t you want to leverage that technology?”

To do that, HR needs to take on the role of enabler rather than enforcer. “You can’t censure access to the outside world,” he said.

Mobile devices enable employees to move seamlessly between their work and personal lives, but if you establish policies or firewalls to prevent them from completing work tasks with their personal devices, it will make them less productive and more frustrated.

Instead, HR needs to set the tone for mobile-device use, through bring-your-own-device policies, guidelines for communicating on social media, and rules for sharing and communicating company information. “Establish codes of conduct around ethical behavior, and make it part of their standards for performance,” he said.

2.             Work with IT, not against them.

HR should view the information technology team as a strategic partner in helping the workforce go mobile.  Whether you are deciding which human resource information system vendor has the best talent management apps, or defining a BYOD policy, IT can help HR choose the best tools and set the right rules to support employees while protecting the company. “HR knows what information needs to be safeguarded, and IT knows how to do it,” Belliveau said. “It has to be a partnership.”

3.             Keep it simple.

“Most people want to use their mobile devices at work,” said Steve Roth, senior director and mobile product manager for Automatic Data Processing Inc. “But that doesn’t mean every single piece of information on the company network needs to be accessible on their phones.”

A mobile interface is small, and too much information can make it clunky and awkward to use. The key is to hone the information you offer based on how and when employees use their devices for work.

Most of the tasks employees do on their phones are quick, and easy to fit into those empty moments in the day, like when they are sitting in an airport or waiting in line, Roth said. “They probably won’t take a two-hour training course on a mobile device, but they may watch a five-minute policy update video.” They are also likely to check their payment information, connect with their team, read company communications or do status updates.

HR should talk to employees about how they want to use their devices for work, and what information they want to access. Once HR understands how employees use mobile, they can more effectively choose the technologies and communication styles to support them, Roth said.

4.             Think about your own needs.

Mobile HR isn’t just about giving employees tools to do their jobs, said Amy Wilson, Workday Inc.’s vice president of HCM product strategy. It’s also about making HR’s life a lot easier and more productive. “An HR leader should be able to pick up their device in a meeting and have credible data about the workforce at their fingertips,” she said.

Vendors like Workday, now offer apps that give HR access to everything from performance management tools and recruiting updates to workforce analytics, benefits enrollment data and any of the other data set they use to do their jobs.

“Being able to access that information will help them make more informed decisions as business leaders,” Wilson said.

5.             The interface is everything.

When choosing mobile workforce apps, look for interfaces that allow users to move seamlessly from one device to the next, Wilson said. “You want it to feel like a continuous experience even if you start a task on your phone and finish it on your tablet or desktop.”

They also need to have the necessary level of security without being overly burdensome to use, Roth said. “User experience is the No. 1 factor for the success of a mobile app. If a person can’t get what they want in two or three taps, they won’t stick around.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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