Hybrid working may offer multiple benefits such as increased productivity and reduced in-house costs, says Alistair Dent.

But for employers it can be inherently difficult to maintain a company culture where employees are impassioned, happy and fulfilled in the absence of the traditional and consistent touchpoints of the 9-5.

This is seen as new Deloitte research shows workforce wellbeing continues on the descent.

Concerningly though, it appears that many employees are reluctant to go to the traditional first port of call – HR – with any problems.

According to our research only 24 percent of UK employees are fully comfortable talking to their HR department about workplace issues. 37 percent are ‘somewhat’ comfortable, however, 20 percent are ‘not very’ or ‘not comfortable at all’ in seeking help from HR. More so, of the employees who did engage with their HR department to discuss a workplace issue – 41 percent found the experience unhelpful.

Safeguarding the wellbeing of employees

For HR teams, these issues pose a range of complex challenges. How do you accurately monitor, assess and safeguard the wellbeing of employees without the physical cues afforded by the office? Equally, how do you spot the early warning signs of poor wellbeing without employees being engaged? I believe that part of the solution lies in the latest advances in data and AI, bringing a unique opportunity for organisations to transform how they engage with their employees, evaluate employee performance and track wellbeing.

This is a sentiment echoed in our research which reveals almost three quarters (72%) of UK workers believe that applying data to HR decisions could be better than the practices currently used by their employers. Interestingly, against the backdrop of increased remote work monitoring too, we found that 61 percent of employees are comfortable with data being used to monitor them – so long as they can see it – believing it to enable fairer decision-making.

To understand more, let’s consider the application of data and AI led HR in a number of key organisational touch points.

Building a remote workplace culture

Most great businesses are built on a culture of collaboration where the best work is done not just because the team is highly-skilled, but because the members like working together.

Therefore, it’s vital to consider the risk of natural hierarchy or siloed working creeping in when teams work remotely and the impact it could have on culture.

We deliberately tried to tackle this using data at Profusion, where we developed a data-driven networking project during the pandemic called coffee roulette. We created an algorithm that would match people from different teams for an informal virtual coffee automatically scheduled in their diaries – the remit being to ensure that  team members who were likely to have had little contact had the opportunity to catch up with other colleagues. Having proven hugely beneficial for us, this type of approach could be easily replicated to mimic the informal engagements that would regularly happen in a normal office environment. This can provide a way for people to break the ice with people they may not get the chance to regularly interact with. It can also enable senior leaders to continue to have their finger on the pulse of the business and gauge overall morale.

Data-led performance management

Some advocates of data science in HR argue that it is inherently fairer when it comes to a promotion or personal development. This is because rather than leaving decisions up to the personal whims or potential human error of an HR rep or line manager, it is supported by a more accurate, factual-based assessment.

While it’s not to say that an algorithm can ever offer a complete substitute for experience and intuition, data’s capability goes far beyond measuring simple KPIs or productivity stats. In this way, it can make it easier to stay on top of performance targets and reward staff on proven progress.

It can also go a long way in helping managers identify and address worrying trends such as regular overworking or underworking. In this way it becomes easier to address issues, including poor wellbeing or mental health and provide the right support ahead of time.

Data-led engagement

Another top priority for HR leaders when it comes to supporting well-being is effectively engaging their workforce. Again, data-led HR offers a real solution that begins at recruitment and continues throughout the employee life cycle. It enables employers to collect data insight from employees (in a similar way you would from a marketing perspective for consumers) and analyse key trends to identify. This can help better inform the types of communications and benefits that employees genuinely want to see in or to boost engagement and, in turn, morale.

Most likely, it will also see the end of the tiresome, annual employee engagement survey in favour of a more continual approach. For example, implementing quick-fire surveys that employees complete immediately.

Keeping the H in HR

In this way, HR teams can be more in tune with employees’ needs and employees will feel better understood and more appropriately rewarded – helping to increase employee satisfaction, wellbeing and, in turn, retention.

It can also help you predict when an employee is likely to leave, so that effective interventions are taken at the point you can still make a difference. And you can understand whether you are likely to disproportionately lose employees from minority groups and whether further culture interventions are needed.

However, that is not to say that AI should ever try to be human.. While the application of data science can provide the actionable intelligence needed to help busy HR teams understand employees and any issues they are facing better – there still is no replacing the human touch.

The answer is to keep the human in HR. Data science is a powerful enhancement but it is not a replacement. Although it has the capacity to make decision making fairer, more transparent and tackle systemic problems such as declining wellbeing, it cannot work properly if it is left to its own devices – there is still no replacing the human in HR.


By Alistair Dent, chief strategy officer at data consultancy Profusion.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.