Where Is HR Automation Heading in 2018? Take a Hint From 1960:

The relationship between HR and automation has been uneven to say the least. While functions like payroll, benefits adjustments, and recordkeeping are often handled fully by machines, human beings still play major roles in other HR functions.

What can we expect 2018 to bring with regard to HR automation? To answer that question, we should turn our attention to the past.

For the next few years, we will see the peak of what computer scientist JCR Licklider called the "man-computer symbiosis" back in 1960. This is a period of time when humans and machines will work together, each bringing their unique advantages to the task at hand.

The man-computer symbiosis assumes there are things that computers can do – or will soon do – at a level of perfection and speed that humans will never reach. Similarly, it assumes there are certain areas in which humans have the upper hand – at least for the next decade or two.

How does this concept apply to HR?

Process-Driven HR

HR involves many mundane tasks and endless email chains. It's likely that these tedious aspects of the function will be fully automated soon, if they have not been already.

Take employee onboarding for example. The typical onboarding workflow is fairly long and may involve a dozen or more people. To execute onboarding well requires a lot of coordination, communication, and sheer manual force to push the process along.

Asking one person to perform all the tasks involved in onboarding on their own is daunting and inefficient. With about an hour's work, however, you can create an automated HR process that sequentially guides new employees from task to task. The human doesn't totally leave the process. Instead, they are responsible for managing the system and caring for exceptions. The system distributes important documents from a centralized hub, schedules meetings, creates agendas, and notifies key stakeholders when their tasks are due.

Recruiting With Co-Bots

The automation of key recruiting and hiring processes has been one of the most over-hyped and under-delivered promises in contemporary HR. The sheer size of the task demands some kind of system interaction.

The future of recruiting is likely to be a team of humans and systems working together. Computers and software will do the heavy lifting of finding qualified leads, conducting base-level assessments, and even carrying out initial conversations with candidates. In the next year, be on the lookout for more tools like DeepSense from Frrole that will quickly assess candidates based on their social profiles. When applied to email conversations and internal messages, these tools can provide highly intelligent views of how people work, communicate, and manage others.

Humans will still provide some input on cultural fit, and they'll likely be responsible for reference checks. Eventually, however, these roles will also be turned over to computers. That said, as long as humans can find ways to beat an algorithm, we'll always need other humans to catch and put a stop to these tricks. We've seen this fact play out with regard to candidates keyword-stuffing their resumes to beat ATSs.

For now, recruiters should leverage machines for their strengths of scale and perfection while banking on human intuition for character judgements.

HR Help With Chatbots

Busy HR teams simply have no time to handle routine requests from employees on things they would know if they would just read the employee handbook. As chatbots grow more popular, you can expect that HR teams will no longer have to worry about this hassle.

It is reasonable to expect that companies will soon – if they haven't already – task chatbots with fielding employees' questions about benefits, pay periods, paid time off, and similar company policies and procedures.

Humans will still be required to answer highly specific or complicated questions, to handle exceptions to the rules, and to keep chatbots updated on the latest policies. However, you can expect a single person to manage what might have required ten or more without automation.

Reducing Transactional Work With HR Automation

According to Josh Bersin, HR professionals spend 41 percent of their time on "transactional activities," 40 percent of their time on "talent and people," and 19 percent on "workplace and culture."

To lighten their transactional loads, HR teams should look to software and systems. This would free HR pros up to spend more time thinking creatively about workplace culture and talent management.

Automation is the key to getting your company on track, and the man-computer symbiosis is the right way to think about where we are right now. To get the results they want, HR professionals need to work alongside machines as teammates.

If you knew there were a candidate out there who could accomplish the things that software can today, you would go after that candidate hard. Well, the software is out there – so go ahead and add it to your team.

Neil Miller is the content marketing head for OrangeScape, makers of KiSSFLOW.