Over the past few decades, our everyday lives have been changed by technology in literally hundreds of different ways. We live via our phones, which are now more like small computers at the end of our fingertips, we talk to our friends via social media platforms and we ingest information via search engines and the internet. Jane Sevier looks at how this has affected her industry – human resources...

For some of us, it doesn't seem that long ago that we were faxing each other, picking up the phone, or going to the library to do our research. The effects of technology have been clearly depicted in many industries – music, film, dating, socialising to name just a few. But how is the world of human resources handling the forever-changing digital world?

I think most HR professionals would argue that it's been both a blessing and a curse. Whilst being incredibly worthwhile and making life a lot easier, new policies are being made all the time on matters such as Facebook in the workplace, limits on personal computer usage and which sites are allowed in the office.

 

Let's face it, with all its benefits, the internet has also made it a lot easier for workers to procrastinate and, even worse, has the potential to land companies in a lot of trouble. With thousands of sites offering inappropriate work content, illegal downloading or even online gambling, the HR team have a job on their hands to make sure that their company is not held responsible for any misdeeds in the workplace.

Social media has made everything and everyone more accountable and it's so important that employees are made aware that, as a representative of the company, they have to think before they post. On Twitter especially there are all sorts of horror stories about employees having a good moan - to the detriment of themselves, their company or their clients. It may be worth suggesting a "my views are my own" line in employee's Twitter bios so that potential new clients or partners don't think that this is another social outlet for the company itself.

A recent example of misconduct on Twitter is the case of Justine Sacco, communications director for IAC Media in the US. Before a visit to Africa she posted the tweet: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" Quite aside from the fact that it's rather unbelievable that a communications director would tweet something like this, it also reflected badly on IAC Media, who took action and fired her only hours later. A lesson should be learnt here – educate your workers on how you expect them to act online and remind them of the consequences if they don't.

There is a fine line to tread between respecting an employee's privacy and protecting the interests of the company. Taking the time to put together considered and practical policies and handbooks on the matter will help you to do this.

But it's by no means all bad news for the world of HR – it's clear that technological advances do make our jobs easier. Simple tasks are suddenly a lot quicker to perform. No more going to the post-box to send out invoices – you can simply email them. No more buying books to get the information you need – Google and other search engines have the information on all you've ever asked for (and much more!).

From personal experience, I can honestly say that I would be living a very different life without the likes of Skype, social media, email or our website. Although my company is based in Newquay in Cornwall, we are able to conduct our business nationally, and often work with companies from across the UK. The world has turned into one global village, and even ten years ago I would have struggled to offer the service I am able to now.

Online tools simplify life in so many ways and allow businesses from across the world to connect. Our members' online toolkit that allows businesses to get all their HR policies in one place and also offers a helpline for 24-hour support is testament to this. Technology should be used to our advantage wherever possible, and advances are being made all the time that will allow our productivity to soar.

There are a variety of other useful tools that can be of huge benefit to HR offices. Online calendars can allow employees to book time off themselves, taking the pressure off of the HR team. Online timesheets can be downloaded so that workers' hours can be easily inputted and stored. There are even applications that allow teams to manage and file CVs, and analyse employee appraisals. The list goes on, it's definitely worth doing a bit of research and seeing what would work best for your company.

The phrase "tread with caution" springs to mind. There's no doubt that dealing with the online world is now a part of every HR consultant's work, so learn as much as you can, see what works for you and be sure to consider any policies carefully.

Jane Sevier is the director of Sevier Consultancy Group.

For more information, please visit www.sevier.co.uk.

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