Digital Assistants in the HR and Emergency Space: Conversation with Sabya Mitra

On Wednesday, May 19, Francesco Rulli, Global CEO of Querlo, and Sabya Mitra, CEO of Renew HR, engaged in an interesting discussion about the impact of Artificial Intelligence systems in the world of HR, specifically how AI solutions can assist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sabya has been working in HR for the last 20 years and specializes in SuccessFactors in both small and large companies. 

Before talking specifically about the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on HR all around the world, he importantly draws attention to the fact that this is not the first time our world has dealt with a crisis or natural disaster situation. He uses Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, such as blizzards, that commonly isolate people in the Northeast, as examples of times when HR has to quickly figure out a way to effectively communicate with their employees. This issue arises because each employee is stuck in a different location and they are looking for company policy on how the situation is going to be handled and they are looking for the next steps they should take themselves. 

Sabya noted that another important issue that arises during times like these is “how to communicate to a large number of people, with different kinds of skill sets in terms of technology and other things, and communicate with them very decisively and in a quick period of time.” He thinks that Artificial Intelligence could greatly help effectively alleviate this complex problem. Sabya notes that one of the reasons why AI would be so useful is because it uses machine learning. Therefore, it would be able to learn from the last crisis scenario and improve itself going forward to be much more prepared for the types of questions that employees would be asking. This type of learning to improve question response is crucial because people tend to feel even more lost and anxious when they reach out to HR and don’t receive the help they are seeking. On a normal day, people in HR will receive around 20 emails and/or phone calls, however, during a crisis, that number will double or even triple. It would be virtually impossible for a person to respond to all of those questions within a day on a consistent basis without the help of AI. Sabya notes that it is important not to keep employees waiting hours, or even days, for their serious questions to be answered. 

Another substantial benefit of using AI to assist HR is that the system will communicate with HR about the feelings of their employees in order to help them figure out how to go forward during the crisis as a united company. 

During the conversation, Francesco showed Sabya one of Querlo’s chatbots as an example of how employees could access information in a simple, understandable format–almost like a WhatsApp conversation. The chatbot would also be using machine learning during this process and would communicate the concerns of the employees back to HR. This could help HR improve policies, and focus on providing their employees with the information they really want. In response to seeing the chatbot, Sabya enthusiastically says, “what you have shown, is exactly what would be needed in different situations, but particularly in crisis situations…we should learn from our mistakes based on what happened in the past…HR should know the types of questions their employees are asking so that they can be better prepared.”

How Can AI Shape Our Return to Work in a New Reality? A Conversation with David Emanuel

David Emanuel is the Chief Human Resources Officer at APR Energy. He has more than 30 years of global human resources experience, including a position as the Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources at CIT. On Thursday, May 21, Francesco Rulli, Global CEO of Querlo, and David spoke about what the transition back to work will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic in the near future, and in the distant future, and the role that Artificial Intelligence will play in those changes. David stated that coming back to work is “[his] biggest focus, and how [they] can do that safely is an immediate challenge.” 

When asked whether he has seen a difference in the morales and sentiment of the employees of the companies he works with throughout the COVID-19 crisis, David says that he believes the crisis has had a direct impact on employees, especially in terms of their productivity—he thinks they are wondering, “am I working hard enough?” He believes that companies need to figure out a better way to validate people’s work and ensure that they see the impact their work is having. Francesco noted that he has found a similar sentiment among others he has talked to. People who are used to having conversations in person are struggling with the fact that they can’t even see other people’s faces while they are talking to them. This has a tendency to lower motivation to work hard and lower the sense of satisfaction from work that is already done. For these reasons, companies need to figure out how their employees can effectively work from home. 

Another important factor that arises from this is that lower motivation and satisfaction might lead to struggles with mental health and anxiety. Francesco noted that Querlo has recently launched a chatbot that can help companies assess the condition their employees are in order to provide them with the support they need. 

The big question that everyone has been asking and wondering about lately is “will we be going back to normal, or alternatively, what will a new normal look like?” When prompted with this question, David responded that he did not think we will ever be going back to the “old normal.” However, interestingly, he also believes that we haven’t yet seen the “new normal”. He states that he thinks collaborative spaces will definitely need to “change shape” in the near future, but five years from now, things could be completely different because we will have had the opportunity to work through issues that arise with new ways of working and formulate the safest and most effective way of moving forward.