In today’s competitive business landscape, investing in employees means more than just providing competitive salaries and benefits. It also means giving them cutting-edge technology and the skills to use it. 

More than a billion jobs will be transformed by technology by 2030, according to a World Economic Forum report, while 87% of companies are on the brink of a workforce skills gap. The good news is that most employers expect a return on investment for employee reskilling programs within just one year. 

The use of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and biometrics in combination with traditional HR practices is reshaping the workplace. This increases productivity and employee job satisfaction, and provides workers essential upskilling. 

Read more: A 3 step guide on how AI can be HR leaders’ best friend

Leveraging these transformative technologies, however, is not without its challenges. HR professionals and employee benefit advisers face a complex patchwork of legal, ethical and regulatory hurdles. They include privacy and data security concerns, compliance with ever-changing regulations, protection of intellectual property rights and liability for misuse or malfunctions. 

My hope is to help HR and benefits professionals harness the power of AI, robotics and biometrics to elevate the workplace. But it’s also important to review strategies to reskill the workforce, ensuring smooth adoption and optimization of these advanced technologies. The future is here, with limitless possibilities, measurable returns and an urgent call for action to successfully leverage these transformative technologies. 

Let’s start with AI, which has long been a catalyst for business enhancement. AI-powered tools are commonly used to analyze markets, predict sales, optimize logistics and create content. In the HR context, these tools can be used to screen resumes, track employee productivity and streamline recruitment. They can increase efficiency by allowing HR professionals to focus more on strategic, high-value tasks that require human insights and judgments. 

We’ve also heard a lot lately about generative AI (GAI). New GAI models like ChatGPT, which has more than 100 million users and is becoming as common as an Amazon purchase, have greatly expanded capabilities. For employee benefit advisers and the HR departments they counsel, it is critical that they understand the risks and opportunities of GAI. Workers also can leverage GAI to fill critical skills gaps, or upskill into emerging jobs

Read more: Smart technology can take the sting out of coming into the office

A related area of both excitement and concern is robotics, which hold significant promise for enhancing productivity, reducing unpleasant tasks and decreasing workplace injuries. One huge advantage is that robots can boost productivity by working around the clock without fatigue, performing some tasks more quickly and accurately than humans. Exoskeletons – wearable devices that provide assistance, augment human strength and endurance – are allowing workers to perform tasks more safely, efficiently and comfortably.

Robots also are invaluable when it comes to reducing dull, dirty or dangerous tasks for which they are well-suited. For instance, they can be used to clean hazardous materials, work in extreme temperatures, or perform repetitive assembly line tasks.

When robots handle tasks associated with heavy lifting, repetitive motion, or other risky activities, they reduce the risk of physical injuries. Collaborative robots typically have sensors to prevent collisions with humans. Exoskeletons can help reduce musculoskeletal strain and injuries.

The successful use of these technologies requires investment in workforce training, proactive measures to address potential job displacement issues and continuous emphasis on employee safety.

Read more: Walmart and Cleo leaders agree: Whole person healthcare takes the right tech

Another workplace tech trend is the use of biometrics, which also can help decrease workplace injuries tied to fatigue and burnout. Employers are integrating it into their safety programs in several ways. Consider, for example, fatigue monitoring. Wearable devices can monitor critical indicators of fatigue such as heart rate and eye movement. 

In addition, health screenings allow biometrics to identify factors such as heart conditions or sleep disorders that also might increase the risk of injury. This can support earlier interventions and disability accommodations, fostering a healthier and safer work environment.  

Finally, hand geometry recognition enhances safety by ensuring that only authorized employees can operate heavy machinery, reducing the chance of accidents due to untrained or unauthorized access.

All of these biometric applications can enhance workplace safety, but employers must balance their benefits with employees’ privacy rights, as well as compliance with relevant regulations and laws.

Another emerging area of interest involves augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Employers are increasingly turning to AR/VR tools for training. They offer immersive, interactive experiences that can simulate real-world scenarios and improve training effectiveness. VR, for example, can test drive dangerous scenarios, allowing employees to practice responses in a safe environment and learn from mistakes without incurring real-world consequences. 

With upskilling, AR can overlay digital information onto the physical world, providing real-time assistance and guidance. Workers can fine tune their understanding of tasks with more connectivity to data to make decisions on the job. This can improve training for current roles and upskilling.

Read more: Why 64% of HR leaders spend up to 9 weekly hours on data entry

These tools also pave the way for collaborative learning. VR can create virtual classrooms, making remote training more engaging, effective and accessible. For example, it can provide sign language instructions for those with hearing impairments.

While these technologies offer significant benefits, companies and their advisers also must consider cost and technological requirements, as well as potential motion sickness in AR/VR environments.

Finally, leveraging legal counsel can go a long way toward adding a protective layer when it comes to employee privacy and sensitive data. Introducing transformative technologies into the workplace involves legal, ethical and regulatory complexities. Lawyers can provide key guidance on compliance with privacy laws and regulations such as notice, consent and destruction requirements.

Technology is changing jobs and responsibilities. Lawyers can help ensure compliance with employment laws such as the use of automated employment decision tools, wage and hour requirements, and accommodations for those with disabilities. 

They also can help decipher intellectual property rights with technology and data, create policies to better protect the company, and help mitigate liability if technology malfunctions or is misused.

It is becoming increasingly clear that companies must embrace AI and other technologies to be successful in today’s competitive environment. Similarly, HR professionals and benefit advisers must carefully leverage technology to strengthen workforces. This must be done responsibly, in conjunction with legal counsel, and with a clear understanding of risks and opportunities. 

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