In an age where technology, globalization, innovation, and Big Data are some of the most commonly used terms by employers, there’s another one that is growing more and more popular – “simplification”. This trend of simplifying work is a corporate response to employees being overwhelmed by increasing organisational complexity, growing information overload, and a stressful 24/7 work environment. 


According to Deloitte, in one day we exchange more than 100 billion emails, yet only one in seven is critically important! Obviously, one of the main reasons for this overload is the fact that we are always using technology – my phone does more than my computer, all day, every day – I am an addict! And I am not the only one! The same research says people are now checking their mobile phones more than 150 times a day ( I guess that makes me feel better). However, besides technology and global 24/7 demands, employees are struggling with the complexity of work-related processes.  For example, one of the global tech companies I am working with stated it takes them a total of 13 weeks to enrol a new joiner into their benefits and reward program due to poor and laborious manual processes.   

"My phone does more than my computer, all day, every day – I am an addict!"

As everyone is on the mission to simplify their lives, it is up to HR to lead the charge in simplifying work. It comes as no surprise that some of the most innovative, global technology companies are already translating their design thinking principles to their internal business and HR practices. Apple and Google are as well known for their culture and rethinking employee experience as for their minimalistic design and innovative products that make our lives easier. So what are some of the ways HR can simplify tasks, technology and processes at work?  Here are a few:

 

Eliminate the unnecessary

Even though we can’t stop technology advancements and our phone addiction, we can make sure our time is not spent on reading through emails or attending hour-long meetings that could have been a 5 minute call! Many large corporations are going as far as banning emails and voice mails during off hours or weekends. Others, like previously mentioned Google, help their employees stay productive with rules on effective emailing.  

 

Try things like eliminating emails on weekends, shortening meeting times, reducing frequency of meetings, or even penalizing employees for responding to emails while they are on vacation.  Trust me, your employees will be very grateful, and by creating ROI within a smaller focus group within the organization, you can provide a more compelling argument to expand the initiative to the entire company.

"It is up to HR to lead the charge in simplifying work."

Make rules to limit steps in a process

One thing too many businesses are doing that adds complexity to HR work is having old and antiquated HR processes and procedures. There is so much room for improvement here it would take me days to list.  “That’s the way we have always done it” is a recipe for disaster.  Think about your daily tasks. Can you eliminate any of them?  Are they all necessary to arrive at the end result? Is there a better way of doing them? Does everyone involved need to be? Is there technology to help you do this? Thinking long term about the benefits of simplifying work is critical as HR continues to fight for a seat at the exec table.

 

I have recently read that Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, had a philosophy that if a process couldn’t be explained on 1 piece of paper – it was deemed too complex and you have to go back to the drawing board.  Seems too simple? Maybe. But they are Walmart, and still abide by this guideline wherever possible.  Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo and be the one to offer up a better solution.  Most likely, the business (or at least your colleagues) will thank you for it. 

 

Tie “Simplicity” into your company culture 

Complexity of work for employees is a growing issue, and most businesses have yet to address it. GE is a great example of introducing simplification as an integrated part of company's strategy, encompassing lean management, speed and competitiveness, commercial intensity, and digital capability. For GE simplification is both a cultural and a structural transformation. 


I believe, HR is not just an integral part of simplifying work, it should lead the changes and redesign of the work environment. Start by acknowledging the problem and setting up a team. Get your employees opinion on complex processes and things that waste their time and disrupt their work-life balance.  Use that information to create a business case and see if you can persuade the business to tie simplicity into your internal values and culture. Chances are if you work for a company that prides itself on innovation, passion, respect and integrity; they’ll agree that simplifying and allowing employees to drive forward with good ideas faster will only add value to their brand and ultimate profitability. 
  

Go Green! Lose paper processes 

If you are onboarding hundreds or even thousands of people every year around the world, you are most likely using hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper to do so.  In an age where almost everyone in the workforce has some sort of device, and actually prefers to consume information via the web, why on earth are you still using paper? It’s costly, time consuming, error prone, and quite frankly – boring!  Who wants to be the newest addition at a cool innovative company only to receive a stack of documents 50 pages thick at their welcome meeting?! 

Even Adobe just published a report stating “61% of respondents would leave their current job for another with equivalent compensation ‘if the only benefit were dramatically less document and administrative work.’ I have also recently came across a company on the east coast who estimates they spend over $100,000/ year just on paper and postage to enroll their new employees in their benefits plans.  

 

"Why on earth are you still using paper?"

Eliminating paperwork enables HR to focus more on important employee issues such as training and development, performance management, employee engagement, developing a positive business culture, and better alignment of HR and business goals.

Use Technology!

While technology is partially to blame for the “overwhelmed employees” trend, it is also a solution in many ways. Don’t implement technology just for the sake of it though! Implement a solution that will really streamline and simplify the process, rather than introduce more complexity. Look for HR software that provides the same user experience we are used to in everyday life, both front and back end! Your employees (like you!) want to consume information via the web/video/text – they hate PDFs and paper!  

One of our global clients, NCR looked at simplifying the benefits enrollment process both for their HR team and employees. They have partnered with us to offer their tech-savvy employees the benefits management experience they were expecting from a cutting-edge technology firm.  

Bottom line

Even if simplification was not on your mind until you have read this blog, make sure it’s on your agenda for 2015! Work complexity is quickly becoming the biggest challenge globally blocking innovation and leading to lower employee engagement and customer satisfaction. It is up to business and HR leaders to create a culture of simplicity, eliminate unnecessary steps, remove paper and introduce technology that actually makes life easier for their employees.