In an age of AI and tech for everything - don't forget the human touch.


My mission at the end of 2020 was to consider how I can automate more of our HR processes in order to work in a more efficient and effective way.

As you’d expect in a business like ours, my mind jumped to deciding which tech could be used to take some of the grind away from, not just my role - but from everyone?

I’ve actively been looking at new performance and appraisal systems, fresh ways of processing 360 feedback, emerging platforms to run our benefits and innovative ways of measuring my teams KPIs and performance metrics. On top of this, I’ve been looking at lots of engagement platforms that turbocharge internal comms and keep everyone in the loop whilst we are all working remotely.

I have listened to what feels like a thousand sales pitches, with the promise of transformational technology that can provide me with all the data I could possibly need - and all with the promise of delivering a happier, more productive team with baked-in performance improvement strategies that even highlight areas for personal development and improve the acquisition and retention of talent.

Obviously, this alchemy comes at a price and quite often a high one!

As an agency, we have weathered the COVID storm in 2020 by cutting back, giving up offices, making some redundancies and asking the whole team to take a 6-month pay cut. We weren’t in a position to invest in new systems and given the timing it was far more respectful to use what little spare budget we had to do the little things that make people’s lives easier. The preference was that no matter how small, it had to be a tangible benefit that demonstrated our appreciation of all the hard work and additional hours the teams put in over the last 12 months.

We started considering what was really important to people? What had really made a difference and what could we do more of?

We use the Employee Voice system (a bit like internal NPS scoring) to collect anonymous feedback from employees about how they are feeling and giving them a platform to make suggestions about how the business can support. Acting on this insight has proved one of the most important tools during an ongoing scenario of continuous remote working and lockdowns. We’ve improved engagement and demonstrated support in the ways that staff need, as opposed to our own ideas. Simple things like sending out post-it pads, buying heaters so people can work in spare rooms without heating the whole house and introducing virtual social events.

We listen hard and we act fast. The speed of execution can fuel random acts of kindness, but it’s simply that we are truly listening and above all else, we care. Spreading a little joy in difficult times is a really powerful thing for the team. We also paid for better home setups for people including buying office chairs and desks so that our people didn’t have to work at their dining room tables. We were realistic about the mix of family circumstances at home and started welcoming children on zoom calls. It’s important to make team members feel relaxed so they don’t get too worried about the background noise of home-schooled kids killing each other.

Early on we insisted on a “cameras on” for all zoom calls policy and encouraged diverse virtual backgrounds! But most importantly we tried to foster human relationships at all times. In the digital sector, working remotely is not unusual, and for many who were together before the pandemic, we already felt that we were “in it together” and building on existing relationships. But for new people who joined our teams during lockdown, they had never met any of us and never been to our offices so extra effort is required to accelerate those early conversations.

This human touch and the interaction you have (virtually) face to face is so important. In trying to recreate the “water cooler” moments that people said they were missing, we arranged short social zoom group Q & A sessions, just to get to know our new employee’s and introduce them to colleagues in a less formal way. These have worked fantastically. Learning about people outside the office context.

Everyone must keep front of mind that we haven’t all suddenly decided to start working at home through choice. We are now “At home, during a pandemic, trying to work” and that mustn’t be framed as normal as that undermines the strain.

For many brands out there the biggest lesson they’ve learned is that they need to be more digitally enabled. For us, it's been the opposite. In essence, What we learnt throughout 2020 is that it is not all about the tech. Make no mistake, we are leveraging digital tools and services and AI and data has its place, but nothing replaces the human touch.

Listening and reacting to an individual's needs will always have the biggest impact. That’s the essence of personalisation. We should all use tech to stay human.

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Claire Battle Thumbnail
Claire Battle
Head of Talent
Claire is the agency's Head of Talent and is responsible for employee recruitment. Claire has a long history of working in recruitment and IT and enjoys working in a dynamic agency environment!
Claire Battle Thumbnail

Claire Battle

14 Jan 2021 - 10 minute read
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