Tablets in the Workplace: HR and the Self-Service Solution

Tablets in the Workplace: HR and the Self-Service Solution

This article was updated on August 5, 2018.

Tablets in the workplace are now fairly common. HR leaders are used to planning around mobile technologies and accommodating their employees' predilection for tablet use to both empower productivity and enable remote access — but these functions are just the beginning.

As noted by Total Food Service, self-service tablets and kiosks are starting to pop up at restaurants across the United States. Consumers prefer the ease of self-serve airport kiosks or hotel desks to "staffed" alternatives, reports Samsung. This creates a new challenge for HR.

How do HR leaders manage employees and the emerging role of tablet assistance (or potential replacement)?

Broad Impact

With self-serve tablets on the rise, what's the impact for HR? As noted by NPR, one area of change is employee performance evaluation. At some restaurants, for example, customers can order their own drinks, appetizers and desserts on tableside tablets. They can also review their server using the technology, which yields immediate feedback for management. It also brings up an interesting conundrum for HR. With servers only responsible for taking main dish orders and bringing out food, how much of this "score" relates to staff and how much is a reflection of the technology itself? In addition, the rise of tablets in the workplace creates a changing job market — HR teams need to recruit staff with more than a passing familiarity with technology and who don't mind that part of their job is handled by an autonomous process.

Tablet Tendencies

So where exactly are these tablets cropping up? Restaurants are popular placements. Chains like Chili's, Applebee's, Olive Garden and fast-food giants like McDonald's are all rolling out self-service solutions. Airports are another good example. Rather than making passengers wait in line to check in for flights, print boarding passes or check their baggage, self-serve kiosks streamline the process. Other hospitality markets such as hotels are also making inroads with self-service. The Japan Times reports that while the Henn na Hotel in Japan pushes the envelope as the world's first "hotel staffed by robots," most prefer the standard self-serve kiosk.

Evolving Employees

What does all this mean for HR teams? In a world informed by tablets in the workplace, both hiring practices and staff management may need to change.

When it comes to hiring, total staff numbers may slowly come down as tablets become more and more autonomous. But for HR this isn't as simple as just cutting staff — if technology fails or you're in the midst of sudden retail growth, having on-call staff is critical to meet consumer demand. This shifts the HR hiring practice away from FTEs toward part-time, contract or seasonal workers.

In addition, organizations need staff with better-than-average tech familiarity. Why? Because it's not reasonable or cost-effective to have an IT pro on-site all day, every day. If tablets stop responding, start making mistakes or go dark altogether, staff should have the tech chops to diagnose issues on the fly, reboot as needed and take over the job of restaurant or airport robots as required.

Service Slippage?

For HR leaders, it's also worth noting that tablets and kiosks aren't always met with universal acclaim. In addition to tech functionality, both location and intention make a difference. Consider the role of tablets in airports. It's not a stretch to say that most travelers dislike airports, especially given the amount of waiting involved even for short domestic flights. Removing one step in this waiting process — the check in — can both improve the consumer experience and reduce the total number of staff airlines need to employ concurrently. Here, all three factors work in unison.

The technology needed to process check-in requests isn't complicated, the location lends itself to self-service and the intention of passengers is to complete their business as fast as possible. Hotels fall under the same umbrella. No one wants to stand in a long check-in line for half an hour after spending the bulk of their day in cramped airline quarters.

Restaurants, meanwhile, are more of a mixed bag. As noted by Total Food Service, total order values tend to rise — Taco Bell reported a 20 percent jump in price as consumers chose more "add-ons" for their meal — while NPR notes that desserts are now a bigger draw since on-screen pictures make them look more appetizing and not having to order via human waiters makes customers feel less gluttonous.

The ability to order drinks, call the server as needed and pay table side are also big benefits but there's some pushback here. No surprise that staff aren't completely sold on the devices, although tips on the whole have risen, but there's a seemingly short hop between technological "help" and full replacement. And for consumers, the act of going to eat is often intrinsically tied to sociability.

The result? In restaurants, tablet tech is more complicated (and therefore prone to failure), and while the location makes sense, intention doesn't always line up. Sometimes, diners want the back-and-forth of wait staff conversation and the slow pace of a meal done well.

The Management Mission

The result? Evolving tablet usage, consumer response and employee integration means HR time and labor management efforts must also evolve. For example, HR Dive notes that providing self-service options for employees — when it comes to booking time off or indicating availability for extra work — can improve total output. But HR staff will also require tech solutions capable of monitoring both the actual amount worked by employees and the amount of work done by their electronic counterparts. There's an upside, however.

The use of tablets in the workplace can help automate a variety of low-to-moderate skill tasks, in turn giving employees more time to focus on the core aspects of their job, such as customer service or throughput. Ideally, this could produce a higher level of potential engagement and help businesses reduce total turnover. Finally, HR will need to be cognizant of the emerging consumer role in HR decision-making.

By incorporating customer feedback — both in-store and via social media — HR can develop actionable data sets that C-suite leaders can use to create new policy regarding the use and adoption of self-service technologies.

Self-service is rapidly becoming the new consumer expectation. For HR, this move to more autonomous tablets in the workplace demands an understanding of viable markets and practical knowledge of how self-service solutions will impact recruiting, retention and overall brand reputation.