In the changing world of work more and more companies are trending to virtual work. The need for offices and gathering points for workers will diminish, though not go away entirely. That trend however, raises the question about the importance of HR in a virtual company. It may be possible that the human resources function may become increasingly irrelevant.
What role for HR?
Futurist Daniel Burrus, in a post entitled Your Working Future, asks the question “What happens to HR in a virtual organization?” He is particularly concerned about the hourly employee and wonders how they will be assigned work, and be told when to stop working, and whether they will be paid overtime. He also wonders how work will be measured in virtual organizations and whether people can get promoted in virtual organizations.
Perhaps we can glimpse some answers to Burrus’ questions by looking at some current organizations.
Dabbling in the Future?
There are several organizations that have dabbled in what may become a model for the future of work. ROWE (Results Only Work Environments) companies operate as close to the virtual model as many companies can. If we then add on some artificial intelligence capabilities we can perhaps eliminate HR. In a ROWE environment these things are taken care of:
- Only results count
- Not a lot of managers are needed, everyone self-manages
- Overtime is not an issue because no one is paid based on the time they spend, just on the results of their work
- Harassment or bullying is not generally an issue as no one works in physical proximity to each other, hence “virtual”
- Work assignments are distributed based on the needs of the customer and the expertise of the worker. With AI these assignments could be “robotized”, as could be the results of the work
- You generally attract workers who are independent and not in need of validation by promotion. If they want to be promoted these are they type of people who start their own companies.
- Finding these kind of people can also be mostly done by AI, especially when singularity is achieved on a wide spread basis.
Back to the present
Certainly in this type of virtual company there will be little need for HR. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, such a virtual organization is still a ways away. There are people who could not work in such an environment. There is work that cannot be done in this manner. We still have laws that require us to pay people based on the time they spend performing work as opposed to how well they do the work or how much they produce.
Probably the biggest roadblock is just our social nature and the fact that many people do not find such a work situation attractive. So this means that HR will be needed for a longer while. However, I would not rest on my laurels long.