Are You Ready for your HR Virtual Assistant?

Chatbots have arrived in HR, and we are celebrating. After three decades of chasing the user experience dream, we may finally have someone (or something) that won’t complain about doing “HR stuff.” 

Before we automated HR, we had armies of people who made a living doing the tedious manual work of handling employment and payroll transactions. For the employee, requesting vacation time was a matter of scratching a couple of dates on the paper form and handing it off to a supervisor, who handed off to the HR clerical staff. From the employee perspective, taking a day off meant saying “Hey Boss, I need to take my kid to the doctor on Friday,” leaving the manager and HR to handle the administrivia.

The Quest for HR Efficiency

The first wave of HR automation made HR more cost-efficient. The army of workers became much smaller, and fewer people made a living doing tedious computer and manual work.

Then came self-service, when HR pushed the work out to employees and their managers.

They hated it. Managers and employees flooded HR with calls about how to handle transactions, so a cadre of administrative worker arose to handle the tasks for everyone in the business unit or workgroup because people balked at learning how to use the software.

With the growth of cloud platforms, talent management platforms, payroll, and time and attendance, competition drove the effort to make those systems easy enough for anyone to use.

Why People Are Not Overjoyed about the New User Experience

People still hated it. Organizations deployed wave after wave of new systems with a lot of “change management” and hype, only to see the enthusiasm dissipate over time.

The trouble is that nobody who already has a job to do in the organization wants to do “HR stuff.” We don’t know anyone who becomes joyous at the prospect of applying for Family or Medical Leave. We have never heard anyone say, “I’m so happy! I get to fill out my online timecard!” or “I love doing those development plans!”

In practice, we just want to get the HR stuff done so we can get back to what we like doing.

The Tedium Is Still with Us

Today, instead of those vast armies of clerical workers, we have skeleton HR staffs populated by professionals and semi-professionals. They spend up to 30 or 40% of their time answering questions from managers, employees, prospective employees, and ex-employees about how to manage their transactions or where to find the information they need to do it.

Virtual Assistants Have Arrived

Relief is here. Cognitive computing, natural language processing (NLP), and artificial intelligence (AI) are working with text and voice messaging to create virtual assistants in our personal lives. Millions of us are using Cortana, Siri, Alexa, and Google Home.

We want the same experience at work. HR technology providers are responding, but small startups and niche providers are moving faster. Chatbots and text bots are currently used primarily in customer self-service, but they are moving quickly into HR, among other areas.[1]

Now is an excellent time for companies to get in on the ground floor of HR virtual assistants to improve their productivity and to influence the direction these products take.


Before you jump into the mix, there are four things we recommend for you to think about as you prepare for your virtual assistants.

  1. Evaluate solutions for compatibility with other emerging technology. A virtual assistant that stands alone will become an administrative burden. A textbot or chatbot should be compatible with others used in business including Cortana, Siri, and Alexa for Business. It should easily integrate into your HR software platforms, and be fully compatible with collaboration software, such as Microsoft Teams and Slack.
  2. Work with other cognitive computing initiatives across your organization to build a shared lexicon.
  3. Make it easy for users to report issues and suggestions by integrating the function directly into your virtual assistant. Automate the information-gathering for analysis so your users will be more willing to help.
  4. Be transparent. Tell your people what you are doing, what information you are gathering, and how you will use it. And, while it almost goes without saying, it is better to say it – don’t pretend it is not a robot.

Sign up for more of our conversation about virtual assistants and the future of work. We look forward to hearing of the success stories of having assistants who are happy to do that “HR stuff” we all hate to do.

Chasma Place, is an independent source for solutions that will help you keep pace with changes in the way your people work without ripping and replacing your existing systems.


1. Lun, Erwin Van. "Virtual Assistant – humanlike artificial agents for self-service areas." Accessed January 17, 2018.


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