Virtual Environments: The Future of HR?

As technology evolves at a lightning pace, companies such as KPMG, Careerbuilder.com and Haymarket Media are beginning to realize how virtual technology can be used to enhance recruiting, on-boarding and other talent management processes.

Today, virtual events and environments are playing an increasingly prominent role in how organizations do business. Nearly half of business professionals believe that by next year, half of all corporate events will be hybrid — part physical and part virtual — while 60 percent of business-to-business marketers plan on increasing their spend on virtual events in 2011 and 2012, according to an InterCall survey launched in September 2011.

The experience of being live in a room for recruiting, on-boarding, training, attending company meetings and other once-straightforward tasks is not quite the same as it is when communicating via email, chat or similar technologies. The nature of such communications makes it difficult to differentiate one organization from another when all have similar technological capabilities, so organizations can find it challenging to stand out over the competition.

Take recruiting, for example. While enterprise communications technologies allow electronic connections between HR and remote candidates, it’s harder to create the emotional connections that can sometimes tip the scales in favor of hiring a particular candidate or, from the candidate’s perspective, selecting the organization instead of competitors. Robust virtual technologies could be one way for candidates to get a better sense of the company, its brand or its culture — and to determine if they’d be a good fit.

Some companies have reported cost savings when adopting this approach to standard HR processes. James Gilliam, major account executive at CareerBuilder.com, said the use of HR virtual environments as part of his company’s recruiting efforts has helped lower the cost per hire by 70 percent.

An obvious means of cost and time savings in this space is the use of virtual job fairs. Instead of taking weeks to complete or costing thousands of dollars to set up, recruiters have the option of meeting “live” with candidates from anywhere in the world. When the interview is complete, candidates — or “visitors,” as they’re sometimes referred to — can continue to collect information about the organization and ask questions.

HR professionals are then able to capture data on attendee behavior and determine what aspects of the virtual job fair work best so they can replicate it going forward or make necessary adjustments.

Especially in the case of global organizations or ones located across a wide geography, HR professionals can use virtual technology to communicate certain types of information. For instance, when introducing benefits packages, a company can hold an online town hall meeting with the chief HR officer or other HR management. Employees can attend from their desks rather than having to assemble somewhere. Afterwards, the presentation — as well as information about those benefits — can be left in different “rooms” to be perused later.

Communications technology has helped to expand the talent pool geographically beyond what was conceivable even 10 years ago, but at the same time organizations still find it challenging to communicate their brand and stand out to potential talent. Virtual environments can help mitigate this, and they seem poised to become an inevitable aspect of HR in the future.

Eric Vidal is a director for the event services business segment at InterCall, a conferencing and collaboration services provider. He can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.