The pandemic accelerated the rate of change in HR tech and caused all of us to reflect on our priorities. Microsoft has a unique opportunity to change things for employees of businesses everywhere.

By Tom Elliott

It occurred to me recently that, in the context of the last 20 years at least, we’re entering a third age of HR tech.

Twenty years ago, any organization that needed to manage workforce information at large scale was doing it in their ERP system. That same system was probably designed to manage finance or manufacturing processes and did HR as a side line. They were unattractive, hard to learn, expensive to change systems, and didn’t do much beyond transactional processes. They were also – rightly – tightly controlled by IT and Finance departments. HR didn’t get much of a look in when it came to agreeing priorities.

As the cloud became more accessible, a different type of HR solution became available. Software as a service (SaaS) meant we didn’t have to go cap in hand to IT any more to ask for help in implementing more attractive, more focused, solutions. We probably all got a bit carried away with what was now achievable.

But SaaS wasn’t the utopia we were promised. The lack of IT support meant we missed out on crucial things like single sign on. The sort of small thing that makes a user’s life easier and increases the levels of engagement with the product. The solutions were also inflexible. A lack of customization meant that gaps were filled by endless spreadsheets that have a habit of outstaying their welcome.

For the most part, that’s where we entered the pandemic. And as businesses globally raced to adapt, it was HR, working with IT, who stepped up.

Emergence from the pandemic is prompting a re-evaluation. What does a world with more hybrid working, new-found alliances in IT, and a freshly amplified strategic voice, mean for HR tech? What does the third age look like?

The third age of HR tech

First – user experience is everything. With less organic, informal ‘how do I?’ conversations happening across desks, any end user HR process needing lengthy training will be ignored. Everything needs to be super simple, or it will not happen.

As a result – ‘flow of work’ processes are critical. The concept of ‘HR in the flow of work’ has been around for a while, but until now it’s been mostly a pipe dream. The phrase relates to an idea that in order to increase adoption and engagement with HR processes, those processes need to take place in the applications that the workforce is already using. Fewer clicks away from the day job results in higher adoption. If I can approve leave from a chat message, and that approval automatically notifies the requester and updates their leave balance, I’m way more likely to engage in the process rather than finding a shortcut around it.

With a workforce doing an ever-increasing amount of the daily work in online collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, there’s an opportunity like never before to deliver processes in the flow of work. The backend engine underpinning these processes will become irrelevant and increasingly invisible, wrapped in a user interface that’s part of the products we use all the time.

Microsoft geared for the third age

Microsoft, of all the vendors, are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this third age. Teams adoption grew exponentially during the pandemic. Many knowledge workers are spending large amounts of their working day in one application. The mythic idea of HR in the flow of work has become not just achievable, but increasingly obvious.’s evergreen solution delivers on the promises technology has been making HR leaders for years. Simple, effective processes, that the workforce will willingly use, that support adherence to policy and make life easier for the entire workforce. We’re really excited about what we’ve been working on, and we’d love to show it to you.

You can also watch this webinar: Employee experience: Shaping the ‘new possible’ with Microsoft technology to know more.