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10 Sabrina Dick, HR Director, about digitalization that will make us more human again

As Human Resources Director at SAP Central & Eastern Europe, Sabrina Dick drives the digital transformation. In this interview, she explains the stony path and the wrong approach of many companies to digital transformation. Getting started with AR/ VR requires a fundamental interest in digitalization processes, says Sabrina Dick. In society and in the mind of people, VR is still closely linked to the gaming sector and therefore usually too abstract for the working world. The Human Resources Director uncovers use cases and thus simplifies the entry into AR/VR in her field. She is convinced that digitalization, despite the use of new technologies, makes us more human and promotes empathy as most important core competence for managers of the future.

Die Expertin

Sabrina Dick


Human Resources Director SAP Central and Eastern Europe


Software-Industry

Points of contact with AR/VR:


private:

  • Trying out filters on Instagram and other social media platforms, in general rather less

professionell:

  • Usage of AR backgrounds for video calls, in general rather less

„Digitalization makes us more human - this can also be seen in the possible applications of AR/VR."


1) Which advantage do you see by using AR/VR compared to other types of media?

To be honest, the differences between AR and VR have not been clear to me so far. In the context of this interview, I therefore read up on the topics. Yesterday I found out that we recently posted a "Job Randomizer" AR filter for our Employer Branding Team, where you get a random answer for a job if you click on the filter in the Instagram Story mode.


AR Filter SAP

When I think about the technologies in a general way as a human resources manager, I believe that VR can contribute extremely to the creation of value in the areas of training, simulation and work safety, in contrast to other forms of media. When participants in training sessions do a simulation in VR instead of watching a video, the active "doing" has a much greater effect. Participants can memorize what they have learned much better. Thereby VR offers a realistic scenario, but in a safe environment. Participants can test their skills and make mistakes without having serious consequences.

Instead, I see AR as being very strong in sales and marketing, because you can do cool things, like using SAP's AR Filter. When you see something like that, you just want to try it out. My 6-year-old godchild, for example, is asking me every time we see each other if she can put on the "dog mask" and means the AR filter from Snapchat. Something like that has a huge fun factor. A normal selfie on the other hand would be boring for her. Such AR filters are therefore easy and intuitive to use and it's exciting because it offers a new feature to the apps we are currently using. Do you see potential use cases for AR/VR in the HR sector?

Definitely. It has already been used in some cases by SAP. For example, my colleagues from Switzerland have created a great pilot project as a use case for VR to make it easier for new employees to join our company. Every employee who started working for SAP Switzerland during the pandemic was provided with low-priced VR glasses as part of their onboarding. With these, every future employee could then take a tour through the office, see their own workplace and the colleagues who will be sitting next to them. This means that the new employee comes into the office on the first day, but does not feel like a stranger, because he knew what to expect from the digital tour that had already been conducted. At SAP, the onboarding process is in general already very good. The additional use of VR with a virtual tour makes it even better. The employees feel much more comfortable and are less nervous, because they already know how everything looks like and know what to expect. This was also extremely well received by our employees, who are in general more interested in technology.

Especially now during the pandemic, I think this is very important for new employees. They may have been working at SAP for six months, but they are working from home. This means in turn that when they have to go back to the office for the first time, they are just as nervous as on their first day. A virtual tour in VR could help to counteract this.

Job interviews could also be conducted in a virtual office at the moment. This would create a more professional atmosphere compared to having candidates and HR employees sitting at the kitchen table in their own homes.

Another use case I have already thought about a few times is in the area of teambuilding. Currently we can only be together to a limited extent. For example, my team is located all over Eastern Europe. Due to travel restrictions, it is currently impossible to predict when we will see each other in real life again. We will never travel the way we did before, because companies have found that it is also possible with much less! Team meetings via video conferencing have lost their appeal for many people. In order to keep the team together, to create a new attraction and to actively experience something together again, the use of VR would be a great thing!

I also see a use case of VR for managers. Many of them are not prepared for conflict or even separation talks, they are insecure, and they lack experience. But if one could practice this in VR beforehand by means of role plays with different reactions of the employees, one would be much better prepared for the exit interviews and the inhibition threshold to practice this with real people or maybe a colleague from the HR department would be much lower.

Overall, I believe that there is a lot you can do with VR to support and improve existing processes. However, in my opinion, most HR departments are still too busy to go digital in the first place. The integration of AR/VR would then be the next steps. We at SAP have the advantage that we have always been digital and are also pioneers in digital issues. Nevertheless, we are still in the early stages of using AR/VR. But I am sure that we will take the next steps in this area in the near future. Simply because VR in particular offers us the chance to narrow the current gap between the digital and physical world.


At SAP, you are driving the digital transformation for HR. In particular, you are talking about the three areas of culture, process, and technology that define a successful digital transformation.


2) Is the use of AR/VR part of this and if so, why?


Yes, definitely. To briefly explain again my emphasis on the three areas of culture, process and technology in the context of digital transformation: This is so important to me because many companies expect the introduction of HR software to improve their processes and enable them to work more efficiently. They are often disappointed when the desired effects do not show up or take much more time afterwards. That's why I always emphasize that the technology comes at the end and that it is the easiest thing to do if you do it right at the beginning. In the digital transformation, companies should start with the culture and be able to define their strategy very clearly. In order to answer this, companies should ask themselves the following questions:

- where does the company want to go?

- How does it see itself in the future?

- What skills do employees need to achieve this?

Consequently, companies should then ask themselves how they need to change their existing processes so that the software can be used for this purpose. This is where technology already comes in, as processes can only be mapped digitally in the area of what is technologically possible. When these questions are all answered and the processes have been adapted appropriately, the introduction of the technology is the easiest thing to do. If companies do not think about this, the technology can never be successful. In other words, if employees do not yet have the mindset and are willing to have a digital HR file, for example, then the investment in the technology will never be paid back. In order to increase this acceptance of digital processes by employees, AR/VR could be used. If they see how it makes their work easier, I think they would also be more willing to accept change.

In addition, this digital change will never end, it will always be developing in this area. The lockdown has also led to further development in this area. Many companies have now also realized how important this digital transformation is. We at SAP are already very digital. Nevertheless, the pandemic has caused us to shift up faster in our digital processes and to control everything from our home office in a very short time.

With the digital transformation and the fast adaptation to the home office at SAP, we are already looking for the next new possibilities to improve the work from the home office even more. We are now also talking about "The New Normal" when it comes to the current working conditions. We will be together less physically in the future as well. Nevertheless we want to have fun together as a team. Therefore AR/VR can be very helpful and I think SAP will invest a lot in the next years to advance the integration to make working in "The New Normal" easier.

Even if the doors for SAP employees are now being partially reopened, there are still a lot of regulations that have to be respected. To prepare employees for this and make it easier for them to switch from working from the home office to "working at the workplace but with restrictions", they could also complete a virtual training course in VR. Especially in these times it is important to give your employees more confidence again and to direct the emotions into the positive, this is very well feasible with training simulations in VR.

3) Are there any process-related and technical barriers to the integration of AR/VR in the field of human resources? Are there any other barriers, such as cultural differences, that prevent the widespread use of (AR)/VR in companies, for example for virtual meetings, teambuilding activities or job interviews?

First of all, I think it is a big investment. In addition, as with all digital transformations, the culture must be ready. Then I think that companies that have not yet mapped their processes digitally will have to tackle this first. Once this step is done, the logical next step for me is to integrate AR/VR at appropriate points. I even believe that the manufacturing industries will be the first to take this step, because the integration is very useful for them.

In my opinion, the barrier is also low at SAP, since the employees are already very interested in technology in general. I am personally also convinced that digitalization will make us more humane again. For me, empathy is the most important competence that a manager must have, which, by the way, can also be trained to a certain degree in VR by being able to actively adopt different perspectives. Managers can no longer talk their way out of this with "I don't have time for my people". They are able and have to care more about people again, because so much of the machine is taken away from their hands. The more digital we become, the more important it is. When you think of the name "Virtual Reality", the first thing you imagine is that everything is now going away from reality and becoming completely digital. But this is only partly true, because VR enables us to be closer together again across country, age & health borders.


4) Is there anything you would like to see from developers and AR/VR enthusiasts that might facilitate the diffusion the technologies for HR processes within companies?

As a non-professional, I still have the feeling that VR is categorized by society as belonging directly to the video gaming industry and is considered less relevant to the professional world. We still have the idea of gamers with VR glasses in our minds, moving around randomly in space. All those who are not familiar with VR can initially do nothing with them.

I believe that it is more difficult for people who do not work in a digital environment like me to make the transfer from gaming to the professional environment. I have been reading up on VR and have seen the application of VR for training and work safety in a positive way and have seen possible uses in my environment. However, I believe that it is more difficult for people in the manufacturing industry to make this abstraction in order to recognize the added value. A simple example would be to go into the carpentry shop and offer that training for a safe handling of the cutting saw can be done virtually. The reactions are probably reserved in most companies at the beginning.

First of all, it is necessary to break VR from its anchoring in the gaming industry and to do some awareness work. It is important to show which use cases are available from serious companies and not only from gamers. You have to manage to bridge the gap between "I sit 24/7 in a dark room and get lost in another world" and building business applications. At the moment the target group is already determined by the advertising for VR glasses, by showing mostly pictures from the gaming industry. This is where the leading VR glasses manufacturers like Oculus or HTC Vive should already start by advertising the hardware in a way that entrepreneurs can see the added value it offers in their professional life.

Werbung Oculus Quest als Beispiel für die Positionierung im Gaming Bereich

I believe that we simply have to do some educational work here, and we have to do it in the mass media. Not only in specific areas, the message has to reach society and companies. Discussions like this are exactly the right way to get there!


5) Concerning the Corona crisis: Have you personally noticed changes in your professional or private environment with regard to the acceptance or need for information about AR/VR?


Now, nobody said, "We need this now." Nevertheless, the situation demands that we now exchange digitally about Zoom, Microsoft etc. And here suddenly everybody uses AR without knowing it. The overlayed backgrounds are now a natural part of video calling for everyone. At first only one tool offered the backgrounds. But the benefit was apparently so great that others quickly upgraded to it. The backgrounds are a good interim solution to bring the technology closer.

In the meantime, it has become widely accepted in society that people use it for private or professional purposes, even if the employer did not initiate it. One has been forced to do it out of the circumstances and is simply doing it now. And when you start talking about AR/VR and say "You're already doing it", it is much easier to bring the technologies more closely to the people. Because you realize how easy and helpful an application can be.

Most people do not associate the simple application of backgrounds or filters with AR/VR. But once the connection is there, it becomes more and more easy to introduce them to the application, because they have already seen the benefits for themselves. I said this at the beginning of the Corona crisis. Corona is a huge opportunity - especially for topics such as AR/VR and digitalization in the HR sector, because companies are realizing that processes can be maintained even in abnormal situations.


6) This leads to the conclusion that you consider Corona to be highly relevance for AR and VR. Do you expect industry-/ application-specific differences?


As already mentioned, I believe that it becomes more relevant in general, but particularly in companies that also have a manufacturing facility, because here issues such as occupational safety are applied. In contrast to SAP, which is not a manufacturing company, VR is becoming increasingly important for employee retention and motivation, for example. However, these are topics that are rather on top, i.e. they are not urgently necessary.

But I believe that due to the necessity there is a greater spread of AR and VR in companies with production. As soon as there are certifications and processes that are dangerous for humans are translated into VR, there will be a rapid diffusion and the investments will follow. In the end, the company saves money and provides a safe environment for its employees, as well as for flight simulators in pilot training.

Indeed, I do believe that technology is spreading faster in companies that are not classically considered to be digital pioneers.


Do you think that the representation in VR by avatars, which seems more comic-like, is a hindrance for many people to use the application?


In meetings with a serious discussion, a representation with avatars is rather a disadvantage. The technology would first have to develop further, because avatars are not taken seriously and will therefore not being used. Here I would probably rather use AR. So that one has the feeling of sitting together with the person. It's different with a simulation of work processes, a tour of an office or teambuilding activities: I don't see any problems there.


7) "In 5 years almost every household will own VR glasses like e.g nowadays mobile phones and laptops and use them for different applications like holiday simulation, shopping, meetings, for teaching/learning”. 


What do you think about this statement?


I don't know if it will be in five years. But it will be. I'm sure because we are just getting more and more into that direction. It will not be the last pandemic or the last exceptional situation. This will make us more and more used to digital work. Every household, regardless of whether it is a low-income household or not, owns a smartphone and is represented in some form on social media - whether it is Snapchat, Instagram or something else. This means that most people are already using it today anyway. This is the beginning. The possibilities that exist so far are grandiose. For example, a holiday simulation in which you can now not only see the hotel from the outside, but also make yourself comfortable in your room and sit at the table in the restaurant and enjoy the view. More of these use cases need to be created and rolled out to accelerate the distribution.

When I evaluate it from the perspective of the human resources department, I see how far SAP, as a pioneer in terms of the technologies, is still a long way from VR. This is even more true for other companies. That's why I have doubts that the use of XR glasses will already be the norm in 5 years. Companies are now concentrating for the time being on the essential steps of digitalization in order to be better prepared for future exceptions. I rather estimate with a nationwide distribution in 5-10 years. I can imagine that there will be new technologies then. For example, avatars will be completely similar to humans and good hardware will be cheaper and more widely available.


Finales Statement von Sabrina Dick:


I am convinced that digitalization, i.e. the replacement of physical processes with digital ones, will make us more human. This can be seen again when we look at the use cases of AR/VR. For me, the use of these technologies is definitely part of the ongoing digital transformation of companies.

Next week on #digitalthursday we will make a second interim conclusion by presenting a #factsheet. After 10 interviews with experts from different areas and at different stages of development, we will give an overview of the newly gained insights.


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