Why HR should drive your digital workplace

author Brett Dixon, March 16, 2017

What does the digital workplace mean to your organisation? Technology like intranet software that meets the needs of workers who prefer not to be office based? Or a profound revolution in the way that your employees work?

Technology might be the enabler of the digital workplace, but people are at its heart. Collaboration, communication and engagement require a flattening of hierarchical ways of working, breaking down silos and other barriers to allow employees to deliver organisational outcomes rather than be task-specific in their work practice. These new flexible ways of working are becoming crucial to attracting, developing and retaining talent. And fundamental to this new digital culture is HR.

People and process, not technology

If the digital revolution is about people and processes, then HR should be in the driving seat. And if your organisation intends to respond by becoming more agile and flexible, allowing cross-disciplinary teams to drive forward innovation, then you need to create a workplace that functions best for your employees.

Innovation in the workplace empowers employees to adopt best practice in a culture of trust, where what gets done is more important than where it’s done. And happier and more motivated employees are more productive – by simply adopting social intranet software, your business could see a 15% uptick in productivity. Aligning the employee experience with consumerised IT and organisational goals makes the team the ultimate unit of productivity, and HR have the experience to create optimal teams to leverage the best possible outcomes.

Re-engineering HR

As the digital workplace moves the workforce away from stepped hierarchies to an interconnected web of multidisciplinary teams, and HR drives the processes of productivity, HR teams will begin to move away from a focus on their core business of compliance, governance and administration. Automation and delegation of those tasks, and the move towards a self-serve culture for basic housekeeping, will free up HR to assume a leadership role in creating the structures and tools for a fully collaborative and empowering digital workplace.

Where HR teams have often looked to IT to implement technology in the ‘technology first’ digital workplace, they will now need to assume the responsibility for assessing and incorporating tools where they are the means by which the workforce are empowered to do better business. And HR will have an increasing role in analysing the data from those mobile collaborative tools to derive business actions that are not just meaningful but actionable.

That’s not to say that HR should make IT redundant, far from it. But as the greater workforce breaks out of its silos, so HR and IT need to examine the ways they can support each other to make decisions on new technologies measured against whether they are fit for purpose to empower employees, not whether the technology itself is ‘good’.

Development on demand

The role of HR is changing as core functions adapt to the digital workplace. The modern HR professional is no longer a generalist waiting for employees to reach out but a proactive specialist in operational development, skills and talent management, and business advice.

Learning and development are no longer bolt-ons but necessary functions of empowerment, and the link between learning and performance is now firmly established. Digital tools have transformed the way that learning and development are designed, delivered and implemented with learning on demand and just in time delivering the knowledge employees need now to deliver outcomes at speed.

If HR teams can focus on implementing an employee experience that engages and empowers workers to get things done, then they’ll create the stickiness that retains talent and differentiates their company from the rest of the pack.

Facing the future

The nature of work is flipping from the drudgery of the work ethic to the opportunities for fulfilment in the digital workplace. HR has never had a greater opportunity to connect and inform employees than it does in the 21st century, where the work-life balance has blurred into the 24/7 ‘always on’ work culture. HR needs to lead the transformation towards the more connected workplace, identifying digital transformation champions and creating more inclusive workplace activities and practices. HR must be ready to leverage the innovation that flows out of the digital workplace and drive those ideas to execution.

If digital transformation is to achieve widespread adoption, then it needs to be about more than the ‘appification’ of everything or new learning platforms. It needs to engage with employees in networks based on trust and expertise. HR needs to break down the mistrust of flexible working – that working from home isn’t about watching Netflix in your pyjamas while occasionally checking emails – and promote ways of working collaboratively and cooperatively for the benefit of a shared organisational culture.

The best digital workplaces are not about the technology itself but how technology can create better employers and employees. And HR professionals should be at the heart of creating and nurturing working practices that drive the digital change.