The digital workplace of the future won’t succeed if HR and IT don’t work together to create it

By Ramanan Ramakrishna, - Employee experienceFuture WorkplaceProductivity

It’s easy, when talking about digital transformation, to get bogged down in what this means from a technological perspective.

The word ‘digital’ is so strongly associated with the screens and programs so many of us live our lives through today that it’s easy to gloss over the fact that – ultimately – these technologies are created by and for us as people.

Indeed, much of the work my colleagues and I find ourselves doing in digital transformation workshops centres on this human element.

Spurred on (or perhaps unshackled) by access to new technologies, people’s expectations are increasingly – and rapidly – moving away from the established traditions of work.

The attitude of the current workforce is very different to that of previous generations. Not only are employees more socially conscious, they feel more free to move around and far less attached to the idea of working for a single company or progressing in a singular direction.

It’s a freer, more agile approach – and one that modern workplaces need to cater for.

A break with tradition

However, as logical as this move towards greater tech-enabled flexibility and productivity may appear, in reality it represents largely unexplored territory for most companies.

Businesses have spent years establishing working processes now being forcibly undone by a combination of technology and employees’ expectations.

These changes are being felt all the way from an individual employee level right up to the very identity and meaning of what it is to be a corporation in 2018.

At a company level, this raises questions about whether large corporations are simply those with lots of employees – or should those with far fewer employees but comparable (or rapidly growing) market share and capitalisation be considered in the same way too?

For employees, Automation and AI are changing how they spend their time – as machines take on the bulk of admin-heavy tasks. Gartner predicts that work teams will keep getting smaller and more flexible, and that the idea of responsibility (for work delivery, other employees etc.) and the remuneration associated with it will shift too.

Digital transformation, meanwhile, means that companies work increasingly collaboratively with one another – altering established ideas of siloed business identities. Additionally, the boom in the so-called ‘gig economy’ is just one example of how the idea of what a corporation is shifting with the times – particularly with regards to the relationship between business and employee.

These aren’t all bad things, per se, but this kind of disruption is by its nature not always a smooth thing to incorporate into established corporations.

The result is a notable degree of uncertainty for senior decision makers in IT and HR tasked with plotting the future of the businesses and employees they’re responsible for.

Taking practical steps

So how can CIOs and HR directors plan for this uncertain future? What can they do to ensure their future workplace strategies strike a balance between adopting smart new technologies and remaining people-centric?

First and foremost, this challenge needs to be treated as a joint one. The people calling the shots in HR and IT departments need to work together and in dialogue to establish the shared goals that they can work towards in unity.

Beyond that, there are more specific things that IT and HR departments can aim to deliver alike.

HR directors can lead the way in recognising the changing shape and fluidity of the workforce – adapting to it and actively promoting people within it. For many, it’s the way they are able to get work done that proves more satisfying than the work itself.

When seeking new hires, or freelancers to complete work, decision makers should look for aptitude and attitude over a list of skills that can be picked up on the fly (often thanks to technology).

Equally, both IT and HR have a role to play in enabling this constant skilling and reskilling of people. Providing people with opportunities to grow as individuals is increasingly much more of a draw for prospective new employees than traditional attractions like pay packets and job security.

In the most simple terms, these measures centre on treating people as people and not just deliverers of work. This links with the benefits of pushing for greater corporate social responsibility – allowing employees to connect more meaningfully with the company they work for.

CIOs can provide support for this with more algorithmic productivity measurements and enhancements, and adapt to applying more modular work breakdown structures. Additionally, IT departments need to incorporate the flexibility and openness that this new generation of employees require – without conceding on security and compliance measures.

And of course, in the spirit of effective digital transformation, some of these things will involve collaborating with both internal departments and outside organisations. CIOs should see themselves as ‘chief orchestration officers’ – driving coopetition.

My advice on that? Embrace it – often it’s by working with others from outside of our own four walls that we learn how to cooperate and collaborate more effectively with the colleagues working under the same roof.

Want to learn more? Check out this primer on how humans and machines will work together more effectively in the future.

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