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Human Resources and Information Technology are two departments that are absolutely critical to modern businesses. Not only do they need to work well independently, but they also need to work well together. In the modern era, the role of both departments has evolved rapidly, mainly due to a changing economic infrastructure as well as the proliferation of technology and automation tools within the respective departments.
The success of a 21st-century business is proportional to the well being of the employees. This is a fact embraced by the world’s most successful companies, such as Google and Amazon, who go to great lengths to ensure that they provide the best employee experience possible.
HR and IT play central roles in the creation of the employee experience platform. With the US now officially a work from home economy (with 42% of the workforce at home), HR and IT have a lot to think about.
The Role of HR and IT Within Modern Businesses
HR and IT are integral to the employee experience. The HR department is responsible for assisting employees in the onboarding process, as well as finding and interviewing them in the first place. In many ways, they are the glue that binds the entire business together. If there are any issues, they are brought to the HR team for rectification. The HR team is also involved in fostering a positive work environment, incentives, bonuses, PR, and social events. The HR department is responsible for quite a lot, though the specific duties and scope will vary from business to business.
The IT department is also integral to the employee experience, though in a different way. Every employee needs to have a fast computer and get set up with an account and access to the disparate set of platforms that is not customary in practically every single business enterprise. Speed and efficiency are critical to business success. There is nothing worse than onboarding a client and waiting weeks to gain access to certain systems. It is simply a waste of money. The IT department can also be responsible for security issues. And, in the modern era, a breach of customer data or a hack can completely destroy the business. The IT department will further create the employee experience platform that the worker uses to complete tasks.
Both of these departments have distinct roles that are critical to business success. But it is when they work together that the magic really happens. When they work with one another, each department can help facilitate a more flexible, efficient, and effective workforce. This isn’t just an option but rather a necessity for a successful employee experience program.
The following are 5 ways that HR and IT can work together to improve the employee experience. If the employees are not happy, chances are that your vendors and customers won’t be either.
#1 – Utilize Technology
Technology has its advantages and disadvantages. But if it is deployed correctly, there is definitely more scope for efficiency, profitability, and wellbeing. The issue is that there can be too many systems that serve no real purpose. And such systems (often legacy) can give employees too much data that they cannot use or integrate. This problem extends beyond the workplace to the home, especially with many employees working from home right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Technology needs to be deployed to enhance the employee experience. It needs to create an environment where employees want to be and where they want to excel. Nothing is more frustrating than a platform that does not work, or where there is an unreasonable delay. This is especially relevant right now, with IT departments working around the clock to ensure that all work from home employees have been securely set up on fast information-sharing platforms for the business.
From a technology perspective, HR needs to gain feedback from employees with regard to the home from home technologies deployed by the IT department. Direct feedback from employees is obviously the best way to improve the employee experience. HR can then pass this data on to the IT department.
#2 – Create a More Dynamic Employee Experience
Transformation of the employee experience isn’t just about automating tasks or addressing individual inquiries. Transforming the employee experience is more about identifying and reimagining moments in the employee journey that can have an overwhelmingly positive (or negative) influence on the end-user.
There are several of these peak moments throughout the employee journey where HR and IT can partner to create experiences that inspire and foster a sense of belonging, including pre-boarding and onboarding, acclimation, and ongoing opportunities for learning and feedback throughout an employee’s journey. The business culture needs to be confirmed all the way from the interview process to the hiring, training, and execution.
Always keep in mind that these are not idle costs or unnecessary expenditures. As explained at the outset, the happier and more secure an employee is made, the more he or she will produce. This has been reflected in a vast number of scientific studies. The same advice happens to be the most effective. Implement a system, wait for feedback, and tweak the system to make it better. If you focus on making your employees happier and work with them, then your business will get stronger overall.
#3 – Have Clear Communication Channels
COVID-19 has presented a fresh wave of challenges for US business owners and for commerce around the globe. Employees now need to be remotely on-boarded. New recruits cannot be interviewed in person and cannot be briefed in person. This takes away the personal touch that was used by certain HR personnel.
The face to face communication was, in many ways, a huge benefit. There was always someone in the HR department that represented someone you could talk to in a more personal way. That person would then neutrally convey your thoughts to a different person and a resolution could be gained.
This benefit has been lost as there is no longer a face to face conversation but a sea of chat messages and emails, with meetings on Zoom and other platforms. Employees need to be reassured that they still have avenues of communication open to them. And these avenues are not just lateral, to their co-workers.
They need to be able to talk to senior management with regard to their position. Now, more than ever, communication is vital. IT needs to facilitate the technology to communicate, HR needs to use these channels to proactively talk to employees about their position. This is a pivotal part of improving the employee experience.
#4 – Use One-Stop-Shop Platforms
Employee-focused businesses are replacing websites and email with self-service delivered via a single, digitally-driven employee service center. By creating these one-stop shops that address multiple employee needs, HR and IT can work together to simplify the employee experience and remove the complexity that arises when dealing with multiple processes and systems.
This digital experience platform becomes the central touchpoint across the workforce and enables departments such as HR and IT to deliver a consistent service experience and retain their unique departmental requirements and workflows
A one-stop-shop platform is so much more preferable to having a host of separate solutions for all employees. It’s easy to try out a lot of free trials for different functions, including, payroll accounting, HR, compliance, document storage, onboarding, etc. The more functions you can hit on a single platform, the more streamlined the operation will be. This will have benefits across the board. It will make workers easier to train and more efficient. It will be easier for the IT department to implement. And it will also save time for the HR team, as the employees can engage in self-learning.
Obviously, larger businesses will have specialized components that are separate from the centralized repository. Even so, the more you can stay on a single platform, the better.
#5 – Make the Employee Feel Valued
It might sound a little cliche – but it’s not. In fact, it lies at the core of good business and good social activity. The more a person feels valued, the better he or she will perform. In many instances, they will actually step up to the role required of them, when you place high expectations of them and listen to how they feel and what they need.
There are multiple ways to do this. Nurturing identity benefits is the most effective way of engaging employees. When you do, employees feel proud of the work they do and they’re also proud of what it says about them as a person to work for the organization.
Instilling those feelings of pride and self-esteem demands a deep understanding of your employee’s experiences, the things they value, and an honest evaluation of what makes your organization unique from any other company they could work for. While some HR and executive leaders have been able to do this well, it requires skills that are more common in marketing than in HR.
The IT department can assist in developing internal social and professional platforms that highlight the skills and expectations of the employee as well as what they have contributed to the business in the past.
However, an open platform for communication is always the best way to engage employees. They want to feel heard and appreciated. This is a fundamental aspect of making the workers both more productive, and happier.
Other Methods on How to Improve the Employee Experience
There are many other methods you could use to increase the employee experience. These include:
- Brainstorming Return to Work Initiatives – For workers that are going back to a traditional office environment, business owners will have to get them involved as much as possible. You can’t expect to just yank them back to work a 9 – 5 again after spending nearly a year at home. Psychologically, it takes employees (and all other classes of people) a long time to adapt to new places and situations.
- Investigate New Office Technologies – New office tech is going to become standardized, including different kinds of wearable authenticators. HR and IT can start vetting a host of new wearable tech vendors to create touchless entry points to the office, as well as create more apps to be able to give control to the employee. For example, employees can use an app on their phone when they’re ready to leave the office and call up the elevator. They can also look to restroom apps that notify employees when a stall is available to limit the number of people in a small space.
- Embrace HR/IT integration – Traditionally, HR and IT would only come together for special application launches and some other niche concerns. But now, their roles are firmly intertwined. Businesses will have to put new initiatives in place to facilitate increased collaboration between HR and IT.
As always, the best mechanism is a simple feedback system where you get together with the employees. Managers will have to talk to employees at least on a quarterly basis to see what issues may arise and what their goals and expectations are for the next 3 – 12 months.
It is a weak managerial policy to only meet with an employee when a crisis happens or when something comes up. Regular reviews are an essential way to improve the employee experience because it makes them feel heard and valued.
Employee Trends and Expectations
It is becoming increasingly obvious that employees now expect to work from home on a more permanent basis. Things are never going to be the same again, and are never really going to go ‘back to normal’. People have gotten used to working from home. Many have built personal gyms, and the vast majority have created their own offices with expensive desks and monitors.
And there are more trends and expectations there, aside from merely the belief of working from home. The following are just some of the trends for 2021 and beyond. According to Oracle,
- 2020 was the most stressful year of all time for modern-day workers. 78% believe the pandemic negatively affected their health
- 82% believe that robots can help with mental health better than humans
- 85% stated that mental health issues caused them either sleep deprivation, poor physical health, reduced happiness at home, and/or strain on family relationships
- 76% believed that their company should be doing more to address human health issues
- 68% would prefer to talk to a robot than their manager when it comes to mental health
- 75% indicated that AI helped their mental health by reducing stress directly, automating tasks, or giving them information about their roles
But there are more trends and expectations than an increase in AI and a decrease in mental health due to the pandemic. Other trends include:
- Workers are expecting more from their employers with regard to education benefits, tuition, and support. A wider net is cast in terms of working with a company, and the bottom line annual salary is no longer a prime consideration (IBM)
- Health, safety, and security are now prime considerations for employees when they consider an employment decision. When job seekers evaluate a job offer, they choose “safety of the work environment” over “opportunities for professional growth” and even the “quality of potential coworkers.” (Business Wire)
- A more positive benefit is that the work-life balance of the worker is going to increase and the profit margins of businesses are also set to increase. Rents in many major US cities have come down as businesses are willing to hire anyone qualified, regardless of location. The median rent in New York City dropped by 7% in September 2020 (US News)
Business owners and managers will need to closely work with their HR and IT departments to take account of the shifting work environment and the latest trends. But above all, they would do well to meet up with employees to see what it is they really need.
How HR and IT Can Build Digital Workplace Culture
The HR and IT departments will need to come together to build an integrated digital workplace culture. The way that both departments operate is now completely changed. Because everything is now done digitally, environments need to be created in a completely virtual setting. This is far more difficult to do and is changing the way that businesses interact with their employees.
The most efficient approach is a hybrid one, at least according to Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University. Working remotely 2 days a week is said to be optimal, but this would still have implications for the worker, who would still need to pay for rent in an expensive urban location. On the other hand, it would free up the business and make it easier for them to build a real, physical, dynamic workplace culture.
There is a lot that could be said about building a digital culture within the business. In brief, the 5 steps HR need to take to foster a digital culture include:
- Outline of digital culture plan amongst the HR team
- Communicating ideas and implementation mechanisms with business leaders
- Encouraging an agile approach to organization
- Investing in staff training
- Supporting staff with the correct software tools to get their jobs done (this step will involve the IT department)
Remember that the implementation of the digital culture will also have to include other aspects of culture, including gender equality, race equality, and religious equality. It will also address topical events such as COVID-19 and the increasing relevance of AI and robotics. This is an all-encompassing approach that will be relevant to the employee experience.
Technology and Employee Satisfaction
It’s clear that technology has a huge role to play in the employee experience, as evidenced by the Oracle study cited above. 56% of employees do not have the right technology to get their jobs done, and advances in this would lead to increased gains. While expensive, giving employees high tech work laptops is a good way to increase satisfaction levels. There are also free methods to leverage technology to encourage employee satisfaction. This might include digital high fives and simply saying thanks. All the world’s best software will have this ‘kudos’ feature, rewarding users for the most basic of tasks. Emails and SMS messages are also viable alternatives.
But it goes beyond assisting the employee to get a task completed, at least in the direct sense. AI can really help to reduce the stress levels of employees by acting as an assistant and as a form of mental support. Employees feel more comfortable when dealing with AI in terms of dealing with mental health issues. And there are now many mental health issues, with people fearful not only of their finances but also of their health.
The idea that technology is simply going to ‘steal’ jobs from the masses is completely misplaced. The reality is that technology can greatly assist in the increase of employee, consumer, manager, and business owner satisfaction if used in the right way. Believe it or not, most employees want to learn in their jobs, and it makes them happier and more efficient. Sadly, only 40% believe they have the tools to do so, according to a Gallup Poll.
What Are the Most Important Elements to the Average 21st-Century Worker?
How to improve the employee experience? What is the 21-st century looking for right now? The 21st-century worker certainly looks for more than just the traditional paycheck. Nothing is off the table anymore, and he or she will consider the area/city of operation, the business culture, benefits (education, pension, healthcare, gym, discounts, etc), and, of course, the ability to work from home
It’s safe to say that the ability to work from home could be the single most important element for the modern worker. It saves on rent, the biggest financial hurdle, followed by reduced transport costs. But it saves on that most precious commodity – time. No longer will workers be satisfied with commuting an hour to and from work in traffic. The related health implications and the time lost are simply too expensive.
HR and IT are faced with the fact that modern-day workers expect to work from home. They will need to work together to accommodate the new class of 21st-century workers. In doing so, they will really help to increase the employee experience and also ensure that the business increases its profitability. Working from home truly is a win-win, as long as businesses can adapt to the changes quickly and smoothly.
Clearly, the IT and HR departments have significant roles to play in working together to improve the employee experience. Employee experience management is a new area and it will take collaboration between the two departments to make it work.
And while many things are changing, much is still staying exactly the same. Managers and business owners have to effectively communicate with their employees to make them feel valued. The platforms and environments may have changed, but it all comes down to clear communication and the nurturing of relationships.