HR and IT: Should they co-operate, or collaborate?

by 12 Jan 2012

However, the Future of Work research shows that HR and IT departments are not working closely together, if at all. But when HR and IT do come to the table, businesses often realise significant improvements where it matters most: their people.

The next generation of employees - the Gen Ys, net-gens and so on - have integrated technology into their working and non-working lives to a greater degree than any other generation. This means a raft of challenges for how HR managers organise their staff, but also offers some opportunities for those that embrace them.

Let's take social media as an example. Accessing social media at work has long been a contentious issue amongst employers, with fears of everything from employees 'slacking off' on Facebook, to undermining their company's image on Twitter.

Not any more, though.

The report found that 30 percent of HR professionals believe that social media access will be critical for recruitment and talent retention in the near future.

This is not just a carrot to dangle in front of potential employees. Forty percent of Gen Y employees are now pushing for internal collaboration tools like microblogs and instant messaging, which can alter the communications and organisational culture of the business.

At Optus, this push has led to the creation of tools like Optus Connect (a microblogging platform which more than half of the employees are using to share information) and Online Jam (where employees can publish suggestions and vote on them, leading to 34 projects to date on how to improve customer experience). Many of these tools require a lot of IT support and development, but they are ultimately designed to pursue outcomes traditionally in the realm of HR. Without collaboration between HR and IT professionals - agreeing on organisational goals, highlighting potential pitfalls, adopting joint strategies - these organisation-wide projects will never come to fruition. This is not just an area where one department's core competencies are enough: a whole range of skills from both HR and IT need to come into play for future initiatives to work.

However, HR professionals need to recognise that IT has skills which are relevant to their objectives, and vice versa. The social media issue is just one example of the demarcation between work and life, both in workers' habits and the technology they use. IT is increasingly consumerised, meaning that more workers want to use their personal smartphones or laptops at work - or end up working on those devices even when they've left the office. For HR managers, this means having to address issues of work/life balance, overwork and employee productivity. IT, for its part, must grapple with everything from data security to equipment costs.

The goal is to develop a more flexible workplace where employees can get on with their work whenever or however is most productive for them. Despite this, only 8% of HR managers think IT has a role to play in developing this flexibility. When mobile technology is one of - if not the single most empowering factor for freedom of work - it is a worrying figure indeed. It's also worth mentioning that HR professionals think around 23% of employees have completely flexible working conditions - while IT professionals think only 9% do - highlighting the differing perspectives between the two departments on flexible working.

In order to achieve total collaboration between HR and IT, first we need to look at these disparate pictures of the workplace and determine the reality of the situation. Collaboration may not be easy at first, but it's the only way forward both for HR and IT managers as well as the employees whom we look after.

As a starting point, here are some tips for HR professionals to consider:

  • Form a 'future workplace' team headed by the chief executive officer or chief operating officer and including the heads of IT and HR. This committee would set strategies, allocate responsibilities and set milestones for implementing workplace collaboration, flexibility and mobility.
  • Setting the terms of reference for a future mode of flexible working that supports the organisation's strategy and goals.
  • Requiring the heads of IT and HR to meet regularly outside the committee structure to understand each other's priorities and identify opportunities to work together more closely.
  • Encouraging IT and HR to use new workplace collaboration tools to make collective decisions about future workplace policies and technologies.
  • Reviewing the existing corporate structure to ensure IT and HR operate as strategic partners to the business rather than isolated back-office functions.
  • Modifying KPIs for IT and HR functions to ensure teams to work more closely to achieve targets.
  • Considering measures such as locating IT staff within the HR team and vice versa to promote understanding of the priorities and motivations of each unit.

By implementing these measures, businesses can improve workplace flexibility and productivity and gain an edge over their competitors.

About the author

Scott Mason is director of marketing and strategy, Optus Business

 


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