Digital Workspace
June 24, 2020

How HR and IT Power Teams Can Build Digital Work with Heart

What factors make up our experience at work?

Before COVID-19 sent office workers home, there were three elements of our basic employee experience: The physical experience (our desk, our view, the existence and quality of break room snacks), the digital experience (our computer and all the tools we use on it), and the cultural experience (how we relate to the people around us and how we are treated).

Now that most of us are working from home, our employer’s ability to impact the physical experience is greatly diminished (though some organizations are making an effort). This puts digital and cultural experiences front and center, and with our new WFH reality these experiences are becoming more important and more interconnected.

So, if we think about the “employee experience” during COVID-19 as largely a product of our culture and digital experience, what group in our organizations is responsible for this experience?

Traditionally, HR owns culture. And IT controls digital.

A 2019 survey found that we think HR “owns” employee experience. But IT makes the overwhelming majority of decisions about digital workplace technology.

Do you see the inherent problem here? We have two, often disconnected, groups, orchestrating one very important employee experience that is suddenly completely digital. We need to combine those spheres so that HR and IT can work together. The end goal: to create a digital workplace where we all feel connected.

Analyst Jason Averbook puts it this way:

Workforce experience becomes much more important when we are supporting a distributed workforce; in fact, “making work better by making work about people” might have been the great aha moment we had during the pandemic of 2020. Digital transformation was never about technology; it’s about designing work for people.

How can we rethink our corporate structures, connect silos, and start collaborating with our counterparts in HR and IT to build the employee experience we all need?

HR, meet IT

Step one is simple: If HR and IT leaders aren’t already having regular conversations, it’s time to team up. Especially when employees are working remotely, HR and IT decisions are fundamentally intertwined. “Employee Experience” and “Digital Workplace” are now so intertwined as to become one and the same. If you’re part of one of these groups, you need to start comparing notes and aligning strategies yesterday. (Right now is good too!)

Set a clear vision

HR and IT departments come from very different perspectives about what matters, how to work, and even what is important. These differing views come from different perspectives and expertise, both of which are valid and critical to creating a productive employee experience in a distributed setting.

But these differences can create challenges when trying to collaborate with each other. So as you begin to come together, it’s critical to create a clear, shared vision for the employee experience you want to create.

Ask questions like:

  • What are the business goals our employee experience supports?
  • What are our most important values? Does our employee experience live up to those values?
  • What do we need to empower employees to meet our goals and live by our values?

It’s important to ask these questions, because you’ll likely find out that answers from HR and IT are different. Find shared answers to these questions as a baseline for future culture and tech decisions.

Here’s an example of how you might answer these questions:

  • Business goals: Deliver an industry-leading customer experience that drives customer loyalty.
  • Values: Putting customers first; moving mountains to solve customer problems; transparency; collaboration.
  • Employees need to be empowered to: Connect, collaborate, access information, take problems up the chain quickly, and make decisions to support customer success.

In this example, HR and IT can work together to create a customer-first culture, empowered by tech that helps employees work together to solve customer problems.

When everyone understands the goals and values, it becomes easier to find ways to create an experience to make those goals and values come to life.

Talk to employees!

Once you have a shared vision, you need to understand your current state. How close are you to delivering on the experience you’re looking to create? You know what tools and information are available to employees, but how are employees actually working? What is life really like for employees on the ground floor day in and day out?

I often find that employees have access to many, many different tools, databases, and tech platforms. They might technically have the ability to solve all kinds of problems. But often, people aren’t aware of what they already have. Do they know how to access all of the information that’s out there? Do they know who to call when they have a problem? Do they know their password?

Often the missing elements are not tools themselves, but the experience, training, and culture around using the tools the company has made available. That’s why it’s important to do some internal research before you roll out yet another collaboration tool or employee platform.

Here is a real example from my personal (and painful) experience. I worked at a large family of companies and the decision was made to update our HR and Finance systems to the latest, state of the art cloud-based solution. It would solve all of our problems! Many of us were skeptical, but progress is good, and how much of a difference could it make? As a consequence of this rollout, our existing expense solution was demanded redundant and the entire 20,000+ plus organization was moved onto the new all-in-one solution for our expenses reporting needs. I am confident that this change must have either a) saved money and/or b) made life easier for someone in the finance chain. For end-users (aka everyone else in the company) it was a disaster. We no longer could submit expense reports from our phones and be forced to use an archaic user interface to complete our transactions. My personal expense submission time went from a few seconds after each transaction to a painful 90 minutes once a month. Talking to my peers this experience was replicated across the organization, thousands of times each month. Was this widespread pain worth the efficiency play? Unknown, but to my knowledge, nobody even thought to ask!

In short, understand what’s working for employees, what’s definitely not working, and what they have no idea how to use. Talk to people in different parts of the business. Find out where the pain points lie.

If employees didn’t have an opinion about their digital work experience a few months ago, I guarantee you they do now. Chances are good that your team members know exactly what is not working and what would be the biggest things to fix.

Start with the basics

As you discover pain points from your employees, compare them against the goals you’ve set out for your employee experience and find ways to solve those pain points, as an integrated HR-IT power team. You may have big dreams about the fancy tools you can build to solve all of the problems you hear about, but for now, start with the basics.

If employees can’t find each other, talk to each other, and access the information they need, their remote work experience is going to be frustrating and limiting.

If you don’t believe me that basic tech tools can be transformative, look to Google. Google famously set up its People Ops team to develop better internal tools and empower Google employees. Do you know what came out of that cross-functional HR/IT People Ops team? Gmail, Google Drive, and GChat tools that organizations around the world rely on to seamlessly connect and collaborate.

Give employees explicit guidance

Together, HR and IT can set the standard for how to work in our new normal. Don’t build a tech stack that no one knows how to use. Give people examples of how to use all of the available tools to connect, communicate, collaborate, and solve problems. Set up rules and norms to guide employees.

My hope is that over the next few months, we’ll see more organizations building HR+IT power teams, primed to move companies’ culture and technology toward the employee experience we all need — to help all of us find connection at work, even when we’re far apart.