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How HR and IT teams can collaborate to support a high-performing distributed workforce

By Adam Harding, Chief Technologist for Digital Workspace, Softcat

Without question, 2020 was the year of the remote workforce, with many organisations forced to rethink how they work and how they deliver for their employees and customers at a moment’s notice. Heroically, IT and HR teams across the globe got it done quickly and dynamically.

Over the past 12 months, a significant cultural shift has taken place across industries, one which is likely to remain in place long after the COVID-19 pandemic. This rapid transformation to distributed work meant many organisations had to give ground on employee experience and security to deliver workstyle flexibility.

As we emerge the other side, now is the time to get it done well. It is time to harmonise productive employee freedoms with security, invest in remote working technologies and adapt leadership strategies to protect productivity, engagement and wellbeing.

The evolution of the digital workspace

Connecting remote employees to an organisation’s culture and resources, the digital workspace has become key to driving high-performing distributed workforces in the “new normal” and keeping businesses running at their best.

In fact, a recent Softcat survey of over 1,500 UK organisations found investing in end-user computing and communication tooling is now considered a top priority across industries, bringing the full digital workspace to life.

A successful digital workspace strategy puts people first, technology second, and demands a high level of collaboration between HR and IT teams. It defines the experience that securely connects people, apps, data and devices, and aims to address poor end-user experience that can hit productivity and employee morale – something organisations are fighting hard to protect in the current climate.

The concept and the delivery of the digital workplace are also in a constant state of flux. In order to be successful, strategies must be responsive to technological advances, cultural shifts and changing business goals.

HR and IT – learning to speak each other’s language

Historically, HR and IT haven’t had much to do with one another. But for operational cohesion, this has to change.

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The pandemic has taught some and reiterated to others the value of integrating HR and IT. Those who were already following this mantra last Spring were rewarded early on in the face of unprecedented disruption and changes to working practices.

While HR and IT colleagues may speak different languages and measure success in different ways (for HR, this is centred on hiring, retention and wellbeing, whereas for IT it’s speed, productivity and compliance), their end goals are essentially two sides of the same coin and all concern the employee experience.

Technology has become the new cornerstone of training and overall workplace culture, accelerated by the pandemic. Many of the tools staff now rely on to complete their daily workloads and communicate provide valuable insights for HR teams to monitor and respond to engagement and productivity concerns.

Access to reliable applications and systems is also essential for employees to do their best work, whether they’re working on premises or remotely – another tie between HR and IT teams.

So much so, it’s likely moving forward, we’ll see a new senior role develop in organisations, tasked with driving integration between HR and IT departments in the new remote environment.

How technology is creating positive employee experiences
Employees now expect the same level of experience at work as they do as a customer. This means, HR and IT teams must work hard to create positive and frictionless employee experiences, all the way from applying for the role to the exit interview.
Interacting with technologies at work makes up a large proportion of an employee’s day-to-day experience – even more so since the widespread switch to remote working. But in today’s often-fragmented enterprise IT landscape, barriers remain which can make it difficult for employees to feel fully connected to their work and their colleagues, part of an organisation’s wider mission, recognised and rewarded for good work, and unable to access all the information they need for daily tasks.
Organisations must prioritise investment in digital workspace technologies, alongside bolstering cyber security defences, in order to deliver these consumer-grade experiences and avoid individuals or teams working in silos, compartmentalised and isolated from one another.

This starts with the virtual hiring and onboarding process which has become essential for many during the pandemic. Specially created short training videos to support the induction process, alongside a schedule of virtual meetings and one-on-one video calls, can streamline the process significantly for both HR teams and new starters.

The development of highly personalised employee experience platforms is also an exciting area for HR and IT teams, as well as employees. These platforms offer integrated survey capabilities, the exploration of company benefits, and the ability to deliver employees rich content via branded images and video to name a few.

Spurred on by the pandemic, we’ve also seen exciting innovations in workplace communication and collaboration technologies from the likes of Cisco, Zoom, Microsoft, 8×8 and RingCentral – all of which have become vital to the everyday running of organisations and remote teams.

Astonishingly, Zoom has become to video conferencing what Hoover is to vacuum cleaners in a very short space of time, earning its place as a dominant player in both the B2B and B2C communications market. Microsoft Teams has also seen excellent growth in 2020, recording over 115 million daily active users last year. It’s been able to retain its relevance in the fast-changing landscape through new additions like breakout rooms and AI noise suppression.

In conclusion, it’s clear that by working together more closely and leveraging new technologies, HR and IT can facilitate a more agile, efficient and effective organisation. But like with any good relationship, compromise is the key and by driving the digital workspace forward together, they’ll will be able to pinpoint what the needs of employees are, what needs to be done, and identify any restrictions or limitations along the way.

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