Going digital? Then you better go human too!

AI. Smart machines. Big Data. People Analytics. If you are in HR, or reading the main thought leaders on the evolution of HR, you surely come across these terms more and more often. In an attempt to reconcile two major, parallel trends in HR and people management, here is our take on how organisations can excel at both.

To begin with, let’s address the confusion around the two most frequently used terms, digital HR and digital transformation. Though they are linked, they refer to different developments within the organisation. Most often the confusion grows, when terms as flexibility or culture are thrown in the mix.

Digital HR

Digital HR refers to the transformation, by which a number of HR processes become automated, and further down the line may also evolve to be cloud based.

To me the easiest way to look at it is along the employee journey, all the way from being a candidate and their experience going through the recruitment process, via on-boarding, induction, development and advancing, all the way to the exit interview.

This may involve the use of bots to answer questions prior to the interview. Scheduling the meeting with the hiring manager and sending him or her all the most important information about the candidate prior to the interview. Giving access to the new recruit to the physical and the cloud-based infrastructure for them to hit the ground running as fast as possible (nobody likes to wait around, or even worse having to chase down people to get access to buildings, get a computer, passwords…).

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation on the other hand refers to the overhaul of IT enabled work, the automation of actual work processes (in communication, sales, product development, manufacturing), and also migrating a lot of the work to the cloud. This transformation is happening as we speak in banks, in retails, in healthcare, and soon will spill over to education, lawfirms, accountants, you name it.

So what are some of the issues, where we must absolutely insist, that the people, us being human, needs to be at the center of the digital process?

There are a number of contradictory reactions in the way we behave around these technologies, and it is getting down to the root causes of the behavioural response, that needs to happen to allow for a harmonious blend between human and technology.

Flexibility and boundaries

This is one of the issues we are getting most of the requests for research and help for. Once organisations make the change to more digital processes, in particular in service and knowledge work, the business is open 24/7. In particular if you work globally, across time-zones, by the time your European clients or partners head home, your US counterparts start communicating with you.

What is difficult to reconcile in particular, is the desire to achieve great results and use all these technology enabled opportunities to advance on all fronts (growing social media presence, putting out content, having great meetings by Skype, contacting prospective clients or dealing with developers), and at the same time preserve some sense of the routine we were used to a mere couple of years ago. The world was structured from Monday to Friday, from 9-to-5 (for many of us — not all!). Now that structure and dividing lines are blurring ever more, leaving us desperate to find quiet time to actually think, be creative, be present and focus on the one thing in front of us that needs our attention.

Digital HR vs Digital Transformation — Photo courtesy: Unsplash

Companies need to make a conscious effort to navigate the delicate flexibility-boundaries issue with their employees and clarify the rules of engagement to suit the dual objective of a profitable business or a well-run organisation, and also allowing for non-work time for the employees. This is also the reason we are sticking to work-life integration management as the terminology, because we are addressing an issue that is no longer binary, but a fluid weaving in and out of worker/carer/learners roles.

Presenteeism and managing remote teams

Despite major advances in IT enabled mobile work (or remote work, or tele-work), for a couple of reasons employees come to work, even if they are sick, and stick around for long hours at the office, way beyond the official working hours ended. Secondly, what we also hear very often in organisations, line-managers are having a hard time managing their remote workers on their team. Following Yahoo’s decision a couple of years ago to call in all remote workers, just earlier this year IBM did the same. So why are companies, that have championed remote working making a U-turn on their policies? Perhaps too much complaining from line-managers? To be honest, it is very challenging to keep up on all the on-going projects, when you see one person 2 times a week, and another only once, but on a very different day..

Remote Work — photo courtesy: Unsplash

And this is where technology can be a huge help. With the use of a number of platforms, and some forethought and discipline, managers can schedule regular video conferencing calls, check-ins, defining expected outputs with reasonable deadlines clearly, monitoring them with reminders, and other tools that make life easier to plan. And this is the essence of work-life integration:

The sense of control one feels over their work and life, to be able to plan ahead and reduce the stress related to unforeseen disruptions, and improve the ability to deal with them, be it a transport strike or a huge deadline.

The magic formula..

Well, there is none. As we always like to say, two companies even in the same office building or street are going to be completely different. There is no cookie cutter approach to this. However, remembering to value and address what is human, the culture, building trust, opening communication channels (many excellent digital tools there..), asking for feedback and making your workforce feel like they are part of the digital transformation — they all work.

Here is a little reminder of what we can do for you — if you want a really detail explanation, read our White Paper on Why Every Organisation Needs a Work-Life Integration Manager.