We live in a period where technology is all around us, where it has become a natural, normal part of our everyday lives. And, increasingly, they are doing all this on the move.
These technology mega-trends are also reshaping the IT landscape at work. A 2013 IDC survey of HR executives found that analytics, cloud, mobile and social are changing the world of business.
But has all this promise translated into a transformed workplace with a happier, more fulfilled workforce? Sadly not. Recent research commissioned by Microsoft - 'The Daily Grind; Break the Mould', found that only one in seven (16%) office workers are actually inspired by their job. That means that more than 80% of UK office workers do not really care about something that takes up the majority of their waking lives, five days a week.
As 77% of workers consider 'a productive day in the office' as clearing email, we have lost sight of the fact that we are professional, independent, creative beings, employed by our organisations to help them achieve great outcomes.
This presents an enormous opportunity for HR to re-engage employees whilst also transforming the way we think about HR and ultimately, the way we work.
HR's strategic role in business performance
By concentrating on the development and sustainment of new skills among employees, HR plays a critical role in business success.
While positive, the expectations that new technologies have encouraged have also put the workplace under huge pressure to change. Many companies are challenged to retain and motivate the most talented young workers, who are accustomed to a more blended work/life balance facilitated by digital technology.
The current generation of Millennials have grown with the digital world. Their expectations are shaped by their life experience as consumers, students and citizens who use social media, collaboration, search and other technologies as an organic part of their life and work.
When this generation comes to work, they expect workplace technology to provide the same kind of capabilities and experience as the tools they use in their outside life. Many companies are challenged to retain and motivate the most talented young workers if they can't meet these expectations.
Indeed, with 63% of 18-24 years olds suggesting that they wouldn't know where to start to make change happen, HR professionals need to work to prioritise and sustain engagement with their young colleagues.
The power of collaboration
It is the time to harness the power of collaboration; to rethink the way we work towards a better, more agile, more creative working environment and HR is a crucial part of this process.
The first step is to set employees free with new collaboration tools. This necessity was recently exemplified by a major London retailer, where managers decided they needed to upgrade the company's intranet with a self-service HR portal to overcome the challenge of engaging with their diverse workforce. Collaborative tools transformed internal communications and also allowed employees to update their own HR profiles.
For companies with increasingly global workforces, it's vital to effectively manage and communicate information. Talent management is more important than ever as the competition for the most skilled workers across the world increases.
A more analytical approach is necessary to allow HR professionals to streamline talent and corporate strategies. By using the right analytics and reporting tools, HR can translate workforce data into insights that business leaders can act on, enabling them to focus on their greater business future.
For example, if high staff turnover was a problem within a company, the right tools can help HR managers to evaluate the factors behind this issue, then subsequently generate actionable insight in a report that shows how salary, educational level, skills or length of service contribute to the staff changes.
The importance of trust
The added bonus is that embracing innovation can improve a company's culture, so that the best employees are attracted to work there and, importantly, want to remain.
Going beyond the tactical
HR can have real impact in the boardroom beyond the tactical. Culture can equal profits, and it takes a willingness to stand by the investment in culture, whether making hiring decisions or handling times of transition. Those leaders willing to take this stand to enjoy the returns through better talent, stronger client relationships, resilient employees and sustained revenue.
Working from home, the office or third spaces is happening in companies everywhere. In light of the fact that 38% of UK office workers would like to work remotely more often, flexible working must become a key concern for companies looking to profitably reimagine how they do business, whether they want to maintain an office space or not.
Reimagining business and the business of HR is about waking up to a new environment based on collaborative working, on flexible working, on technologies that (used correctly) liberate rather than constrain. The future of work must be based on being open, on focusing on results, not processes, and on empowerment, not hierarchy.
We've compiled our top tips for HR professionals looking to change the way their businesses work, thereby creating a more productive and creative business environment.
- Habitually review the working processes of your organisation and the role technology is playing in these modes of working. If a procedure isn't working effectively, seek out feedback from your team and lead on working to change this. Your colleagues will appreciate you asking their opinion and will be more willing to collaborate with the effort to change
- Our business technology means we can work from anywhere, and 38% of UK office workers would like to do so more often. Make the most of this and encourage employees to work flexibly once a week. Then work with them and your IT team to streamline this process
- Mobile technology means that we can access our work emails anywhere and everywhere. As useful as this may be, the accessibility of work means we never switch off or give our minds a chance to refresh, and more than half (54%) of UK workers are working over the weekend. Where possible, reintroduce boundaries and prioritise creativity by encouraging your colleagues to switch off in the evenings and weekends
- Sometimes, you need space and time to get creative, and 55% of us don't get enough head-space in the office to do our best thinking. Encourage your colleagues to go dark when they need to get creative - an hour away from emails will ultimately cultivate more innovative and creative thinking
- Instead of CC'ing every email chain, try to consider the optimum channel for your line of enquiry. 63% of us are guilty of emailing the person next to us regularly, but this is rarely the most effective means of communication. If you're looking for advice or to share information, why not make the most of your firms' enterprise social networks, such as Yammer
- In line with focusing on one task at a time, it's important to get a change of scene from time to time. Suggest that the firm encourages workers to leave the office in their lunch hour – they'll be far more productive after half an hour away from their desks
Theresa McHenry (pictured) is UK HR director at Microsoft