In a world where workers face new challenges every day, IT and HR are sharing a bright spotlight.
Both groups contribute complementary areas of expertise that are critical to addressing employee experience. But, to do this, they need to work together, collaborating and respecting one another and working to overcome challenges.
"There's not much that HR can do … [about] the way technologies are rolled out, and there's not much that IT can typically do to influence the way HR is handled in the organization," said David Johnson, principal analyst of employee experience at Forrester.
Working together, however, HR and IT can gain understanding and effectiveness they couldn't have alone. Here are four ways they can improve that partnership in service of better employee experience.
1. Explore technology's role
Technology has become a lifeline as more of the workforce has gone remote.
"Employee experience is about creating an organization where employees want -- not where they need -- to show up [whether that's in-person or virtually]," said Jacob Morgan, founder of The Future of Work University, an online education and training platform. "In a virtual world … technology is completely center stage."
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Having the right technologies in place enables an organization's workforce to stay connected, he said. If you don't have those technologies, everything's going to crumble.
This means that IT's expertise is invaluable.
"There should be a greater appreciation among HR for the value of their IT colleagues because part of the success of a work-from-home cohort is that they need the right set of technology tools, and they need to be trained on these technology tools," said Jeanne Meister, founder of Future Workplace Academy, a site to expand the skills of HR and HR information system team members.
Communication tools, such as Teams or Slack, have become connection lifelines since workers can no longer stop by a co-worker's desk and ask a quick question or bump into them in the hallway and have a chat that yields new work approaches. And, without working computers and user-friendly enterprise technology, employees can't be productive, especially since IT may not be as accessible remotely.
As for technology rollouts, these can be tricky regardless of the situation, but implementing software for a newly remote workforce makes that especially difficult.
"A lot of companies rushed to implement new work-from-home technology as soon as this all happened, and a lot of it has worked well, but some of it hasn't," said Chris Sinclair, vice president of people and culture at PMG, a digital marketing agency. "HR is well positioned to get feedback and talk to employees and then feed that back to IT."
2. Keep lines of communication open
Communication is vital when it comes to a partnership. Because of that, HR and IT teams should sit down and discuss how they can work together toward the same goal.
COVID-19 has created tricky employee experience challenges -- and opportunities -- that make ongoing communication critical. A prime example of that is new approaches that cater to virtual consumption.
"Before the pandemic started, less than 10% of our employees were remote; now, 100% of our employees are remote, and they've been that way since March," Sinclair said.
IT participated in new types of conversations with HR, such as listening to onboarding issues, he said. One of the ideas that came from the subsequent HR-IT collaboration at PMG was a new remote onboarding process and on-demand sessions that the employees could watch on their own time.
"That came directly from IT being part of the conversation," he said.
HR and IT also needed to collaborate on engagement and learning challenges for interns who were working remotely.
Each year, PMG takes in 30 to 40 graduates into its 16-week internship program, at the end of which it hires the successful ones, Sinclair said.
"We've maintained the program during the pandemic, but it's all been done virtually, so we're heavily reliant on that partnership with IT," he said.
That partnership helped HR face challenges such as delivering trainings and sharing files with interns, who are spread out across the globe.
"The graduates are all in different areas of the country, while some of them are international," Sinclair said. "That's another space where IT is a strategic partner in making sure that that experience goes the way we need it to go since [the graduates] don't get an in-person connection."
3. Work to overcome obstacles
While the collaboration between HR and IT sounds easy on paper, obstacles may come up in the reality of an everyday, close partnership.
Jeanne MeisterFounder, Future Workplace
"The two groups are often totally siloed and maybe [traditionally] only get together on special projects which require rollouts of new human capital systems or a new learning management system," Meister said. "What we're talking about now is an ongoing collaboration between HR and IT that isn't driven by one-time technology launches."
HR and IT should not overlook problems that may arise from that switch.
IT doesn't know what's important to HR on the IT side, and HR doesn't know what's important to IT, Meister said. There needs to be a meeting of the minds between the two teams so they can share business goals and objectives that can move the organization forward.
The outcome may be beneficial for the organization and its ongoing employee experience.
HR and IT have a lot of unique opportunities to come together and ask the bigger questions of what the future of their company is going to look like and how they are going to shape it to build the future of work that they want to see, Morgan said.
4. Brainstorm return-to-work initiatives
As some organizations choose to reopen their offices or workspaces, keeping employees safe is a significant concern.
Organizations need to come up with a comprehensive plan before starting a staggered, safe return, she said.
This requires HR and IT to look for new technologies that promote touchless office spaces.
HR and IT can start vetting a host of new wearable tech vendors to create touchless entry points to the office, as well as create more apps to be able to give the control to the employee, Meister said.
For example, employees can use an app on their phone when they're ready to leave the office and call up the elevator. They can also look to restroom apps that notify employees when a stall is available to limit the amount of people in a small space.
"The expertise of both HR and IT [is] critical for the overall health and success of the organization," Meister said.