The moment is ripe for greater collaboration and a shared vision between Workplace, HR and IT, says Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR.
How can or should HR and WFM collaborate to enhance the employee experience in the hybridised workplace?
It is a fantastic opportunity right now for HR, workplace and technology. The sweet spot is the three of them collaborating to truly create the employee experience. All of those moments that matter in the work experience involve all three functions. One can’t do it alone.
The first step is recognising that there needs to be a collaborative approach because we've not typically collaborated. When I was at the BBC, I was fortunate to have very good relationships with our heads of workplace and technology, with myself in HR. But even then, we were so busy doing our own thing. We could have been more joined up.
I don’t think it matters who leads this shared approach. I’d say HR needs to take the primary responsibility because ultimately we’re all about the people. Workplace and technology have different considerations such as operational compliance and meeting customer demands that are not HR’s concern in the same way. HR is probably the natural leader but it doesn't have to be. It’s more about having a sense of clarity and shared ambitions about the experience you want to create and how you want your people to feel when they work. Maybe you want your people to feel trusted or high energy or warm and welcomed.
I’ll give you an example of one of our clients. They have an ambition to make their people feel trusted. But they’re not allowed to send WhatsApps because IT doesn’t like it and they are not allowed to work in a way that is autonomous and remote because the workplace isn't geared up to manage that.
You could want your people to feel high energy but the provided facilities are traditional cubicles rather than collaborative workspaces. Everybody has a role to play and the critical thing is less about who leads but more about having a shared ambition for the emotions and the feelings that you want to be at the root of that experience.
Besides creating a shared ambition, what are some other challenges that could inhibit interdepartmental collaboration?
One of the key challenges is how we see our role. If it’s to protect the organisation from external dangers or badly behaving employees then, we will try to create an environment that is hugely protective and limiting. If we see our role as creating the conditions for our people to do their best work and feel free and supported, then that opens us up to thinking differently.
To what extent do you think staff retention is going to be an issue in the hybrid model and how can Workplace help in this regard?
I think there is a retention risk. If your competitors continue to offer flexibility and you don’t even though you people have reaped the benefits of that, then that’s a real worry. It’s not just the practicalities returning to long commutes, lacking work-life balance or feeling constrained – the idea that we would commute to sit at our desk to work on stuff we could do at home seems crazy – but it’s what this decision says to people. It says leaders don’t trust their employees to work effectively.
There are valid reasons to return to the workplace such as collaboration and innovation, and younger people wanting to learn through observation but it doesn’t equate to everybody having to be back all the time or even the bizarre model that some organisations are adopting of two days at home and three days in the office. It’s such old-fashioned thinking. I hope we'll see organisations recognising that we all need something different. I think Workplace was making real advances in some companies, providing different types of working environments, collaboration zones and equipment.
The building that was created in Salford for BBC North as it was known at the time, it's now called Media City, was fantastic. It catered for individuals’ needs and recognised that different types of work needed different types of physical environments. The same is true for HR recognising that some people will want to be back in the office and others want to stay home. So it's about being sensible and as a manager, asking individual team members what works for them, what works for the manager and what works for their customers. Let’s do it through discussion rather than trying to mandate from the centre.
The minute you try a one-size-fits-all policy, you end up pleasing nobody. And so the sensible organisations we see such as Standard Chartered like Telefonica, the more progressive organisations, are saying that what really matters is that individual needs are accommodated as best they can be. Unfortunately, we are seeing quite a lot of managers and leaders acting like the pandemic never happened and they haven’t learned anything. They haven’t learned that they can trust their people to be productive.