By Glyn Yates
The upheavals caused by the Coronavirus crisis show us what the future of work could look like and how important digitalization is. This also applies to the HR department. Over the past few weeks, many HR departments have experienced what it is like to do their tasks completely remotely. This quickly shows where the opportunities of digitalization for HR are, as well as where the limits are. Here are some learnings and tips we can take away.
Digital Transformation can be difficult to achieve in the HR field and it is certainly not enough to simply use new tools. It is much more important that all hierarchical levels undergo a rethink. Without an appropriate mindset and guidelines on topics such as remote work, flexible working hours or new forms of communication such as chats and video conferences, the HR department cannot develop further.
There are also stumbling blocks that affect the operational side. One problem lies in the fact that human resource management uses data that is highly sensitive, such as target agreements and personnel or salary data. As a result, HR systems are often silo applications.
Enterprise service management solutions can help with the integration, while at the same time, automation enables a workload reduction for the HR team, helping to avoid errors.
Another issue that makes digitization difficult is the fact that many processes also have legal weight and must be signed. This requires documents to be sent back and forth in a time-consuming manner.
Finally, HR is always about people, so personal contact is an important part of the job. How does it affect all these areas if the entire company works in the home office?
Legal limits of digital HR work
Electronic signatures are a pragmatic solution for fast document processing. They can easily be created in Word or in an image editing program like Photoshop.
However, these have so far not served as evidence before the courts. This must of course be taken into account when documenting in the home office. HR managers should therefore clarify exactly where the analog signature can be replaced with a digital signature.
It is helpful if a company already has electronic personnel files. Then, all personal data and documents are stored in a central, specially secured location which only those explicitly authorized (e.g. employees in the HR department) can access and make changes. This means that HR managers also have remote access to employees’ important documents – be they contracts, target agreements, sick days or hourly receipts.
Working from a home office has resulted in a significant increase in video conferencing. This is another area that can be made digital to a certain extent, bearing in mind that virtual meetings also have legal limits in the personnel area.
For example, meetings of the work’s council may not take place virtually if they are to be legally binding. There is some catching up to do in terms of updating legislation to adapt to the realities of the 21st century.
Another challenge is the onboarding of new employees. How does the HR department, in its key function of new hires, integrate someone without this person experiencing the company atmosphere and without being able to meet colleagues and superiors ‘live and in color’?
A well-developed concept is crucial here, in which HR specifies the framework for all departments. This way, the company avoids the quality of onboarding being dependent on the supervisor alone and supports him in his new role as a virtual supervisor.
In any case, the following points should be integral to the overall concept:
- How does the new employee get his equipment?
The IT department sends all the technical equipment to the new employee in the home office, together with an access code and instructions on how to put the individual parts, laptop, cell phone, etc. into operation. The employee can login independently and the IT service is available for further questions.
- How does the new employee get a feel for the values and goals of the company?
It’s important that new employees quickly get a feel for an organisation’s goals and values. And likewise, it is important for the company to understand its new employee. It is advisable to set up a virtual ‘meet the board’ meeting in which the management briefly introduces the newcomers to the company and themselves. Virtual team meetings should also be embedded in the onboarding concept.
- How can the new employee specifically build up know-how?
In the office, building up knowledge for new tasks happens quickly. The new hire quickly learns what is important through discussions with colleagues and can easily ask questions ‘over the desk’. The situation is different in the home office, working alone. This is where centrally planned training sessions help, in which employees receive the necessary tools for their work and at the same time get to know their new colleagues.
Regular training is not only an important consideration for new colleagues, but also for employees who have been on board for a long time.
Technology is developing so quickly that lifelong learning is crucial for success in the job at all hierarchical levels.
When it comes to further training, digital offers can also be an alternative to face-to-face training – although not in all areas.
A virtual training program for operational know-how can work well. But this is not the case in the area of soft skills (sales training, leadership skills, conflict management, etc.).
A robust assessment is only possible for the trainer if he/she can directly perceive the entire personality – including body language and voice. Building the necessary trust on the part of the participant is also significantly more difficult digitally.
Overall, the past few weeks have shown that we are in the middle of a rethink that offers the HR department the opportunity to perform well remotely.
Another finding is that, by supporting digital tools such as service management or self-service (e.g. enabling employees to change details such as their addresses themselves) the proportion of administrative work can be reduced, in favor of strategic tasks.
And, ultimately, this benefits companies and employees alike.
The writer is Country Manager, IMEA,Matrix42
Also published on Medium.