Developing HR in the Realm of Digital Work


I recently chatted to some HR (Human Resources) directors in large corporations in the UK. They collectively identified the following areas for development of HR in digital working: – extending induction of new employees to include the realm of digital working – this includes the “culture” as well as induction into the portal and the virtual working processes – integrating intranet governance more explicitly into disciplinary procedures – identifying much more explicitly the skills and competencies needed to work excellently in the realm of digital working – this includes a trading and development agenda as well as clearer criteria for promotion – much more Conscious job description and specification – there’s an unhelpful and unclear line between ‘comms’ and intranet/DW – developing governance and clearer people management skills concerning virtual meeting, BYOD (bring your own device) and working off premises – an emerging skill set around confidentiality management and professionalism in the use if social media and public platforms – developing an agenda for leadership in the realm of digital working

Challenges for HR in the digital working realm

The challenges fir HR are specific in places and vague in others… Specific: – does HR need to develop procedures to embody specific behaviours that represent professional practice, over and above what previously existed. For example: – in the upholding of confidentiality, the right in certain cases to anonymity, in clearer guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable “behaviour” in forums, in Yammer and also externally in terms of interaction digitally with customers and suppliers (cross-cultural etiquette also comes into play here) – is an employee responsible for the behaviour or outcome of an automated program ? Facebook are currently under fire for auto placing adverts from companies such as Marks and Spencer into inappropriate pages. Apparently internally heads have rolled. In terms of your second question… What is the role of comms? Is it to manage the intranet as a communications device? What is the role of the intranet team? Is it to deliver the key communications platform for the business? If so, why does comms sit sometimes under HR in the organogram? – especially if a big part of the comms function is also externally focused on sits under a marketing role?

When intranets evolve into fundamental and business critical working processes, they move beyond both IT and HR into business operations.

When the realm of digital working begins to digitalise physical working on fundamental business and operational processes, then newer functions emerge. I remember when HR was called “Personnel” and was largely about hiring and firing, contracts and promotion etc.

Then it was renamed as HR – actually HRM – Human Resources Management. This then included issues such as induction as well as training and development.

Then HRM became HRD – Human Resources Development and started to focus on multiskilling, leadership and management development, and helping to create the “learning organisation. HR has morphed and shown itself able to.

Now, when the intranet clearly sat within IT and a “comms” function, HR was about putting policies and some HR processes onto the intranet. But that was really a transposition of “Personnel” practice.

As elements such as learning became digitalised into distance learning, then HRM began to be bound up with the intranet. I’d suggest that the “D” in HRD remains largely outside of the intranet realm at present – at lease accoding to the directors I spoke to. But what about when the intranet evolves into an entirely new beast – a realm of digital working where some core processes aren’t even carried out by humans? Then the H in HR starts to become a partial representation of process reality in the business. Does HR need to morph once more to capture the true essence of human and non human activity within the business? It will at least need to further get to grips with the human risks, skills and learning opportunities at the human-digital borderland.

The senior managers I spoke to saw the intranet as increasingly coming under the banner of a newer process management/leadership function. There might by HRM and DPM (Digital process management) – they might be under HR – they might not.

The role of HR is evolving, just as the role of the intranet manager is, and needs to, evolve.

HR is no longer only about employees but also about how human beings behave. Human behaviour models in digital working are at an early stage of development. Governance has largely been about policing and control, largely because human behaviour models in the realm of digital work are fairly unknown and unpredictable. As HR evolves it will need to understand digital collaboration better along with the human to gadget/platform interface. Concepts such as work stretching and different employment relationships based around freelancing and emergent, temporary working will need to be further developed and implemented. HR’s role in change management and in creating digital work cultures also need attention. Finally,more negative aspects such as digital work burnout and distraction and future shock will become more relevant.

HR is going to have to change ahead of the date of digital working evolution.

This is part of a paper presented at the MIT-SLIM Conference, Slovenia, 2013

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on July 22, 2013, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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