Just as the remote working model forced digital strategies to accelerate last year, so digitalisation in turn has forced job scopes and talent management strategies to accelerate. What does this mean for the HR function?
People Matters asked Maria Sitaramayya, Vice President Human Resources at Unisys Asia Pacific, for her thoughts on the convergence of HR's responsibilities and digitalisation. As a technology company, Unisys was well ahead with the use of digital tools in the workplace even before the pandemic—but things have moved even further ahead now, she says. Here's what she shared.
Can you share some thoughts on how HR's role and the nature of the work have been accelerated in the last year and a half?
When the pandemic hit, we moved to work from home very quickly. Within 48 hours we moved about 98 percent of the workforce globally to WFH, and we had so many concerns in the process. Is the infrastructure going to hold up? How are we going to ensure that people are able to engage, participate, collaborate, and still continue to work? Are our tools able to facilitate the process of interacting online? How should we set up formal touchpoints so that the leadership can engage with the employees either one on one or in team meetings? We saw a great expansion of our original responsibilities.
And now that we are moving into a hybrid working model and people are coming back to the office, HR has to be at the forefront of that once more. We have to make sure that the right collaboration tools are in place, that we have a proper change management process, that the right communication is going out to people.
What are some HR policies or approaches that you've seen being reviewed and reformulated as a result of all this?
One thing we have been looking at lately is our leadership development programmes. These used to be delivered face to face, based upon leaders being able to be in the same office as the staff. Now we have to consider how to lead in a hybrid working environment. How do you take into account the fact that you may have some people in the office and some people at home, and how do you ensure the whole cohort is equally engaged in terms of work? Also for us, we have a huge focus on DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion). How do you keep those fundamentals forefront in people's minds, especially when they are in hybrid working environments?
So we did a lot of training around unconscious bias and making sure that leaders are able to adapt to this new environment and connect with their teams more regularly than they used to. Because in order to see how someone is doing who is not necessarily in the office, you absolutely must have those conversations with them.
And there is a real appetite from our leaders to understand how to do better. We are helping them with very practical ways of engaging hybrid workers, and they have been very open to it. For some of them, it's the first time that they've had to lead in this way, and so they've been very focused on learning.
HR and technology seem to be increasingly converging today. What does this mean in practice for HR professionals?
I think the convergence of HR and technology is incredibly important.
Digital is not likely to replace HR, but it has become such an integral part of what we do, and HR professionals need to become very comfortable with knowing what technology is available and how they can use it.
For example, we recently implemented a case management tool through Workday. It was very new to our HR environment, and that meant a lot of change management with the HR team. We had to change the processes: if an employee or leader has an issue, they should raise it through this case management tool instead of immediately going to their HR business partner. And the HR team had to adapt to that because being the first point of contact was supposed to be their job—it's what they would normally do.
But that gave rise to the realisation of how impactful digital tools can be on our roles. We are trying to automate any HR assistance that is operational or tactical, so that we can focus on the strategic partnering aspect of our work, and we're very early on in that evolution.
When I first started in HR, there was a divide between technology and HR. But I do think now that they have married, and the beauty of that is in how incredibly impactful we can be on the engagement of our employees.
In terms of change management, how are you helping the HR team work through the growing digitalisation of their roles?
We're seeing some success in making the HR team part of the process. For example, we make sure that we involve them in decisions around what we can automate, what we can move to a shared services function, and how we can really focus on the work that we're doing at the moment.
We are also looking carefully at the skills required from an HR point of view, and how to develop those. But all through the process, the team must be involved so that this evolution is not just something that's being done to them—it's something that they are part of.
Of course there are people who would prefer to be in a more transactional or operational space, and that's really important too. We need leaders in that space, because they're the ones who can help us determine how to automate and digitise, how to make processes more efficient.
What do you think the future of HR might look like?
I think HR needs to continue to be part of organisational change. We can really play a role in providing normalisation or change management as the process happens, building on our own understanding of having worked through it ourselves.
Going forward, the hybrid working model should facilitate much greater support for DE&I, and that will help us attract, develop, and retain a much broader cohort. For HR, our role will be in the implementation of the hybrid model and the DE&I support. It becomes a matter of leadership development and leadership training—what I mentioned earlier around managing a hybrid workforce without unconscious bias and being able to treat the remote workers the same as those who are working in the office, so that they continue to have a good experience in how they're collaborating and engaging and being part of the team.