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Human Resources Keeping People at the Heart of Workplace Technology

The key thing for businesses to remember is that in human resources, the 'human' comes first. Then comes the resource, the technology and, finally, the systems. Such advice may seem counterintuitive from a tech company like Microsoft. But to ensure your workplace is efficient, and that staff are motivated and happy, investigate how your employees work and what their needs are before investing in software or gadgets. Culture comes before technology.


An organisation's competitive advantage, regardless of size, products or solutions, is its people. HR has a key role to play to secure top talent and that means focussing on empowering staff with the right tools to make their working lives easier and more enjoyable. Not only will this help attract and retain talent, it will allow your business to adapt to the incredible changes that all businesses are currently facing.


At Microsoft we talk a lot about our customers' digital transformations. The journey which will see a customer leverage technology to achieve the most from their core business. And the reason Microsoft talks with such authority about digital transformation is that we as a company are also smack bang in the middle of that journey, we are experiencing all the highs and lows of digital transformation and disruption. And they don't call it disruption for nothing. The path to true digital transformation is not always a smooth one.


For this reason, we appreciate and understand exactly what the effect is upon the most crucial resource of any company: our staff.


So here are some of the things we've learned during our own business transformation:


Before you invest in technology, invest in your team


Technology should be used as a tool to amplify the culture of your business. It's important to get that HR policy and culture right first, then adapt your tech accordingly. The best technology in the world wouldn't exist without the vision and hard work of human beings, and we owe it to our people to keep humanity at the core of our business.


For example, in 2017 Microsoft introduced its new Family Caregiver Leave policy, allowing employees to spend time with their loved ones when they need it most. Leave for primary caregivers with a new child (whether adopted or by birth) has been extended to 20 weeks from the previous six, and secondary caregivers also receive six weeks' leave on full salary. Employees can also take up to four weeks off on full pay to care for seriously ill family members.


It comes down to a cycle of investing and harvesting. In almost every worker's life, there will be times when they're investing a great deal of energy in their jobs, and other periods where they need to scale back and harvest the fruits of their efforts. It's also important to remember that work obligations run both ways.


Never underestimate the power of team work


Organisations that foster teamwork are five times more likely to be high performing. Therefore, HR needs tools to understand how the different teams across the organisation are working, what a high performing team looks like, what can they learn from that team and how can they implement change management and training.



Make your systems accessible - anytime, anywhere


Microsoft recently released a study that showed three quarters of workers in the Asia Pacific region are using their own devices for work.[1] Kiwis will be less likely to actually come in to an office, as more embrace the opportunities technology provides to work remotely and spend more time with family (and not in traffic).


The easiest way to enable flexible working is to store work systems in secure cloud storage. We're now leveraging our own technology to make our HR self-service portal, HRWeb, available in the cloud. Our employees can access and update information like emergency contacts or bank deposit details from home, or check leave entitlements without having to refer to the HR department. Employees can also log into our secure system from their own devices, so they can access important documents and work on them wherever they are, even if it's in an airport on the way to a conference.


Our research also shows two-thirds of those surveyed felt restricted in how they were able to innovate or collaborate with their colleagues, because they didn't have enough flexibility with mobile tools. Almost as many said they had to come in to the office because they didn't have access to data outside. Cloud systems are allowing more employers to break down the old centralised office pattern without investing in expensive on-site servers, or boosting their storage and data-crunching power by combining the two.


Innovation has no fixed address. The next best idea could come when you are in an Uber, catching a plane, or sitting in a café. People are asking for more touchdown spaces (instead of traditional office) where they can easily interact and work with one another. And they want the option to work remotely, anywhere, at any time. To do this, they need the tools and digital workspaces to communicate, access their data, and stay productive.



Protect your staff


A role, and crucial responsibility, of HR is how do you keep your employees safe? The security risks have changed dramatically. On the one side, there's pressure to have open flow of information to drive productivity and teamwork. On the other side, it's as critical as ever to protect your employees because threats today are complex, use advanced social engineering, and target everyone in an organisation.  Microsoft's intelligent security helps protect users' identity and access management, provides information protection, threat protection and security management across all Microsoft cloud services and third parties.



Technology attracts talent


It's often joked that new technology is obsolete as soon as it leaves the box. Many businesses, understandably, have developed a "make do" mentality. For any company, and smaller companies in particular, new software packages or hardware represent a major investment, and it can be tempting to simply adapt older technologies until matters get desperate. However, doing this carries its own costs.


Companies that don't invest in newer ways of working, like cloud computing, personal devices and video conferencing (among other things) will find themselves falling behind, notably in recruitment.


By 2020 over half the workforce will be made up of millennials, many of whom are not only digitally-savvy, but expect to have access to tools that empower them at work. HR managers will struggle to attract, still less retain, millennial staff in businesses that have not embraced digital technologies and modern devices.


When added to the capacity for flexible working that many people are now looking for, how well a business adapts to new technologies will determine who it can attract in the future. A company that allows flexible working through smart use of technology will always have the edge when it comes to recruiting top talent. You don't need the most expensive packages, but ensuring your systems and hardware are updated to suit your needs on a regular basis will pay dividends. It will also make them more secure against ever-evolving hacks and attacks, which can cost your business a lot more.


Do more with less


The best technology solutions are the simplest to use. In many large organisations that have grown over a number of years, it's common to see old legacy systems used alongside newer investments with ad-hoc workarounds to patch them together. Employees often need to use several different interfaces in order to perform different tasks or update personal information (if they are able to access their personal information online at all). Meanwhile sister offices in different countries use different platforms that make replicating work and collaboration difficult. The Microsoft Asia Workplace 2020 Study showed two-thirds of Kiwis are working across more than one team, with more than a third working across more than 10 teams at once.[2]


Microsoft standardised its own global patchwork of systems in 2015. Our employees can now communicate and make informed strategic decisions across the entire business much more easily, and locate contact information for other colleagues around the world. The great thing is that now clever ideas, social networks, training tools and team successes can be shared across the whole company.



Promote democracy in your workplace


We're already seeing some of the dramatic changes to the workplace brought about by technology, and it's only going to get faster. Robots are already serving as financial advisers in other countries, and New Zealand is likely to see this next year, as well as automated cars and fork-hoists and the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows devices to "talk" to each other. The Press Association in the UK is already experimenting with robotic journalists.


However, there's nothing like the human touch when it comes to frontline customer service. Real warmth can't be manufactured, and frontline staff are the first ones to engage with your customers and represent your brand. That's why it's essential to equip them with all the tools they need to be able to do their jobs effectively.


Where possible, giving everyone immediate real-time access to data and collaborative tools will help them to better anticipate business needs and trends, address customer demands and turn around work more quickly. Quick-response online feedback tools are highly useful ways of optimising your operations without the need for frequent meetings or one-off surveys that take time to put into action. Because they are the first to see your products and services in action, allowing frontline workers to track how things are going and immediately suggest improvements is a great way to avert negative customer feedback and ensure your offerings stay relevant when customers' need change. Empowering your staff this way also boosts their own job satisfaction, making it a win-win.


Tech can be taught - talent can't


Last year, we joined more than 100 companies around New Zealand to declare that tertiary qualifications are not required for many roles at Microsoft. Instead, we want to assess the skills, attitudes, motivation and adaptability of applicants. A real passion for the job and transferrable "soft" skills like being able to take instruction, inventiveness or good communication are just as important.


The nature of the workplace, and technology, are changing at warp speed. By the time some students graduate, the IT skills or programs they learned may be irrelevant, as the world is already focusing on the next big thing. Likewise, today's students are likely to change jobs, not to mention careers, many times in their working lives. Instead of requiring a new qualification every step of the way, it pays for employers to look beyond paper experience and value passion and potential much more highly, the way we used to do. Widening the recruitment pool allows employers to tap into new ways of thinking and makes the workforce a much more interesting place, while helping to combat skill shortages.


The well-adapted workplace is an increasingly moving target, but placing your employees' needs at the forefront of any technology discussion, and investing wisely, are the best preparation for the changes ahead. If Kiwi organisations use technology to embrace flexibility and better collaboration, the path to success is already laid.



[1] Microsoft Asia Workplace 2020 Study, conducted between February and March 2017 involving 4.175 respondents in 14 Asia-Pacific markets including New Zealand.


[2] [2]Microsoft Asia Workplace 2020 Study, 2017.