Functions that collaborate create a great place to work

1 Aug 2018 By Bruce Barclay

Rethinking the physical workspace means aligning HR with its colleagues in IT and facilities, says Bruce Barclay

The role of the workplace has changed exponentially over the past decade. From simply a place to do work, it is now a recruitment and retention tool, a symbol of an organisation’s brand and is increasingly playing a key role in productivity and business innovation. 

At the same time, technological advances and changing management structures are making the workforce more fluid, scalable, agile and responsive. As a result, businesses are radically rethinking their HR and workplace experience strategies to align more closely with this evolving set of business drivers.

These transformations are having profound implications on the role and intrinsic value of the centralised workspace, as the balance shifts towards more flexible, diverse, decentralised workplaces. The physical space required for the talent of the future must be completely rethought, redesigned and possibly even relocated. 

But how can this be achieved, and what is HR’s role in this transformation? The challenges facing the workplace are so complex that they cannot be solved by individuals working in one function. What is needed are groups of subject matter experts working together in cohesive workgroups or ecosystems. 

Too often, support functions battle each other for share of a budget and the ear of the board. But today’s businesses need strong functions – HR, real estate, FM and IT – sharing the same values and working collaboratively together to solve these challenges, not working in silos and developing disconnected service offerings. We need to bridge the gap between stakeholders to create a workplace ecosystem to drive this change and enable the workplace to transform and deliver tomorrow’s business objectives. 

This approach is about designing the organisational structure around the purpose of the organisation and putting the workplace customer – the employee – at the centre. Every business will be slightly different and will apply this idea differently. However, with the creation of a workplace ecosystem there will be different stakeholders with different insights and business perspectives all focusing on the same goal – making the workplace experience the best it can be, enabling improved business performance. 

HR specialists will talk about the impact of new labour laws, for example, or how to support people adapting to changes in how and where work is done. The IT experts will discuss the latest technology. The facilities professionals will look at how operating regimes might need to change to improve workplace performance and data capture. And the real-estate experts will focus on how the property footprint might need to adapt to the latest changes in the business and its talent attraction. Rather than these functions all working separately, duplicating work and not sharing information, in an ideal world they will all work together as one team delivering an outstanding workplace experience that enables the core business. 

Some might argue that the HR team, for example, will have subject-specific work that does not involve other specialities. But this is rarely the case. A new training programme, changes in headcount, a wellbeing drive and new legislation all affect the workplace experience – as does an upgrade in technology infrastructure introduced by the IT team.

This approach provides a unified solution for the end user, individuals and teams in the workplace. Rather than be sent from pillar to post with a query that may fall between the silos, they get an immediate response from one person who takes responsibility for dealing with the issue, whoever’s former remit it falls into. This approach speeds up the response to end users and enables them to get on with their core job, delivering value to the business, more quickly. 

Whichever way you look at it, the HR, real estate, FM and IT functions work better in a workplace ecosystem where there is aligned focus on delivering the core needs of the business. 

Bruce Barclay is head of European real estate and workplace at financial services firm Elavon and US Bank

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