Why HR and IT are the true architects of the post-COVID workplace

The distributed workforce, long-predicted, is here. With millions of Americans working at home, an entirely new set of expectations is emerging around how employers and employees should do their best work.

ARTICLE | 5m read
June 29, 2020

In research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Citrix, over three-quarters of more than 3,700 IT leaders in seven countries surveyed believe a majority of workers will be reluctant to return to the office as it was.

That hasn’t kept pundits from envisioning the post-pandemic office. But for all the attention paid to what a post-COVID workplace will look like, the most important architects of that experience won’t be found in a design studio.

“In the past, managers could say, ‘I don’t think my team can work remotely or your job isn’t remote,’” says Donna Kimmel, Citrix’s Chief People Officer. “What we’re finding out now is that many jobs can be done remotely—if they’re provided the right tools and resources.”

“Think about telemedicine,” adds Meerah Rajavel, Citrix’s CIO. “We’ve all been hesitant on telemedicine for years and years, people insisting on seeing a doctor in person. But that’s all changed now. We’ve seen it can work.”

For Kimmel and Rajavel, the key to success in a work-at-home world is a strong bond between IT and HR. The two departments need to leverage each other’s expertise to create a functioning and efficient virtual environment. “What we do together is truly understand what it means to enable productivity for employees,” says Kimmel of the cross-departmental approach.

So how can organizations equip their HR and IT departments to do the same? The two executives each share three key considerations for any employer looking to create a strong digital workplace experience that responds to today’s challenges, and tomorrow’s.

WHAT WE DO TOGETHER IS TRULY UNDERSTAND WHAT T MEANS TO ENABLE PRODUCTIVITY FOR EMPLOYEES.

Donna Kimmel Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer
Citrix 

The three keys for HR: Culture, physical space, digital space

Culture is one of the most important elements of workplace experience. And that starts with simply knowing what’s most valuable for employees. “We need to understand as much of the experience as possible that our employees are going through at any given moment, and really come at it from a place of empathy,” Kimmel says. “We want to think about what’s important to them to be successful.”

That means respecting and leading with the culture you and your teams have cultivated over years, if not decades, rather than trying to effect change from the top down. This will help nurture trust and human connection—key components of a digital workplace experience.

Second is physical space. These days, that physical space is likely not the office. “When you’re in the office, there is a professional feel,” says Kimmel. “A lot of employees feel pressure to re-create that feeling at home. And the reality is that is hard to do. There’s homeschool going on. There’s no child care or elder care. There are interruptions.”

As employers, helping your teams feel comfortable in their physical space—wherever that might be—is part of the new normal. Create an open and welcoming digital environment that accepts and values all physical spaces, no matter the circumstance.

And finally, there’s the digital space to consider. For Kimmel, an effectively designed digital work environment contains the right tools and the right resources at the right time. And more than any other consideration, digital space is heavily influenced by company leadership. “For us, IT and HR partnership is so critical. We are like BFFs,” she jokes.

The three C’s of IT: Connectivity, content, collaboration

For Rajavel, there’s a strategic way for IT teams to create better digital workplaces, which she calls the Three C’s: connectivity, content and collaboration. Employers should aim to enable all three through their suite of digital tools.

For connectivity, security is paramount. “Are we providing the right kind of connectivity? Is it secure?” she asks. Indeed, in the aforementioned research, 71% of respondents said the IT department has seen an increase in security-related queries as a result of home and remote working in response to COVID-19.

Next, organizations must ensure that digital tools are adaptable and scalable. “Employees in some markets might be dependent on slow local connections and that can quickly become a productivity pit for employees if the tools you select are mismatched.”

With content, Rajavel is referring to information and data. “It comes down to the ability for the employee to have the right information in the right place so that they can make decisions,” she says. “You have to make sure that the data and information are available.”

And finally, collaboration. An employer's IT solution isn’t complete without the tools that enable seamless and efficient meetings. “That includes audio conferencing, video conferencing, and the ability to share and workshop,” says Rajavel. “I recently completed a large, nine-hour workshop. We had digital stickies, idea boards, all connected. We had people all over the world participating. It [encourages] a leveling of the playing field.”

The benefit? Whereas remote workers might’ve been treated as peripheral to your core workforce in the past, they’re now your company’s gold mine. Rajavel suggests asking veteran remote workers to suggest tools and solutions they’ve found helpful, and pepper them for best practices that can help unseasoned team members succeed in a distributed work model.

“It’s the talent that makes a business successful,” Kimmel says. “Listening to what’s important to them, thinking about what’s going to enable them to be successful—when you’re thinking through the lens of employee experience, you’re also going to drive a great experience for your customer.”

71%

of respondents said IT has seen an increase in security-related queries as a result of home and remote working in response to COVID-19.

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