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Charlie Duff

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The Digital Workplace: HR in focus


Our advisory arm, K2, has published some of the data collected in part on HRzone when it comes to the role digital media and devices have in the workplace. They have analysed the findings to uncover advice for HR professionals.

Thank you to everyone who took part: this extract below draws on K2 Advisory’s research entitled: ‘The Digital Workplace: Preparing for the 2020 workplace’.

Key messages:

  • Organisations need to more accurately profile job roles in terms of the technology tools that employees need. They also need to collect more metrics on staff satisfaction with the technology provided in the workplace. In many cases it is because staff do not have the right technology for the job that they are using their own devices for work. Sometimes this may be fine, but in other situations organisations may be unwittingly losing control of data, as well as aspects of their online image because employees are using their own devices to conduct work business.
  • 37% of organisations choose to completely block access to social media sites. However, this is not a very sophisticated solution for what is a complex business challenge. The etiquette of using social media needs to be explained as part of organisational policy for both internal communications amongst staff as well as for outbound communications.
  • The emergence of the Blackberry (or rather, the "Crackberry") addict reflects not only our obsession with technology, but also what appears to be a growing trend for always-on technology-based presenteeism. There are positive aspects to this increased ‘contactability’ – especially for global firms. But many staff currently suffer gruelling days where they are in communication with colleagues all over the world from early morning until late at night. HR should play a strong role in helping to create a culture that doesn’t lead to ‘burn out’, but that also allows the workforce to remain competitive and productive. 


More metrics around staff satisfaction with technology tooling is required: of the 65% of organisations in our research that carry out employee satisfaction surveys, only about half measure employee satisfaction with their technology devices. If these satisfaction surveys are about gathering data in order to make changes that improve the workplace, it seems rather odd to exclude what are probably the most important tools many people use today. Indeed, there seems to be an unspoken decree in many organisations that you use the technology you are given, regardless of whether it is up to the job or enables you to do your job in the most productive way.

Of course, if someone is working behind a counter serving customers, they really are pushing their luck to expect support for their personal iPhone, which has no use in the workplace. However, not all cases are as clear cut as this and people have realised that by using their own devices, they can aid their own productivity. We asked UK HR professionals whether their employees (outside of the CEO) are allowed to use company funding to buy the IT devices of their choosing. A significant 87% of organisations said "no". Faced with this, it is perhaps not surprising that some staff have resorted to using their own kit.

K2’s research also shows that in more than half of organisations questioned (57%) the IT department is responsible for the development of the acceptable usage policy for workplace technology. However, we would question whether CIOs and their teams are really the right people to be shouldering this responsibility. When it comes to security, governance, bandwidth hogging (from watching video and playing games) IT should have control. But policies created by IT are not nuanced around content of messages, which is really about business conduct and should form part of the HR remit. IT has the power to ‘switch off’ access to Facebook, for example, entirely. But that is not a very sophisticated solution for what is a complex business challenge.

The reason IT is left to shoulder this task is because just under half of UK organisations have no official policy regarding the use of social media sites. However, 82% of marketing and customer engagement professionals expect their use of social media tools for communications to increase over the next 12 months, indicating that big changes to the way staff work are set to unfold rapidly. But when K2 asked HR professionals to describe their approach towards social media, a large proportion (57%) take a negative stance (see Fig. 1), and 37% of organisations choose to completely block access to social media sites.

Fig. 1 The HR view of social media usage
Changing workplace attitudes:

Of the HR professionals we questioned, 27% said their organisations have a "deliverables-based performance, irrespective of location or working hours". It would seem that for no specific reason, other than company culture, it is either acceptable to work away from the ‘watchful eye’ of management or it is not. And, while it is heartening to see that somewhere approaching a third of organisations consider the work you produce rather than your physical presence to be the most important performance metric, there is the growing and worrying trend of people failing to properly manage the hours they work. And, disturbingly, 17% of HR professionals report that their organisations operate a culture of "always connected" technology-based presenteeism, enabled by modern workplace technology.


  •  HR should work more closely with the IT department and lines of business to understand more fully the range of activities required for individual roles, in order to create a more measured and consistent tooling strategy within the organisation. One starting point might be to add questions about IT tools to employee satisfaction surveys if you are not already doing this.
  • K2 recommends that HR not only learns to take a more positive approach to how social media can help organisations, but that it also becomes more involved with driving policy change around social media usage by working with departments such as marketing that tend to be at the forefront of social media usage within organisations.
  • A starting point to tackle technology-based presenteeism is to rid staff of any guilty feelings that might be driving this behaviour by ending lack of trust around flexible and homeworking policies. This needs to be led by example from senior management, and may be worth raising with the senior management team, especially if you are aware of examples of stress-induced behaviour or sickness related to the "always on call" culture.

K2 is Sift Media’s research and analyst arm. For more information please see their website.

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