It’s time to face the fact: Digital is here and is here to stay. Since the term of digital business emerged I must admit that I had been trying to avoid it. Why? Three reasons: nobody could explain clearly to me what it actually was, why this mattered to me as an HR practitioner and it just seemed to be about technology, a word that makes me stare blankly into the horizon and start thinking about shoe shopping.

Nevertheless, I know that technology aversion is a weak point of mine so I made an effort to read up on it. In my head, I made up three buckets of tools that make a business digital. Not very academic, but it works for me:

  1. New technologies for back office systems (Cloud, SaaS).
  2. New technology solutions that impact the wider business (smart metering, multi channel retailing, etc.).
  3. New technologies for employee and organisation interaction (social networks, apps, tablets and smart phones, etc.).

It became apparent quite quickly to me why the 1st and 2nd categories are important for HR. As with any change, the new back office technologies will require HR to work in new ways, learn new skills and perhaps even reorganise itself. As companies move on to these technologies, HR will need to be transformed and the way that employees access information and interact with HR will change too. It is HR Transformation, with a Digital twist. The 2nd category is also relevant for HR as with any business change HR will need to support the business in implementing these technologies by training people, looking at new operating models required, etc.

The 3rd category is the one that was not so apparent to me at first. But this all changed when my colleague Mark talked to us at our team meeting a couple of months ago about the digital worker. A bright and exciting light was switched on in my brain that day. So much to think about! Let’s just have a look at a couple of things digital workers are (already!) doing in your organisation:

  • Remote working: work time and leisure time boundaries are being blurred now that most of us can work remotely. I have worked in airports, ferries and even in the middle of a wedding reception (the shame!).
    The HR hat asks: have management practices in your organisation and control mechanisms adapted to this? Or are line managers still equating being in the office with actual working? How do you manage that change? And how do you ensure that employees retain a positive work life balance?
  • Knowledge sharing: with extensive social and professional networks inside and outside of work, I am constantly exchanging ideas and reading things by other people.
    The HR hat asks: data privacy, how do we control the sharing of confidential/sensitive information (how do we manage people risk)? Intellectual property: was it your idea or my idea? Competencies and behaviours: what are we looking for in employees then, knowledge or creativity (after all, you can Google everything these days)? Are our job descriptions and performance measures reflecting this and what about our reward mechanisms?

This is just the beginning. Some of these new technologies and emerging work practices are changing deeply the way organisations need to operate. What’s more, there is a new element here. For the first time in a few decades (perhaps since the baby boomers) it is the employees driving this change, not the employers. Therefore, HR will not only need to help businesses to adapt but they will also need to think deeply about the implications the Digital element has in the attraction and retention of talent. Existing and future employees will now expect a work environment that supports their ways of working and enables them to flourish in this new environment, not limit them.

So, am I excited about Digital now? Oh, yes! That conversation with Mark raised so many questions in my head, I haven’t stopped thinking about it and more and more nuances and implications come through the more I think of it.

I can see now why Digital has been labelled the third industrial revolution and it will be a thrill to be an HR professional at this time and help organisations to succeed.