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Why HR Needs to Be Accountable for Connected Workspace


Picture of HR professional with connected globe
Image: denisismagilov -
As I’ve written previously, I think WorkSpace Connect is playing a hugely important role in bringing HR, IT, and real estate/facilities disciplines together. The connected workspace makes one of the main contributions to the way companies create increasingly important outcomes in the organization value chain — the human, organization, and social capital businesses need to be successful — or more simply, the quality of our people and organizational cultures. But these outcomes can only be optimized when the three disciplines work together in a coordinated way.
The current pandemic provides a perfect example of this requirement. For example, in my last but one article, I suggested that the return to the office needs both a strategic and cross-disciplinary response in which each discipline undertakes work within its own discipline, but where all work is also performed in an aligned manner:
  • Digital/IT needs to focus on weaning suddenly-remote workers off synchronous communication (Zoom calls) onto asynchronous approaches
  • Real estate/facilities needs to remove individual work areas and rebuild offices with a mix of smaller and larger meeting rooms and larger open working areas that can help achieve needs that go beyond those that technology can provide
  • HR needs to help identify teams, communities, and networks and put in place the arrangements that will help build both individual wellbeing and group productivity. It also needs to ensure people know how to use asynchronous as well as social and synchronous technologies effectively, and that they are learning how to develop and maintain relationships with other people through these systems
There are two complementary ways of achieving the necessary alignment.
The first way of doing this is to align around experience, ensuring we provide an integrated and compelling experience for employees and others in the connected workspace. As described above, each function is responsible for its own set of activities, but these need to be undertaken in ways that will lead to easy and seamless employee journeys.
The second opportunity is to connect around the organizational outcomes that the connected workspace provides — i.e., the quality of our people, organizations, and cultures, etc. And the challenge here is that we all contribute towards the same set of outcomes — it is not possible to divide these among us.
HR’s Accountabilities for Experience and Organizational Outcomes
In each of these cases, whether focusing on either the experience or the outcomes of workspace activities, organizations need to be clear where accountabilities, not just responsibilities, lie. That is, who will be accountable for ensuring the employee experience is simple and compelling, and who will be accountable for the organizational outcomes that result?
As you will be aware if you use tools like RACI analysis (RACI stands for having Responsibility, having Accountability, being Consulted and being Informed), both accountability and responsibility are important in any set of activities in order to avoid ambiguity and ensure actions get completed.
Accountability is the highest level of involvement and points to the person who has to ensure something is achieved. Responsibility is a lower level of participation relating to the person or persons who have to undertake the necessary actions. Only one person should ever be accountable, but responsibility can be shared and delegated as required. (Because accountability is the highest form of involvement, the tool should really be called ARCI. However, that doesn’t sound very polite, so we call it RACI instead!)
On experience, as already noted above, responsibilities are split between disciplines, and also with line managers. Employee experience consultancy TI People suggests that out of the 36 most critical touchpoints, only one is owned by HR. However, the employee experience is about the person, their needs, motivations, and broader employment relationship with their organization. I think it is fairly clear that accountability has to be held by HR.
Similarly, our organizational outcomes, or human, organization and social capital, are all about employees and other workers or providers of time and capability and the way that these people are managed (through performance management and other HR processes), developed (learning and development), and organized (organization design and development). Therefore, accountability for organizational outcomes has to lie with HR, too.
I think this is an important point. While all three disciplines have equally important roles in delivering activities in the connected workspace, there has to be a first among equals in terms of accountability, and this principal position has to be taken by HR. This is the discipline that needs to ensure the connected workspace plays the most appropriate and important role in delivering the required organizational outcomes. And this is the discipline that needs to ensure HR people, IT, and real estate/facilities are all playing the appropriate role in delivering their activities in a way that will lead to the required experience.
Problems and Some Potential Solutions in HR Taking Accountability
There are a couple of issues with this.
The first of these problems is that HR does not always want to take accountability. HR managers often have to push back against line managers and explain that the manager is accountable for their team — HR cannot do their job for them. However, there is a difference between taking accountability for a team, which should sit with the team’s manager, and being accountable for people outcomes at an organizational level, which I suggest should be taken by HR.
The second issue is that HR is not yet always close enough to IT and real estate/facilities to understand how their activities can fit alongside HR’s to provide the required outcomes. That, once again, is why I am so supportive of what WorkSpace Connect is trying to do.
Within individual organizations, the three disciplines need to be proactive in coming together, too. This does not mean that there needs to be one workspace function. However, all workspace professionals do need to spend more time together, sharing insights and perspectives and building links between their respective workspace activities.
All three disciplines (including HR) could also do much better at developing greater understanding of people and their organizations — that is, the organizational outcomes we are all working to provide. This includes taking on broad insights from psychology, anthropology, sociology, cognitive neuroscience, and behavioral economics.
Responsibilities for the connected workspace do need to be shared between HR, IT, and real estate/facilities. But the accountability for building this workspace has to lie with HR. Taking this forward will be supported by a proactive desire rather than a reactive acceptance of taking on this accountability. It will also be enabled by each discipline taking more interest and being more involved in each other’s area of expertise, as well as greater focus on the outcomes we all aim to produce — better and better aligned people and organizations.