Why HR departments need to hire IT specialists

Technology will fundamentally change the way people work, says psychology professor

Businesses should hire articulate, persuasive IT professionals to help their human resources (HR) departments manage the sweeping changes that technology is bringing to the workforce, according to a leading expert on organisational culture.

IT professionals have a vital role to play in helping their HR colleagues adapt to the changing work environment, as more staff work from home or on temporary contracts, said Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London.

“HR departments need to have someone on the senior team who is highly technically literate and persuasive,” he said, speaking in advance of a major conference on HR and IT.

Senior HR professionals are often of a generation that is not technically literate, and are certainly far less informed and sophisticated about technology than young people entering the workforce.

But once they see the potential that technology offers to transform the way companies manage their people, they will embrace it, said Furnham.

Remote working      

“HR people usually get quite enthusiastic once they see how much money they can save, and what the options are for remote working, teamwork and recording and monitoring behaviour,” he said.

Taking up new technologies, such as online recruitment or cloud-based talent management, can help senior HR leaders raise their profile in the business, particularly at board level, said Furnham, and an enthusiastic IT professional on the HR team can help them to get started.

“HR people need to consider the possibilities and requirements of the future of work, and think about adapting to that future. They need to think about how IT can help that," he said.

Technology will change the way people work 

Furnham, who has been nominated one of the 20 most influential people in HR, predicts that technology will fundamentally change the way people work.

Competition for labour will become global, as people as far afield as China or India begin offering their services online for perhaps a tenth of the price of similar services offered in the UK.

“Where you work and how you work will change. Companies will employ virtual teams around the world. You will be working with people who are very different from you in terms of age, status, etc. Work will be less central in people’s lives,” he said.

Home working and remote working will present new HR challenges, as companies work out how to manage employees who rarely, if ever, work in the office.

Questions over privacy 

There will also be questions of privacy, as advances in technology make it possible to monitor employees' work activity wherever they are based.

“You can very cheaply now work out if people are sitting in their office using their computer or not. People are getting very paranoid about whether companies are using technology to spy on them,” he said.

Although there is a growing number of professionals who understand both HR and IT, overall numbers are still small. That means there is no alternative but for the HR and IT departments to collaborate.

“It behoves HR to ask IT what they can do for them, and to help IT deliver those requirements,” he said.

Adrian Furnham is speaking at the HR Tech Europe Spring Warm-Up on 27 March in London. Computer Weekly readers qualify for a 20% discount on the conference. Register here  and use the code MP20.

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