woman doing inventory by hand in a supermarket

Is 'Equity of Access' a New Human Right at Work?

4 minute read
James Robertson avatar
All workers aren't treated the same: Office workers get the latest tools while frontline workers receive limited access to tools. We need equity of access.

"The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed," said William Gibson. This is certainly the case in most organizations, where some staff have the latest in enterprise tools, while others are still languishing with noticeboards in lunchrooms and manual paper processes.

As IT teams are rolling out new digital workplace tools, and HR are exploring strategies for employee experience, I suggest it’s time to start questioning whether there should be the same basic "human rights" for all staff. The starting point is to strive for equity of access for all staff, regardless of their role and working environment.

Not All Employees Are Treated Equally

Digital employee experience (DEX) provides a powerful lens to understand current working practices and desired future states. It looks at the totality of the digital tools, environments and working practices provided to employees, as well as how they work with each other.

For too many organizations, examining current digital employee experiences uncovers some disturbing findings.

For teams in corporate offices, life has never been better. New tools such as Office 365 and Workplace by Facebook offer many new ways to be productive, and to collaborate with others. Tools such as Workday and ServiceNow are streamlining previously clunky tasks. BYOD policies give broad freedom to access information when and where needed.

In frontline environments, it can be a different story. A typical healthcare worker — whether in a hospital or out in the community — often has very limited access to corporate tools during their working day. Even basics, such as electronic pay slips and online leave forms, may be lacking.

Even in retail stores or call centers, time pressures during working hours may make it impossible to complete common HR tasks. Key tasks such as managing rosters is often clunky, or reliant on a phone call to a manager.

Related Article: Frontline Workers: The Untapped Knowledge Workers in Your Midst

From Employee Experience to Human Rights

Human resources teams ( "People & Culture" in many organizations) have understood the importance of employee engagement for some time. Survey tools such as Gallup Q12 have shown that engagement is sorely lacking in many firms.

More strategically, HR teams are now considering employee experience, which consists of three components: physical, digital and cultural. In many instances, this involves looking at key episodes in the employee journey, such as onboarding. Doing so can quickly uncover many issues, which all contribute to a poor employee experience.

When it comes to the digital side of things, HR teams may cede the space to IT or others to address. This is both a missed opportunity, and a major gap that will impact on the whole employee experience.

Learning Opportunities

I suggest HR teams start a discussion at senior leader level about whether employees should all have the same basic "rights," akin to human rights in the wider world. One of these would be the "right to equity of access." At the most basic level, this means all employees can access corporate digital tools, whether it’s the intranet or HR system.

This doesn’t automatically mean that everyone should be given corporate mobile devices, or that BYOD is a necessity. In some cases, it may simply mean that staff are given access from home, to manage things like their shifts in a more quiet time.

It’s also not just about what tools are provided, but also how they work. Yes, employees may be able to use a convoluted remote desktop tool to connect to the intranet, but in practice it’s too hard for everyone to use. Similarly, all staff may be able to access the intranet using mobile devices, but this is of limited value if key HR, Finance and IT tools aren’t mobile-enabled.

Related Article: 5 Ideas for a Mobile Digital Workplace

Equity of Access Should Be the Minimum

The right to equity of access should be one of the foundational guiding principles for digital employee experience. It’s not, however, something that can be easily or quickly delivered in many firms.

The more complex the working environment, the more challenging it will be to meet the ideal level of access. For example, if staff are working in remote locations that don’t even have reliable mobile phone reception, how will you achieve equity of access?

In practice, guiding principles like this are most valuable when they guide decisions about new tools, platforms and even licenses. In this way, organizations can strive for equity of access, recognizing that this will take sustained effort and leadership, from HR, IT and others.

As a "human right" at work, surely this is the least we should be doing?

About the author

James Robertson

James Robertson is the originator of the global movement towards digital employee experience (DEX). Twenty years in this space, he’s one of the leading thinkers on intranets and digital workplaces. He’s the author of the books “Essential Intranets: Inspiring Sites that Deliver Business Value” and “Designing Intranets: Creating Sites that Work.”