Do HR and IT teams have a mutual understanding of one another? Some say no, they do not, and, further, it's the toughest barrier to effective HR/IT collaboration. Researchers reported that finding in the report, “The Experience of Work” by the The Economist/Intelligence Unit (subscription required). Researchers reported a “lack of mutual understanding” is the toughest barrier to a strong HR-IT relationship; 34% of respondents reported so, ahead of the 32% who said “lack of common objectives/key performance indicators” is the toughest. “Lack of budget” and “other priorities take precedence” was next at 28% each.

Blockers exist in the dynamic of the HR-IT working relationship, for sure. However, there are also good signs. Top-performing organizations are making HR-IT collaboration happen, and there are many ways HR and IT are working together today to ultimately power employee experiences for a workforce whose demands are greater than ever.

Physical, Digital, Culture Needs Drive HR/IT Collaboration

Why are HR and IT working more in partnership, according to some? It’s the convergence of the physical and digital workplace with the imperative by many employees to work for an organization with a strong sense of purpose.

“They both feel equally responsible for driving this employee experience and increasingly are partnering to do it,” said Tim Minahan, chief marketing officer at Citrix, which sponsored the “Experience of Work” report. “They’re seeing that there is a convergence between physical and digital and culture. Because for the emerging workforce it's becoming less about the paycheck and more about the purpose. And you combine that with having the right work environment to ensure you can execute on that purpose.”

Related Article: Digital Employee Experience Bridges the Gap Between HR and IT

Pressure’s on HR: They Need Help

CIOs and Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) view digital transformation as a shared project; 45% of high performers and 38% of the digitally mature group do, according to The Economist/Intelligence Unit report.

Part of the move for HR to work more in lockstep with IT is HR feels the pressure of a technologically-savvy workforce where unemployment is holding steady (3.7% in the US) and the jobless rate is at a nearly 50-year low, according to Art Mazor, global HR transformation leader at Deloitte. And, not to mention, people have no problem leaving their jobs for greener pastures: 3.4 million people quit their jobs in the US in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“There are a lot of signals coming from the workforce, a very competitive workforce in which a lot of countries have very low unemployment,” Mazor said. “And that creates demand for the best possible experience wins out for in terms of attracting and growing the right workers, whether they be full-time or gig workers, into an enterprise.”

HR senses these signals from the workforce and is “realizing the imperative of collaborating with IT leaders.” They’re also, Mazor said, taking advantage of the investment that's been made by technology players in the HR and employee experience space. “I think this has created the perfect opportunity to go out and do something,” Mazor said.

HR Working With Engineering, Design

How are HR and IT exactly working together? Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth, group HR director of the BBC, said in the “Experience of Work” report that in her organization, a small team of HR data and systems specialists work with a design and engineering team, which includes the BBC’s IT function. “IT and HR might be different functions with different responsibilities, but they have a joint stake in delivering a high-quality employee experience,” Hughes-D'Aeth said in the report.

Related Article: HR Isn't Going Away; It's Just Being Invented

Working as Liaison Between HR and IT

Researchers also mentioned in the report that at Northwell Health, IT professionals are embedded in the HR department where they work in “tight-knit fashion with the team responsible for the employee experience.” Elina Petrillo, assistant vice president for HR technology at Northwell Health, plays the role of liaison between the HR and IT functions. “Ultimately, my boss is the CHRO,” Petrillo said in the report. “He determines the strategy for HR. I have to tell him what’s possible from a technology perspective and provide him with solutions.”

Learning Opportunities

She also supports the work of David Gill, who is assistant VP for employee experience. The collaboration has led to improvements in enabling job-seekers to lodge applications using a smartphone and allowing new hires to access information through self-service portals. Petrillo’s team uses YouTube videos to help staff in HR and other functions become familiar with new technologies or processes the firm is rolling out. 

HR and IT: This is a Data Play

Mike Couvillion, CTO of Kazoo, said IT’s involvement can be crucial for managing all of the employee data that HR gathers. “The risk of data breaches in today’s security-focused society presents unique challenges for HR teams as they hold the keys to their employees’ sensitive information,” he said. “One major pain point that companies face is the vast amount of information there is to protect. An integral part of safeguarding employee privacy is to create a culture focused on security and privacy awareness by educating your people on how to safely handle sensitive information.” 

This is where, he said, IT and HR can work together to educate employees and act quickly in the event of a data breach. Knowing what sensitive employee data and information the organization holds — and where it’s being kept — is key to this quick response, as is working closely with IT, compliance, finance and other departments throughout the organization to get to a solution quickly, Couvillion added.

Related Article: Why HR and IT Are Teaming Up to Prevent Data Breaches

Making Tech Decisions as One

Employees want an easy, reliable and understood process that’s a smooth, not segmented experience, according to Ravi Singh, CTO and co-founder of Catalytic. IT and HR need to be one experience, which is why we’re seeing them come together more, he said.

One nonprofit academic medical center that Singh’s team works with with employs more than 4,500 physicians and scientists, along with another 58,400 administrative and other health staff. In order to provide a streamlined experience across such a robust organization, its CHRO, CIO and CFO make tech decisions as one group, so all employees are considered, all processes are as connected as possible and change management can be proactive from all angles, he said.

“We see most success with collaborative initiatives like this, because when IT and HR processes fit together, it increases workplace efficiency, reduces confusion and contributes to their shared goal — overall employee experience and retention in a competitive market,” Singh said.

This Is a Game of Motivation

Ultimately, this kind of partnership in the workplace — HR and IT — supports  the effort of connecting with your employees on a motivational and emotional level, according to Brett Brosseau, vice president of Noble Gaming Solutions

“As the generational spectrum continues to shift from Baby Boomers and Generation X to Millennial and Generation Z employee-laden populations, so do the motivational levers,” Brosseau said. “In the past, organizations could get away with motivating employees almost exclusively on a transactional basis. However, modern organizations must commit to programs with more depth to connect with and truly engage today’s workforce. Motivating employees on an emotional level is critical to achieving topline and bottom line objectives, regardless of industry.”