The unsung heroes of the digital workplace

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Over the years, I have interacted many times with Human Resources, People and Culture or whatever the new “in” term is for the extremely talented people who manage the work lives of employees and leaders every day. I’m talking about the ones who liaise and negotiate between managers and workers with grace and poise, able to understand the complexities of work and life and the maze that is our new and exciting digital workplace.

These are the ones who sometimes hold our hands along complex and difficult paths and say, “It will be ok, stay calm, we will get there!” Positive and purposeful, these heroes are on the journey with us and emotionally invested in the outcome. They take time to understand the implications of work on our family and personal lives, and they know that work is just part of what we do. (Even if it’s a very important part; when I win the lottery, I will still want to work for CSC!)

These heroes help to guide us through many different stages of our lives and career, realize when we need extra help and stand by to support us when needed. They turn issues into opportunities and, sometimes, even miracles. Some say the hardest job in the world is being a mum or dad (I completely agree with this!), but perhaps the second-hardest job is being a mum or dad to an organization; these are our HR heroes who deal with people, their feelings and needs on a daily basis.

As we move toward an even more digital world — and as our personal and work lives become more interwoven — it will be important for HR to play an even bigger role in shaping the workplace for the good of the employee. In some ways, being at home and accessible 24/7 — even at the touch of an app or a tweet — can be a good thing or it can be all-consuming, depending on how we moderate our interactions, limit and listen to our loved ones when we need to stop. HR workers can step in to help us understand how to manage our relationships at all levels of the organization.

Over the years, I have seen people treat each other in both good and bad ways in the workplace. Reemerging now is a focus on building relationships and treating people how we wish to be treated, and this is going to become even more important as computer-to-human interfaces develop. How we treat each other will be learned, not just by humans, but by artificial intelligence and learning machines in the future.

While recent news has noted how some HR tasks will be automated and perhaps taken over by robots in the future, the role of the unsung hero should never go away or be fully replaced by a robot, in my opinion. Can a robot look out for people and try to help make things better? Can they embrace people who have differences without judgment and be willing to challenge the status quo to help those who don’t like to stay in a box to learn, grow and develop?

In my own experience, human heroes have given me great support in the last 2.5 years as I started my journey as a mum. They have been good, honest, open, fair and caring. It has not been perfect and by no means easy; alas we have travelled the journey together and I have made some wonderful friends in the process. The choice of the working mum has been considered and supported at all points in my ever-changing career. Without these unsung heroes, I know I would not still be in the workforce (and many mums working in technology are forced to make a different choice). So I need to say a big “thank you” to these people.

As we start to consider the workplace of the future, one that perhaps includes less human-to-human interaction, as bots and AI join our ranks and remote working continues to expand, I think we need to ensure our human resources departments retain a human touch. It’s so important to the success of employees and the organization.

And we also need to remember that heroes sometimes need, care love and support, or just a simple helping hand, too. I encourage you to reach out to check in with your HR representative, and share your own stories where they have done an amazing job.


Sarah James was ANZ lead for Authentic Leadership in DXC and an advocate for DXC’s Women in Leadership and STEM. Prior to leaving DXC in September 2017, Sarah founded the Empowering Future Leaders blog and was its primary author. With over 15 years of experience in the world of IT, Sarah’s specialty is spatial information and includes integration on projects as diverse as mapping volcanoes in Hawaii to delivering high-tech police vehicles.

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