Administration

Digital Transformation – From Personnel Department to HR Administration

A personnel department used to look like this: a meter away from the chair of someone working here as a non-stop working photocopier machine. The lady working there seems to be serious and moody, nervously pounding stamps and sorting some piles of paper into folders and binders. Then she arranges them in lockers and drawers.

At some point, someone calls on the phone and informs them that he has opened a sick leave… or something like that. Shortly afterward, someone from another department enters the office. They are furious because they did not receive vouchers for the free lunch this month. This lady is still nervous, rummaging through folders, and hitting a photocopier, which for some reason stopped working. At the same time, she is calling someone to explain something.

HR administration used to look like this at first glance. Its name was way less glamorous than today – the Personnel department. It was an office where things are always calculated, copied, signed, and searched through the folders.

How much has the HR administration changed in the last 5-10 years?

Today, the job in HR administration (in my case) looks something like this:

My workplace is right across from a photocopier machine that obscures my view through the window. It has no other purpose than that. It doesn’t print any contracts and no one comes to sign anything. We use the printer mainly for printing birthday cards or, possibly, as a stand for the Christmas tree. Unlike before, today only a few folders (dating from 1990) stand on the last shelf of the cupboard in the corner.

What is different today?

  • Photocopiers and printers mainly serve as artifacts of the past in the office.
  • People who need to sign something do that electronically. They don’t need to come to the office for that. All signed contracts are saved online. Everything that used to be “piles of papers” is now online.
  • Employees whose salaries are calculated by HR administrators are not in the same building anymore. Some of them are working in other cities and countries. We, as HR administrators, will probably never meet some of them in person.
  • We still send contracts to employees, calculate their salaries, know where they live and whether they are married or not, how many children they have, etc. We know when they are sick, promoted, when received a raise, or quit their job.

What makes the HR administration as we know it today is similar to the former Personnel department, but the way of working has changed significantly and that is what has made a huge turnaround:

  • Creating contracts for new employees, communicating and signing contracts are not manual anymore. Today, we do it using various programs and applications. Contracts are sent and signed electronically. 
  • Onboarding is the process of welcoming new employees. It includes orientation training and giving all the necessary information related to the new job. Remote onboarding via Skype, Zoom, Teams, etc. became a necessity during the Covid-19 crisis. You can do onboarding in person or continue doing it at a distance. 
  • Creating a new employee profile and entering all relevant data into the HR information system is, once again, done without any need for papers, pens, and folders.
  • Payroll – the digital program calculates salaries, based on our inputs.
  • Answering questions and requirements that employees have during their time in the company, and resolving all questions, concerns, and complaints within a particular ticket system is done online and without physical contact and with software settings that facilitate the process.
  • In some cases, HR administration is the place where employees will get informed. Like May 1st is a non-working day. A reminder that unused vacation days must be used by the particular date. You will get birthday and holiday greetings. They’ll notify you on successfully passing the trial period. Announcement of company’s events and deals like an office party or free breakfast day. All this and much more is handled through HR. All the employees need to be informed about new announcements. How is it done? It’s easy! With only one click in the computer app, which holds all important dates and parameters.

Working in HR is often equated with “working with people”. HR administration, in its essence, is working with people. But in most cases (and in today’s version of HR) it can be done without any physical contact with people.

What has the digital transformation brought to the HR administration?

As much as any other digitization process, this one brought improvements with it, but also many uncertainties related to the possible consequences of this digital evolution. In terms of business operations, the digital transformation has provided a faster, more efficient, and more precise performance of daily activities. Programs, applications, and information systems have replaced a large part of manual work. Still, we need people to manage applications, programs, and information systems.

The raising question is whether digital transformation leads to reduced need for employees? Are our programs and various apps going to take over manual work? One day maybe!

Until then, we need training staff to manage these applications and programs. As processes are digitized and transformed, so is the workforce. This is achieved by acquiring new knowledge and skills necessary to monitor each phase of digital transformation.

Why is working in HR administration far more interesting and dynamic than working in a former Personnel department?

The job of HR administration is not that different from the Personnel department. The way it’s done is what makes a huge difference. Instead of typing, printing, photocopying, signing, printing, and archiving folders one by one, today we can configure a program to do it all for us. It’s enough to know how to set the parameters, enter the inputs, press “Enter” and watch how the tasks are solved almost by themselves. This, of course, does not mean that we have remained unemployed. It means that step by step, we are entering the world of IT. We are learning how to manipulate large amounts of data and how to make the technology work for us.

Why is all this interesting and why should it attract someone to want to work in HR administration?

The fact that we can set the parameters and formulas by ourselves is completely unbelievable (and yet possible). The data that we want will be processed, filtered, and linked in the way we want without any need for manual work. Interestingly, you can perform amazing mathematical-logical operations (even if you were irreparably bad in mathematics throughout your schooling) by applying different formulas and calculations without having to use a calculator. Amazingly, you can ask a program or application to send thousands of personalized messages (with different data) without having to manually customize each message by typing different data (name, surname, etc.).

Maybe the former Personnel department had a reputation for having boring, monotonous, and repetitive work, but that does not mean that today’s HR administration has remained like that. The digital transformation has brought a lot of improvements when it comes to efficiency, speed, and precision of certain tasks, but also the great flexibility in the workplace, which today can be your bed, living room, kitchen, and not necessarily the company’s office.

The time for performing certain activities has been shortened and we gained some new time to use for other, new activities such as comparative reports, control reports, time to work on process improvement, and time to implement new, more modern, and efficient solutions. New tasks are being introduced in the HR administration. These were previously neglected, put in the background, or did not exist at all, for example, dealing with social responsibility, social inclusion, gender equality, security and protection, employee satisfaction at the workplace, etc.

HR administrators are not only stepping out of the realm of copy-paste, but little by little, they are transforming into real IT experts who dominate HR information systems, programs, and applications with which they can work with thousands of different data and information every day. The digital transformation leaves enough time for HR administration to deal with strategy, processes, improvements, and some other, new issues.

It doesn’t sound monotonous at all, does it?

Author: Ana Sekulić, HR Generalist

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