How HR will continue to lead a return to work & digital transformation

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Proxyclick New World of Work Marjolein van Eck

In our latest HR edition of our New World of Work video series, I sat down with Marjolein van Eck, CHRO at IBM Benelux.

Marjolein shared her insights on her role in leading a safe return to work, key change drivers in HR tech, and the top criteria that will define the successful HR leaders of the future.

Tune into our full conversation below. 

Let's start by having you tell everyone a little bit about you and your role at IBM.   

Marjolein: I'm the CHRO for IBM in the Benelux (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands).

I know that title doesn't say much about what I actually do on a day-to-day basis. An HR leader at one company can do completely different things than an HR leader at another company.

In my case, I'm in charge of the core HR processes in those three countries, as well as owning the people strategy and leading the massive transformation we’re currently facing. 

Excellent. So, my first question for you is a provocative one. What's a commonly held belief in HR that you passionately disagree with, especially considering this new world of work? 

Marjolein: Well, I'm passionate about a lot of topics in HR, to be honest.

I'll bring up a disbelief that's not really held in the HR domain or the HR function per se, but rather more on the business side. 

There are articles out there that are raising questions around the future of HR, such as, “Is HR really a function that will live on for the next 10 years, or is it going to be fully automated?” 

Never before had HR been so at the forefront as we were last year, while driving through the pandemic. We were looking into employee well-being and employee engagement, and keeping the productivity up. I think we've proven that HR is a very vital function and here to stay, for sure. 

And thinking about the HR tech space, what should everyone out there stop doing as we think about building the future of the workplace and workforce together?   

Marjolein: I have a technical background, so I have a tendency to dive into HR tech as well.

What I've seen a lot during this period of rapid transformation towards a digital world, and the automation of all the HR processes, is that we sometimes squeeze those existing processes into the new world. 

Instead, we should start rethinking our approach with the end-user experience in mind. That's a trick commonly known in the tech space but not very much embraced and adopted in the HR tech space. 

That’s an excellent point. Then along those same lines, what should everyone in the HR tech space start doing? 

Marjolein: Well, for me, it's almost the opposite of what I just explained. Thinking from the outcome, we're trying to drive the new employee experience, while at the same time understanding how we can actually transform. 

It's also about rethinking how we work. In my view, technology is supporting the existing way of working.

When it comes to design thinking, agile working or scrum, there are different approaches and techniques involved, rather than just trying to squeeze everything into the digital world. 

We love our tools, and we live in a world where there's a new tool popping up every day. But we need to start thinking more from a holistic perspective and determine what we're trying to drive, and then implement a different way of working and different leadership styles to support that. 

Tell us a bit about the impact that remote work had on the office design and workplace experience at IBM this last year.   

Marjolein: We're in the IT industry, so we have our act together when it comes to the digital world.   

I'm often asked the question, “How did IBM move from being in the office to a fully virtual environment?”

Well, the reality is, we were already in that world. So even though we weren’t all working from home, many people, even in the office space, were working in a virtual environment. We have international colleagues, so we're very used to this way of working. 

The challenge for us is bringing people back and managing that through a hybrid model. Not everyone will be working from home, and not everyone will be working in the office - that's a given.   

The hybrid model is going to be a challenge, for IBM and for some companies that moved from an environment that allowed people to work from home one day a week.

The number one comment everybody has heard from a team manager is that it’s so challenging to bring the team together, because almost every day, there's somebody not in the office. But, guess what? That's what we'll have to get used to. 

We've been redesigning and rethinking our office space by introducing large-scale meeting rooms with big screens. If somebody's at home, we just bring them in virtually and we can co-create in the same session in a virtual environment.

The emphasis for us now is on supporting that hybrid model so it makes no difference whether a person is or is not in the office. 

Final question: what do you think the criteria will be for future successful HR leaders, and how do you see that space changing as we move further ahead? 

Marjolein: HR really needs to be front and center. We shouldn’t be the back office team that's just supporting, we should be driving. And businesses need to own the HR agenda. Another point of misunderstanding sometimes is that HR owns everything that falls under "people."

We need to make all of our business leaders understand that they are responsible for their people while we are here to help, advise, and signal. And that's a skill set that not just HR leaders need. I tell my team almost on a weekly basis to make sure they understand the employee experience, the business needs, and the business outcome. 

What I've experienced being in HR for quite some time now is that the profession has changed. We're in one of those professions that changes more frequently than some of the technical professions. 

The number one skill set that any HR professional needs to have is being receptive to change. We need to be very resilient and very agile, because the profession will look quite different ten years from now. That's a core skill set, and then the rest we can teach. 


Thank you again, Marjolein van Eck! 

If you'd like to be a part of the next edition of our New World of Work series, or to learn more about how Proxyclick helps companies return to the workplace safely, contact us directly below. 

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