Is your board prepared for the future of work?

by Derek McKay


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Since the start of the recent global pandemic, more boards are focussing on company culture and the future of work. Why? Because boards need to ensure that management walks the talk on culture and values. Boards must ensure their organisation’s talent pipeline can meet the needs of the strategy.

We are experiencing a world that is developing exponentially, providing new opportunities and challenges for organisations and people, driven by digitalisation, automation, climate change, shifting demographics, and the rise of the gig economy. Many changes can be predicted, but some will appear sporadic and sudden, like the Covid-19 crisis, which has disrupted and accelerated our future predictions. What we know is that continuous change is the new normal.

As organisations and their boards journey into the future of work, they will experience changing business conditions, new workforce models, new jobs, and many professions affected by changes or becoming obsolete. We will see a demand for new skills while some of the old ones will disappear.

The future employer is no longer talking only about “employees” but looking at the people behind the jobs and supporting the design for a better human experience, including:

  • A culture for humans, with values and empathy
  • Inclusive workplaces that respect people’s differences
  • Individualisation as well as consistency of the culture
  • Two-way communication
  • Development opportunities and career progression
  • Strong leadership, leading us through crises, recognising and valuing the people
  • Hybrid model answering our personal needs to design our life
  • Promoting the performance and not just the presence in the office
  • Creating an organisation for more agility, adaptability and resilience
  • Compensation as a priority belongs to the past

“Strong leaders takes a long-term view, engaging those around them in a shared vision, not simply focusing on immediate business results.”

Derek McKay

Company culture and the future of work

The future of work is a consequence of the evolution of the society in which we live, how we interact with each other and how we work. The acceleration in technology is not just impacting how we work but is influencing society as a whole and how we engage with society. We’re experiencing the evolution of work.

If we look at this evolution, we need to look at some significant changes and trends. These trends can be attributed to shaping (i) Work, (ii) Workforce and (iii) Workplace while also impacting the culture of an organisation.

The trends shaping company culture and the future of work

New skills and jobs: Digitalisation and the transformation of traditional business models will disrupt existing roles and abilities. We are already seeing the development of new jobs, functions and the skills required to carry these out. And at the same time, other roles are disappearing or changing so much that they are no longer recognisable. It is estimated that half of the current jobs in the world could be automated by the end of the decade, and automation may eliminate up to a quarter of all jobs.

Organisations will need to reassess job descriptions to ensure they meet the requirements of the business. It’s clear that there is no longer a “job for life”, and people will require continuous learning and upskilling. But this provides an opportunity to develop new ways of thinking and re-energise employees; there will be more focus on innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.

The new war for talent: There is a widening gap between the skills employers are looking for and what’s available. Several factors contribute to this; an ageing demographic, a dependence on migrant workers, and requirements for specific skill sets. This is likely to continue, so employers must find new strategies to try and address gaps.

One such strategy is the implementation of remote or hybrid working. Geographical borders no longer constrain us, so attracting talent from outside the immediate locality or even a country is now a viable option, subject to the relevant tax and employment laws. But the same strategy could also be responsible for adding to the war on talent as more businesses compete for the same talent pool.

Diversification on ways of working: We currently have more diverse cultures, backgrounds and needs than we have experienced previously. The idea of one type of “office working” is no longer the only option, mainly as we see more businesses implement hybrid working models with flexible and agile ways of working. Digital hubs, home and office working, are now the norm and full, part-time workers, project-based work and gig workers.

The challenge for employers will be getting the balance right to suit their business objectives while adapting to the individualisation of working conditions.

What does the new workforce expect?

Human experience: The world and the way we live have been reset due to the pandemic. For some, there has been a slower pace of life, while for others, the pressures of remote working have led to work-related stress and burnout.

The challenge (and opportunity) is to rediscover or reinvent a daily routine with a holistic work-life balance approach. In the context of work, it is no longer about the employee experience; it is about a human experience; a routine designed around our personal and professional needs. The challenge for employers is to present the opportunity for employees to help shape and mould their roles within the organisation in a mutually beneficial way.

The leadership of the many: One of the leading causes cited in research for employees leaving their jobs is their relationship, or lack, with their managers.

Modern organisational structures require leadership, not just managers. Leadership takes a long-term view, engaging those around them in a shared vision, not simply focusing on immediate business results. Leaders take responsibility for more than just the “now”; they care about the welfare of those around them and lead on initiatives that foster a collaborative working environment with an understanding and recognition that people need the right work-life balance for this to be fruitful for them. Identifying leaders within an organisation is not an easy task and, at times, may cause friction but will ultimately lead to a more inclusive, productive culture.

People empowerment and innovation: Throughout the pandemic, we have seen people leading with innovation and creativity and experienced what trust and freedom to act can do for the betterment of society. The big question is, how do we create this kind of power with our people in the new normal?

We create a culture where people feel valued, recognised and trusted. And where there is an opportunity for innovation to thrive by not being restricted by policies and traditional company structures. Creating an employee experience journey that focuses on culture, we help foster passion, engagement and build for the future.

What does the new workplace look like?

Purposeful organisations: Before the pandemic, we already saw a trend in people looking to work with purpose-led organisations, businesses with a genuine societal conscience. This accelerated during the pandemic.

As humans, we want to make the right decisions for ourselves, our family and society, and we want to work for and engage with organisations with the same vision. As workers, we want to know we are contributing to something that positively impacts the world around us now and into the future.

Network organisations: We live in a global village with both international and local challenges. This is why we need to think and act on both levels by creating strong networks of the right skills and opportunities for our organisations. Old corporate structures are rigid, relying on boundaries and hierarchy, and modern systems bring employees together with a sense of shared belonging. These new structures strengthen the agile and fluid ways of working, enhancing accountability and creating a base for solid networking both inside and outside our employer organisations, providing a platform for peer-to-peer innovation and creativity for everyone’s benefit.

Resilience and adaptability: Experts warn that we will experience disruptions like Covid-19 much more frequently given globalisation. So, organisations and individuals need to be more resilient and adaptable. We need to be bold and have the courage to adapt to navigate the unknown – however, this is not necessarily an easy task. But we need to be proactive and ready for fast business changes, driving out inefficiencies and strengthening our risk planning.

Equality, inclusion and diversity: Movements like Black Lives Matter have highlighted the inequalities in the world and put pressure on society to look closer at human rights, justice and equality. The recent outpouring of support for the English soccer team following online abuse demonstrates that certain behaviours and attitudes are unacceptable.

Younger generations are leading the way of social change and changes when it comes to company culture and the future of work. These global movements help create an environment of inclusivity where all opinions and inequalities are seen as qualities for building a solid organisation.

This article was written by Derek McKay, managing director of Adare Human Resource Management.

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