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Fast Forward to the New Future of Work

(Part 1)

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In this article Jim Matthewman, CEO of Talentspringboard, highlights the need to move from Adaptive to Agile Organisations and Adopt Hybrid Working with a Caution about Employment Issues. 

During four months of COVID-19 lockdown we have all undergone an unparalleled change. It has been a remarkable embracing of the digital, virtual world for all generations: a complete redefining of the Future of Work.

The workforce reality of the pandemic

During lockdown most of us have had no physical contact with our employers or colleagues. The emotional strain and stress has been immense with each person facing their own dilemmas.

At home we have been asked to share our varied occupational obligations in competing physical space with parenting and schooling of all ages. All this without privacy and heavy reliance on digital and mobile technologies even when many are experiencing huge fluctuation in internet service levels and being asked to participate in virtual meetings with multiple distractions and little technology support.

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It is estimated that a third of the UK population who had never used on-line shopping did so for the first time. Consumer behaviour has fundamentally changed, which has questioned the resilience of existing business models, and the need to travel to work or around the world for meetings.

Significantly, this has challenged underlying business processes and decision making. Organisations have, in effect, delayered authority levels, stripped out functional siloes and built collaborative, virtual drop-in centres and team-based chat groups.

Remote working from home (WFH) has become the “norm” for nearly half of the population in many countries. For many this has been the positive flexibility they had been requesting, but for others the juggling has created huge stress and anxiety. Where organisations have surveyed employee sentiment, the top five concerns have centred on communication difficulties, social isolation from co-workers and managers, workspace distractions, and a lack of IT and equipment assistance.

A large number of employees have been furloughed or made redundant. Over 9m UK employees were furloughed and there are 2,6m self-employed (approximately 30% of the UK workforce), but last week the Office of National Statistics reported that 600,000 have lost their jobs – some have estimated that up to 40% of those furloughed will lose their jobs. Since the lockdown started unemployment has risen to 1.3 million. Major firms such as British Airways, Virgin, HSBC, Jaguar Land Rover and British Aerospace have announced major redundancies (again about 30%).

Given the need to preserve cash; many firms have implemented deep cost constraints, which has cut discretionary spend on contingents, contractors, and consultants, yet these might be the vital resources to shape and implement the corporate reimagination. Many have curtailed proposed hiring and frozen pay and incentives. All these moves along with job insecurity has led to significant anxiety and a vulnerable workforce.

From Adaptive to Agile Organisations

Even though organisations and their employees have adapted, what is clear is that there is no going back to pre-COVID operations.

Business must embrace a new world of agility. The Future of Work will be people-centred and organisations will need to be flexible, fluid and dynamic. Our Talentspringboard Agile Organisational Model (TSB-AOMTM) is able to anticipate and respond to external stimuli, deploying capability quickly to achieve growth.

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This requires nimble cross-functional teams to work on projects with implementation in days or weeks, not months. Teams will be network based, led by emerging talents not supervised by time-served supervisors and senior managers. Organisation hierarchies and grades will flatten to 4 to 6 levels. Accountability and authority will lie with empowered, customer-centric specialists. Reporting will be in real-time with insights focused on future trends; historical analysis will be secondary and supportive.

Pace of Change and Workspace

Many of us have grappled with a mix of technology adoption as we learnt to use Zoom, MS Teams, WhatsApp, Facetime, and others almost overnight. Organisations have had to change and find new ways of working.

But the reality is that the pace will continue to accelerate with new apps, dashboards, and digital productivity tools and so this change will become continual. There will be no New or Next Normal.

Business and workforce strategies were typically set out in 1-3-5 year timeframes; these have been truncated to 6 to 18 months. There is an inevitability of secondary waves and new upheavals. Yet our workforce, suppliers, and supporting contingents (gig workers) are wanting clarity of purpose, roadmaps, new values, but, most of all, job security. Talentspringboard shall review these in more detail in Part Two of these articles.

The biggest change for office workers is the switch from workplace to workspace. The challenge is WFH or Work From Office (WFO). For over 70% of staff based on McKinsey and LinkedIn surveys, working from home has been a plus. The flexibility, which has been requested for many years, has come about out of necessity.

The main obstacle in the past was that management did not trust staff to be working in a non-supervised, nine-to-five environment. Some organisations have introduced micromanagement tracking of sign-in times, availability for calls, outputs through productivity technology. This hardly qualifies as trust. Organisations must trust that their employees fundamentally want to work to deliver quality work. If that is not the case then it is time for a corporate Culture Audit.

TSB’s previous research highlighted a strong demand from Generation Y and Z for greater flexibility in working patterns. There is new evidence and feedback from lockdown working surveys that 61% of these WFH employees not only were more focused on productive work, but they actually put in additional hours or found time outside normal working hours to accommodate management requests to attend cross-time zone virtual meetings, participate in on-line learnings, and attend on-line professional conferences (LinkedIn Let’s Talk about Work from Home Survey).

The most quoted advantages in favour of WFH have been:

1) No commuting time (typically 1 to 2 hours gain)

2) Avoiding the uncomfortable public transport crush especially at the end of the day – incredibly energy-sapping

3) More time spent with partners and family

4) The flexibility to invest in pastimes – big interest in baking, sewing, music, art, gardening and now, sport – huge uptake of yoga, golf, and tennis for example

5) For a significant number, a re-assessment of the core purpose of life and how work fits into this

6) An opportunity to expand connections and networks – a major boost for introverts and quieter work colleagues

The downside, of course, has been significant stress and potential health issues for those unable to manage tense relationships. It has led to:

1) Acute anxieties over money plus additional costs from WFH – utility and phone usage

2) Worries over job security and current career prospects

3) Lack of face-to-face contact and collaboration with managers (down by 20% or more), team members and wider workmates

4) Insecurity around workplace fairness

So not everyone is happy with WFH. Alternative research has claimed a high proportion of staff (50%) still prefer WFO as a means of drawing a clear distinction between work and their private life – a sense of order which has now been disrupted. WFH has been an intrusion into their out-of-work lives, their habits, and daily routines.

What this means is that a “one-workspace format” will not work.

Moving to hybrid workspaces

A few hi-tech organisations such a Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have already announced that WFH will become the default workspace going forward. Some Governments, such as Singapore, have specified that this will be the standard for the foreseeable future even as restrictions are lifted.

Many larger organisations, in both private and public sectors, are actively canvassing employees to gauge preferred future work flexibility. Feedback suggests many (up to 80% in the May 2020 Global Working from Home Experience Survey published by would like a hybrid format where WFH might become a significant element with one or two days per week at an office location for key collaboration or innovation meetings.

CFOs are keen to pursue such ideas to cut back on expensive city offices; significantly Gartner’s March 2020 survey of 317 US CFOs found 74% were actively considering these options).

This means that it might be more effective and agile to retain a small head office as the corporate nerve centre. Organisations could then have regional or country-based Innovation/Creativity Hubs operating as collaboration centres operating with key Partners or Alliances linked through first-class, digital virtual technologies and knowledge sharing facilities.

Impending employment law issues

But this move from workplace to workspace has significant legal implications. For many these arrangements have fallen into place on an ad hoc, individual basis. But there are six major issues which will need to be addressed:

1) There is an employer’s health and safety obligation to assess the Working From Home environment as this impacts Employer’s Liability Insurance

2) Employers are also required to provide guidance and appropriate training as part of their duty for care. There are also employer duties to ensure sufficient management engagement, contact and support for remote working. Not all managers are following this

3) For many office workers, WFH might be their rented home space or perhaps their parent’s home which might breach leaseholds or household insurances

4) As indicated in the research feedback above, organisations will need to review all employee contracts in respect of working time, rest periods and annual leave

5) WFH or Hybrid Working might also conflict confidentiality and GDPR obligations for customers or other third parties

6) Any redundancies or dismissals might well be tied to specific workplace terms and there needs to be clear explanation around selection or pooling decisions.

Given the critical financial state of many businesses, it is unlikely that procedural guidance on such major employment legislation changes can be reviewed and agreed before the Autumn with relevant interest groups. We will be talking to these points in our August webinar.

Aligning business priorities with a people-centric agenda

Here are some key business questions to think about:

- Has the customer base changed? Which markets are relevant for the next 18 months? How will this impact the future of business development, sales and customer experience functions?

- Business reaction during lockdown required rapid decision making. Which policies or procedures are no longer fit-for-purpose?

- During lockdown what worked well and what did not? Can the successes be embedded for sustainable growth?

- Accept the 2020 Business Plans are shot to pieces. Targets have become meaningless and formal performance management largely redundant and capricious. Should the organisation move quickly to personal performance dialogues around individual outcome-based contribution?

- Which roles will change? Many will be obsolete (Talentspringboard project experience suggests a third) and most will need to be re-structured with new skill sets. How can this be done quickly and fairly? See Part 2 to be published next week.

- Which employees rose to the challenge by exhibiting adroit problem-solving or team building skills?

In Part 2 of Fast Forward to the New Future of Work, we shall focus on the need for Empathetic Leadership: How to build Inspirational Purpose and How to Enhance Employee Engagement. We shall also review Strategic Alignment on How to Build an Agile Organisation plus How and Where to Upskill and Build New Capabilities.

© Talentspringboard Limited 2020.

Contact Jim and the Talentspringboard Team below:

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T – (0044) 07500 709 729

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