What we watched this week...The future of work is here

4 minute read

The People Space editorial director Siân Harrington tunes into the best HR webinars so you don’t have to. This week – a panel of HR experts discuss what needs to be done to make the most of the opportunities and minimise the negative impacts of the rapid and dramatic shifts in working practices accelerated by the pandemic in a Liberty Global webinar

Sian Harrington

What we watched this week...The future of work is here

We are never going back to the old way of working. So says Frans Degelet, partner human capital at management consultancy Deloitte, which has undertaken in-depth interviews with 26 European business leaders, policymakers and researchers on the future of work.

Yes, we will have some elements of the old way of working, he says. But organisations will evolve. They will educate differently. They will remodel their workplaces. And they will look differently at the way they engage with their workforces to create a more individual experience and a more collaborative spirit.

Why will this be the case? Well, say the panellists at a webinar organised by converged video, broadband and communications company Liberty Global, these trends were already in place before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As Adam Spearing, EMEA chief technology officer and SVP Consulting Solutions UKI at Salesforce says, it’s just that we’ve accelerated five to 10 years into the future as a society as a result of the pandemic. But it’s important now that we don’t go backwards, he says.

“The number one risk is organisations not embracing the opportunity. I would want to see leaders embrace this and see it as a good opportunity to improve society, diversity and the planet. And what does worry me a little bit is that we need government and policy makers to keep up with the pace of this change. As we all know, they don't necessarily move as fast as commercial organisations. Regulation, taxation, allowances all need to keep up with the modern way of working we're seeing evolve at the moment.”

Preventing precarious jobs

Joost Korte, director general for employment and inclusion at the European Commission, agrees and warns that governments and policymakers need to better understand the changes in work.

“It is important in these times of COVID that we do not create precarious jobs, that people have proper insurance, that they have access to a pension entitlement – all the basic and normal things that we expect from the labour market in the European Union,” he says, pointing out that EU member states had taken strides forward through job protection schemes that not only helped employees but also the self-employed and others who had never paid into schemes.

“I think the type of work that you have, whether you are in the classic standard employee relationship – of which there are fewer and fewer – or whether you are in a non-standard job with much more flexibility, this should not matter to your access to these basic social protections. We should be freer from this rather formalistic employer/ employee relationship.”

Hello to the hybrid workforce

Liberty Global transitioned 98% of its workforce to working virtually in a couple of weeks and these employees have been able to save one to three hours a day on commuting, points out chief people officer Amy Blair. “We think it is a great chance to unlock efficiencies and to optimise this moment. Speed, empowered employees, integrated processes, multi-disciplinary teams – they’re all key ingredients for this agile model that many organisations were transitioning to before the pandemic.”

She notes that, in the hybrid workforce where people spend part of the time in the office and part of the time remote or at home, people will have to learn how to operate in two distinct modes: one in virtual and one in person.

“As we transition from what now seems like this one-dimensional world where you’re either virtual or you're in the office to the hybrid world we have to be really intentional about how leaders will work, as individuals and with their teams. It’s going to require a much higher degree of coordination, alignment, getting tactical about where we're going to have meetings and what activities we're going to do. There will be a huge focus on collaboration, connection, breaking down silos, and really connecting everything back to why we're doing it. So I think for leaders that are traditionally in command and control, this is going to be a pretty major shift.”

Shifting your skillset

But, says Toby Peyton-Jones, non-executive board member at the UK Department for Education, we must be careful not to get too fixated about remote working.

“The skillsets that we need are not just driven by that, they're being driven by the mega trends that were already in place, such as the technology revolution, and the different ways in which we were already starting to operate. The half-life of knowledge is rapidly reducing, especially in technical areas. That means half of what you've learned is out of date in maybe three years. So the idea of spending three years in a university without applying any of it does not make sense. Knowledge is inert until it's applied.

“So this is not just about the components of each profession. We have to shift our skillset. So if you're in finance, most of the technical side will be automated. But if you understand finance and project management, that's already more interesting. If you understand finance, project management and commercial that is even more interesting. And if you understand finance, project management, commercial, customer and you're also pretty good at leadership, or you understand a sector like healthcare, you've now got a meta skillset that cannot be automated and becomes incredibly valuable.”

Purpose is all

Underlying all this is the need for greater trust and a shared sense of purpose. Salesforce’s Spearing says he is repeatedly hearing the words ‘purpose over profit’ and ‘organisational resilience over efficiency’ in his conversations with executives.

“What’s the purpose of the organisation? What's the purpose of your will team within that organisation? If you can’t crisply articulate this, the individual working in a room isolated from other people at times won’t be able to relate to it and won’t be really clear on what they're trying to achieve. And once ambiguity starts to creep in then I think you'll find it very difficult to keep motivation, efficiency and working from home.”

Deloitte’s Degelet agrees: “It's becoming more and more clear that without a purpose you will face a lot of problems. The new workforce will look for purpose.”

This is a long transformational change, concludes Blair. “I predict that studies are going to tell us that those companies that had a really strong company culture to start out with fared very well during this crisis period. But that culture was formed in an office. And so as we shift and also bring new employees in we have to be very intentional. We have to address how we work, how we collaborate with teams better, and how we protect ourselves against two potential cultures arising - one for those people in the office and another for those people at home. We are going to have to put a lot of effort around this.”

The Future of Work is Here report from Deloitte, commissioned by Liberty Global, is available to download here 

Published 10 March 2021
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