The Future of Work & Beyond – Progressive, Purposeful, and Sustainable – Next Practice Benchmarking

Future of Work
Future of Work

Next Practice Session led by Michael Bragg, SVP of Human Resources at MFS

Twenty years into this century and pundits have stopped writing about Millennials—finally! HR pros have continued a more relevant conversation on the future of work. Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lock-downs and employment deployment have not ended that conversation.

Some continue to look for a “return to normal.” However, the Human Resources leaders we talk to find excitement in the opportunity to design and build a new social contract, work that moves beyond tension and fatigue. They see new work shaping an engaging future for those willing and skilled to shape, structure, and scale.

Finding progressive, purposeful, and sustainable work

Returning people to workplaces requires new strategies. Things must look different, fresh, and safe. This might include reimagining workspaces, inviting light and air in engaging ways. People expect more in terms of comfort and safety.

Staying with distance workers or hybrid frameworks requires new thinking about how to continue a collaborative culture outside a physical workplace. It raises questions about quality production, performance oversight, and employee voice.

The Great Resignation marks a new mindset regarding the employee-employer relationship. The quarantine allowed people to reconsider the kind of work that works best for them. The subsequent push to hire has driven wages higher, allowing people to take advantage of the workers’ market. These challenges keep HR pros busy and proactive in imagining the future of work.

We recently put related topics before a group of blue-chip HR professionals from blue-chip organizations:

  1. Progressive practices that will address the needs of today’s employees while aligning with our company’s goals are…
  2. Purposeful strategies that can be executed and scaled throughout the entire system are…
  3. Sustainable and measurable practices to immediately execute within our organization and tracked to ensure accountability throughout the system…

Progressive practices that will address the needs of today’s employees while aligning with our company’s goals are…

Not surprisingly, given the variety of companies contributing, no single practice stood out as universally applicable or transferable.

One organization that has gone fully remote still recognizes the need to engage and develop employees. They have created a platform with 40 sessions on topics such as Excel, life/work balance, selling yourself, and networking. They specifically chose topics that would enhance, grow, and develop employees in certain ways aligned with the organization’s objectives. Employees were paid for attendance, and their involvement built cohesion.

Another organization has adopted a hybrid schedule, with workers remote three days a week and in the office two days a week. Their physical presence supports concerns about networking, collaboration, innovation, and teamwork. But their presence also enables mentoring, an HR objective. This global enterprise also brings all its HR assets together virtually. Their sessions on mental health, functional areas, and so on build and sustain communities.

Other practices at work include:

  • Listen, Learn, and Lead sessions every two weeks
  • 30-minute webinars to talk about things that impassion people
  • Identify the key touchpoints for team members

It is important to create a sharing platform, one that allows remote workers to effectively connect with the Home Office, regardless of what form that headquarters takes. For example, mentoring must continue in a new way. While packaged or created training and coaching sessions will resolve some of those concerns, employees need a first-person connection with in-house or contracted coaching mentors even when they work at a distance.

Employers have introduced virtual water coolers, virtual coffee breaks, buddy systems, and more. But, whether employees are remaining remote or returning to the workplace, employers must affect more to create or strengthen a sense of belonging. One suggestion imagines “culture days,” a periodic series of events built around unity, emotional connectedness, and systemic collaboration. While technology may enable these events, it has limits on creating an emotional connection. 

Purposeful strategies that can be executed and scaled throughout the entire system are…

Organizations have “ghosts,” those voices that continue to say, “We can’t do that now because it did not work then.” However, the last two years have created opportunities to pivot, and that means “giving yourself permission to say, ‘No!’” There is no time to dwell on the past. 

One option pursues a Shared Service Model across all functions, not just HR. But another contributor cautions there is still a need for governance around ambition. Organizations need a referee to settle things down, to encourage the development and delivery of long-term strategies, to focus on the human being’s spirit and soul.

Another option created “Bear Hug” conversations. That is, managers talked to remote workers about their talents, goals, and concerns. In addition to contacts about projects, schedules, and productivity, managers reach out to employees with a chance to encounter, a time for dialogue, and an opportunity to establish and sustain trust.

Sustainable and measurable practices to immediately execute within our organization and tracked to ensure accountability throughout the system…

Using Employee Engagement Surveys and Pulse Checks periodically offers loud and clear feedback that workloads are too heavy. Clearly, this is a process that needs change, but it also asks:

  • Why do employees feel this way?
  • Are we working as smart as we can?
  • Do we work as efficiently as we can?
  • Who owns the change?

This pivot may warrant the appointment of a Chief Transition Officer, to facilitate, motivate, and innovate where necessary to realize the transition’s objectives.

Large organizations may lack a connection with attrition. Their best resource lies in the data arising from terminations. The data gathered from existing talent should reveal some commonalities for HR leaders to address. 

Future work builds on communication

Organizations continue to wrestle with the impact of change. Buffeted by a deadly pandemic, social and political unrest, economic and employment recession, and more, organizations continue to experience a turning. No one can pin down an end date.

The consequent gaps in experience, ambition, and aspiration require a new look at communication. While some communication is better than none, ineffective communication wastes money and human energy. Yes, organizations have the technology to reach everyone. However, the velocity and volume of communication do not ensure quality.

A hundred emails, multiple bulletins, and repeated phone calls may drive, but they do not develop. They do not warm, hearten, or engage. Communication ability does not ensure or retain talented capability. 

Heads-up HR will draw what one team calls “workstreams.” Managers and employees can share the development of these workstreams to synchronize corporate and personal goals. They can negotiate the resources needed and achievable metrics. But connection, respect, and dialogue will drive the future of work.