The changing nature and merger of new approaches in the working environment has always been part and parcel of human evolution, probably much of the disruption happened during the Second World War and now the Covid-19 pandemic. The current universal change in our work environment caused by the pandemic has posed an important question: Can we predict the extent of change and quickly adapt to it in the years to come?
When the world temporarily shut down, working remotely and the adoption of previously optional communication technology such as Zoom, became a matter of urgency. Building an employee-centric value proposition that enables new ways of working is now a requirement.
According to a study focusing on Africa by the Africa People Advisory Group, it was observed that about six trends have emerged in our work environment during this period and these have profoundly altered the former traditional ways of working.
One of the trends is that now most companies and institutions have replaced physical presence with the hybrid working model where teams alternate between office and home. About 67 per cent of African companies are implementing the remote working policy with 90 per cent aiming towards approving the same policy within their internal systems.
Even with the identified challenges associated with this shift that include; limited technology, poor infrastructure, imbalance of work and personal life, focus is mainly on the benefits of this working model. Indeed, numerous companies reported an increase in productivity with teams that work remotely when reinforced with support from their leaders that have acquired skills which ensure this kind of smooth transition.
With such a work model, organisation leaders need to understand that leading remotely requires a different tool box of skills. It begins by being comfortable to lead under these circumstances with clear policy approaches, and more focus on output than time spent. It also requires to constantly build and enhance engaging experiences throughout the employee life cycle, being technologically savvy and being a natural developer of teams that can be able to develop skills for the future.
Another trend is the slow progress in building new skills for the future, despite the rapid adjustments of learning delivery. Only 23 per cent of the participants in the survey indicated that their organisations have embarked on job redesign to adapt to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and the new world of work.
Hence, it is necessary for today’s Human Resource (HR) functions to start engaging with teams to fully understand how processes and technology changes are impacting the different roles and structures within the organisations. It is also critical for leaders to develop new strategies to enable new ways of learning and regularly track impact on teams’ skills development.
The other trend is the consensus that employee wellness has taken centre stage and the risk of burnout is at an all-time high. About 67 per cent of companies surveyed during the pandemic had to adjust their employee wellness strategies to cope with the associated emotional stress. These adjustments included; provision of more work flexibility with the introduction of shifts, counselling services, awareness training and focus on mental wellness.
With this trend, it is now important for organisations to define clear employee wellness strategies; build resilience and employee skills to cope with stress and the potential for burnout. Also organisations should focus on developing skills among emerging leaders to be able to identify the signs of high stress levels in employees.
The HR’s focus on building new sets of skills to continue adding strategic value to organisations is an important trend. Currently, HR systems have shifted and are more focused on people and culture, employee experience and continuous sharing of information to manage the transitions of the workforce to the new ways of working. HR professionals now need people analytics, problem solving, strategic consulting, business acumen and strategic workforce planning skills to be able to manage this shift. Data and people are essential assets to businesses today. Also, fact-based decision making and fact-based people planning have become a source for great competitive advantage.
The HR leaders are now required to define the skills needed to deliver long-term strategies, supported by research. It is also imperative to develop plans that build HR analytics and data skills. The HR functions are also encouraged to develop strategies that actively move up in terms of functioning of the workforce analytics measurement.
It is also noted among the trends that HR practices need to evolve in order to remain globally relevant, and deliberately include employee-engagement, performance management, interactive on-boarding processes and talent management, and incorporate all this as part of the organisation’s day to day strategy.
According to Josh Bersin, Founder and Dean at Josh Bersin Academy, employee experience is a company-wide initiative to help employees stay productive, healthy, engaged and on track. It is no longer an HR project; it is now an enterprise-wide strategy.
Hence, organisations now need to formally revisit and review their approaches to employee engagement through pulse surveys. Performance management (PM) currently requires organisations to ensure the PM practices deliver value through measuring output and not activity. Organisations also need to explore the creation of employee persons to drive the employee value proposition.
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a new trend that requires executive and board focus. It is more than just policies, programmes or headcounts. Equitable employers outpace their competitors by respecting the unique needs, perspectives and potential of all their team members. As a result, diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees. D&I should be embedded in the fabric of the organisation’s culture so that it seeps into the core of how leaders lead. About 41 per cent of the survey respondents indicated that their organisations have a D&I strategy in place, while 13 per cent are looking to introduce it and 38 per cent said their organisations measure D&I in their Performance Management process.
With this trend, leadership should understand that diversity without inclusion is not enough, middle managers matter, tangible goals make ambitions real and there is need to perform a culture reset, not just ticking boxes. A correct leadership behaviour can lead up to a 70 per cent increase in positive feeling among those being led.
As a recommendation to achieve this, organisations must formally develop and adopt a D&I strategy. In order to drive leadership support and buy-in, diversity targets and numbers should be reported at board and executive meetings. An advocate in executive leadership should be identified to drive the organisational D&I efforts.
Overall, for organisation systems to thrive in this new work era, they need to build clear skills strategies for their HR function and leaders for the future.
Shamim N. Walusimbi is a Human Resource Consultant