Star Interview

It’s up to HR

With trust and flexibility on the up during the pandemic, Fujitsu Global’s HR chief reveals how HR can shape the future of work using these key elements as a starting point...

Words by Dan Cave | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Dan Cave

Design by Matt Bonnar


“It’s up to HR on where HR can go,” explains Jason Fowler, HR Director & Head of HR Northern & Western Europe at Fujitsu Global. “It can stand back and let the business and managers work this moment out for themselves or it can be at the head of change, trying to guide the organisation through to the future of working.”

For a function traditionally viewed as auxiliary, Fowler’s clarion-call-of-sorts might sound overly grand – potentially even off-putting to HR practitioners more used to having a servile relationship to both business needs and the executive – but the ‘moment’ which the Japanese-founded firm’s HR honcho refers to isn’t in aid of grandstanding. It’s clear from an hour spent chatting with the Manchester-based HR chief that he’s referring to the past 11 months: a ‘moment’ which is, in fact, a series of very real disruptions and changes to work sparked by the coronavirus pandemic that we are all living through right now. Disruptions which Fowler believes HR could harness to boost business and the functions's own standing.

It’s up to HR on where HR can go

Amongst the disruptions which Fowler alludes to – the fact that three-quarters of workers who no longer work from a central workplace, at least temporarily, undertake their job on kitchen tables or worktops, in spare rooms or perched on beds, the undeniable truth that long-term job security for many employees is a lot less secure, as well as rising burnout levels (a mix of Zoom-based exhaustion, widespread longer hours being worked, and increased blows to wellbeing) – he believes there is chance for HR to actively, although sometimes invisibly, craft new structures of work and better in-organisation collaboration to improve employment for people and drive better business outcomes. “HR has to think carefully about how they make this change relevant to its organisation but the opportunity is huge,” he adds.

Yet, in Fowler’s view, the function has to act immediately and, perhaps obviously, correctly, in order to drives improvements to work that he believes HR should own. Whilst this year has catalysed changes in work and, in many businesses, put HR at the centre of those changes – one CPO noted how the workload for the function has never been higher whilst another cited how most things became about people, with HR expected to have the answers – it is fowler's opinion that this ‘opportunity’ won’t exist forever. “HR needs to be custodian so that [collaboration, flexibility, improvement] remains and although that’s a lot for HR to get at, HR has to get onto that as quickly as possible,” he explains. And although these changes will differ from business to business, and some of those will, as described above, be difficulties needing to be navigated, many practitioners might recognise the same potential building blocks for ‘better work’ having emerged over 2020 as Fowler has seen at Fujitsu.

One of these the HR leader re-iterates several times during our interview. “There’s been a huge increase in the level of trust,” explains Fowler, alluding to what firms now believe can be undertaken and completed by staff remotely. He also notes a tack towards proper flexibility as well as change in attitude towards remote working, and an increase in focus on outcomes rather than inputs. To boot, Fowler has seen a better understanding of why managers, with wellbeing management alongside this, are central to good business outcomes. “In a traditional sense, managers were the allocator of work but that has altered during lockdown. Now, managers genuinely and sincerely have to think about the care they’re giving to their team and have to want to know and care about how they’re feeling. They’re there to coax, coach and guide.”

We expect to see something meaningful from it in terms of work but also meaningful in terms of work relationships as well

The follow on question is: how can HR leverage these developments to ensure work continues to improve but also keeps the function in a continued central position too. One way this is happening at Fujitsu is with a project Shape Your World by Working Your Way. Driven by HR, it is designed to allow employees better flexibility and work-life balance. Created during the pandemic and with insights from focus groups and staff surveys, it also included the introduction of an app that not only allows employees to book space to in offices to suit them – which have been redesigned to suit collaborative work – but also to see which colleagues are in the office in order to drive self-organisation and autonomous collaboration.

Fowler explains: “We want to create reasons to be in office and create office spaces that motivate people to want to be there whilst looking and feeling like a space that is conducive. I guess what we’re trying to do is invert the previous normal. Previously people might have spent one or two days at home, we expect to see that turned on its head and we want a purpose behind that office visit. We expect to see something meaningful from it in terms of work but also meaningful in terms of work relationships as well.”

Jason Fowler fact file

Joined Fujitsu UK & Ireland in 2005 as recruitment and resourcing manager.

Moved to Fujitsu global as HR BP in 2015.

Believes “that in the era of total tech, the people capability of an organisation becomes the principal point of commercial differentiation”.

Chartered CIPD fellow.

Quoted as having “rare and exceptional skill of being able to listen and make everyone feel heard and respected”.

Has spent some of lockdown learning arpeggio guitar.

The outcome that Fowler hopes this project, with others alongside it - including an increased focus on growing managerial capability, and delivering skills that can help with meta aspects of work (time management, professional skills, working in hybrid manner et al.) - will build, is a productive and positive future. He believes this is only possible because of the trust that has been fostered during this difficult period. “What we’ve found during this crisis is that we’ve trusted our managers and colleagues to make the right decisions on working patterns,” he adds. “We’ve trusted them to make right decisions on work priorities; we’ve come together in this crisis and we want to hold onto that feeling of trust.”

Taken one step further, Fowler hopes that this new era of trust will underpin improvements in diversity and inclusion – he cites the example of a parent or a carer who might have once foregone taking a job, as the traditional working day, with a commute, wouldn’t work for them – which in turn can better the employee value proposition. In this way, much as purpose and D&I efforts have become in recent years, Fowler hopes trust, underpinning other crucial areas, becomes a key talent attractor. “It should become a hallmark of employer brand and it should echo through existing employees and prospects for attracting new talent into the organisation and it will echo through to customers,” he adds.

Yet Fowler is aware that not all industries have been impacted the same by coronavirus – Fujitsu has been lucky, he explains, in not having to furlough staff and bonuses have been paid this year – but understands that even if difficult decisions are having to be made, the manner in which they undertake these actions will ripple through to how the employer is viewed. This can impact employer brand and trust which in turn impacts everything which forward-thinking HR departments now believe underpin good business outcomes: diversity, engagement, the employee experience, the list goes on. Now, as Fowler sees it, even difficult decisions, must be made with transparency and in dialogue with the employee body so further down the line organisations are primed for better times.

There’s been a huge increase in the level of trust

Which, without being too cute, is roughly where Fowler seems to see HR’s future role: ensuring that any changes that have occurred this year, likely enforced by coronavirus, are now structured by the people function and, if they're good, stick around in order to drive good business and people outcomes right. “Get the flexibility right, get the policies right and take the modern approach,” he explains, citing 2020 as a launchpad for this. And though there is likely lot to do to successfully align itself with the business and keep the standing that many this year are saying HR has earned - when is there not? – to cite Fowler’s earlier comments, the opportunity is huge. As the HR chief said: “It’s up to HR on where HR can go.”

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