Transformative people management – The future of work has arrived early!


Mike Theaker

Vice President, HR Advisory, Europe, Middle East & Africa

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The world of work has changed before our eyes as organisations, workforces and the HR functions that support them have reacted at speed to the cyclone of challenges and change of the past 12 months. On the whole the HR function has responded incredibly well demonstrating a degree of agility long aspired to. At short notice the function has adapted to large sections of the workforce switching to remote working virtually overnight, developing policies to address this shift (up to 40% of companies had no working from home policy) and deploying technologies to make it possible. Large numbers of workers have been redeployed or furloughed, while in some cases, for example in the food retail and technology industries, increased business demand has driven large-scale recruiting and onboarding, often undertaken remotely and at speed.

At the same time, for some organisations, the experiences of the last 12 months have shone a bright light on some areas requiring improvement: poor workforce data; a lack of visibility of the workforce, where they are located, and what skills they have; inadequate communication capabilities; an inability to monitor workforce sentiment and therefore address employee wellbeing and experience challenges; and in many instances manual, inaccessible HR services creating challenges for remote workers and managers – a case of analogue people management approaches colliding with digital workforce requirements and expectations.


One thing for certain is that the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in organisations now being measured against a new, higher HR digitalization benchmark. What was good enough before no longer meets requirements.

So, where are we now and what are the key people management trends that the HR function needs to respond to in order to drive business success and sustainability?

In short, the Future of Work has arrived early, and digital transformation is critical to responding to this, not least through supporting the shift towards remote working. As we emerge from lockdown there will be a return to the office, but it is unlikely there will be a complete reversal of the remote working shift we have witnessed. More than likely some workers will return full-time to an office, some will remain full-time remote workers, and a large proportion will move to a hybrid model where they work from an office perhaps two or three days a week.


This requires a recalibration of people management approaches and technologies for this new environment addressing: how we communicate with a remote and distributed workforce; how we enable collaboration across and between remote and office-based workers; how we manage performance, compensation and benefits; and how we equip workers with the systems and tools they need to operate as effectively away from the office as they do in it. It is also worth remembering that 80% of the global workforce is not desk based and the Future of Work must include these workers also. There exists a huge opportunity to increase productivity across this group of deskless workers and the “new” remote workforce through the provision of accessible, personalised, mobile HXM solutions, underpinned with AI - tools similar to those we use outside of work and that reflect the consumer digital experience we’ve become accustomed to in our daily lives.

Many CHROs that I speak with talk about their vision for a single “landing page” for systems and information (including, but also beyond just HR) required by the workforce to optimise the employee experience and maximise performance. What they describe is a single, mobile access point (largely via smartphones) for the workforce to access all systems and processes they need to work as efficiently and effectively as possible. This vision is built on the concept of an Intelligent Enterprise of integrated, intelligent cloud solutions spanning HR, Finance, Procurement and other key functions and operations, underpinned with consistent workflows and AI, with access via a single landing page from a laptop, tablet and smartphone. Critical to this is placing the employee experience at the very centre, focusing on the tools and experiences that people need to perform at their best.

Digitalization also needs to be undertaken to provide greater visibility into the workforce in terms of workers’ skills, capabilities, location, potential and preferences. Over the last year several CHROs have told me that with better visibility they would have redeployed more people and furloughed less. A sad admission. This increase in visibility needs to be accompanied with an increased focus on upskilling and reskilling the workforce. Skills are the key to building resilience in the organisation, to deliver organisational flexibility and adaptability, and increase the ability to respond rapidly to changing circumstances, such as a global pandemic, Brexit, and other future disruptions. How the workforce consumes learning is also changing with a shift to online, bite-sized learning, one to three minute instructional videos and podcasts, gamification, and learning via virtual collaboration with peers, to list some examples.


As stated earlier we need a recalibration of people management approaches and technologies for the changing world of work. How we design, deploy and consume learning is just one part of this. Communications, recruiting, onboarding, compensation, performance management and collaboration all need recalibrating for this new environment, as do how employees and managers access people management services and information, and the technologies that we provide to the workforce to undertake their jobs, whether in the office or remotely.

Digital transformation is key to this recalibration and CHROs need to lead the way. CHROs I’m working with increasingly believe that HR should be the first business function to digitalize as HR digitalization touches everyone in an organisation. This also positions HR to better support digitalization across the wider organisation. These same CHROs also counsel though that HR is sometimes a blocker to digitalization and that a progressive change in mindset is needed in the function. The increased focus and reliance on HR to lead organisations out of the pandemic and into the new world of work provides the ideal catalyst to drive this change in mindset and deliver the recalibration of people management approaches and technologies that are desperately needed for business success and sustainability.

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