Many professionals have spent the last two years establishing new priorities and expectations around workplace flexibility, autonomy and the workload they’re willing to take on. Employers need to be responsive to this evolution of what constitutes a workplace - especially in industries where there’s a talent shortage and demand for good people is hot. Basically, with employees demanding radical flexibility, employers will need to meet their demands or risk losing them.
This worldwide trend has expedited the demand for new workflow tools over the course of the pandemic for two main reasons. First, the uncertainty around new coronavirus variants has postponed the return to the office we all anticipated in 2022. So people are relying on software to perform in-office tasks and collaborate with their remote coworkers and we know these systems will remain, said Maren Bannon, a co-founder and managing partner at January Ventures.
Second, many of the nation's youngest people — Generation Z — aspire to be their own bosses. According to Anu Duggal, a partner at Female Founders Fund, who invests in the creator economy: “It has become increasingly clear over the past year that there is demand for remote work and more flexible lifestyles. While COVID-19 certainly played a role in this shift, Gen Z's appetite for entrepreneurship is also shifting the traditional workplace paradigm."
Almost 40 per cent of Australians are working remotely, according to the latest report from the Productivity Commission, and the likelihood of all those employees returning to the office full-time is slim. While we won’t know the full extent of the current pandemic for decades, according to Aaron McEwan FAHRI, Vice President of Research and Advisory at Gartner: “Pandemics have this uncanny way of reshaping society in fundamental ways. We know there has been some rethinking of what’s important to employees. This is the thing that we find CEOs and many business leaders may be unprepared for.”
Most critically, the Board’s role in this area is to ensure it delegates, leads and trusts leaders who can adapt and evolve as the organisation’s approach to remote work and employees expectations continue to change.
So what role can Directors play in assisting organisations into this remote work landscape?
The first step is to support a leadership team that recognises the imperative of this change; the second is to help steer the organisation’s ‘Employee Value Proposition’ to encompass the new ways of working, and the third is to rely on and appoint the right advisors while providing the appropriate tools to equip the business for the transformative change.
It’s the Board’s responsibility to employ and empower a visionary CEO who can foster a culture of change and agility. The Board should encourage and support the CEO and the head of HR or People & Culture, even considering installing the new concept of a “Head of Remote”. Directors can also encourage the executive to seek outside perspectives, tools and workflows to continually evolve an organisation’s remote workplace design, culture and strategy.
The Board and the new EVP
The rise in individualism and independence has major implications for organisations, relationships with employees and consumer-creators. Businesses should keep this in mind when defining their value proposition to attract and retain employees, according to Accenture.
Gartner is also encouraging businesses to think of EVPs away from ‘the things’ to thinking of it as ‘the human deal’. In their article from May 2021 they recommend considering and demonstrating that directors and management together need to understand employees’ unique requirements. These have only become clearer amid the pandemic.
Their approach to the ‘human deal’ can be broken down into five categories:
- Radical flexibility: providing flexibility for all aspects of work, not just where and when employees work.
- Facilitating personal growth: This should extend beyond professional opportunities (e.g. helping employees pursue hobbies or interests).
- Holistic wellbeing: This should cover both physical and mental wellbeing and employers need to actively encourage uptake in wellbeing programs.
- Better connections: Help employees foster deep connections in and outside of work.
- Shared purpose: Take a stand on issues that matter to your people.
Board members need to be asking about the ‘human deal’, considering what are we doing to support the workforce in both tangible and intangible ways?
With this in mind, Directors can consider:
- Have we looked at each team member’s individual needs and considered the various pillars of importance to them?
- Can we segment their needs in any way?
- Is it lifestyle, home situations, age, stage, experience levels or something else?
There are many critical aspects to this - it’s about much more than just setting them up a desk and a 3-2-1 hybrid work option.
Independent advice and new tools - including AI
When any business is navigating a change as rapid and unprecedented as this one, no Board or business can expect to rely on internal expertise and existing systems. It’s a short path to failure.
This period requires the organisational leadership to understand the tech tools available, the best way to assist employees in a hybrid working environment, implement new systems, consider how AI can enhance its remote work experience and productivity, and adjust measures and feedback opportunities accordingly. This is a true cultural shift in thinking, an application of new ways of providing workplace support and an open-mindedness to changing the way board and management review workflow, employee performance and communication.
The board has an important role to play in helping management embrace new ways of thinking and operating. Board members can challenge areas such as talent management, automation strategy, and corporate culture. Delving into workplace dynamics may not be a traditional oversight role of the board, but as business transitions to long-term ways of remote work, maybe now is the time to engage management constructively on aligning the HR model with market realities of remote work and culture; positioning the company to thrive in the digital age and seizing the gains made possible through AI technologies while making the necessary investments to reskill and upskill employees for the jobs of the future.
With the stakes high, boards have an opportunity to lead a powerful and relevant people-change as a crucial part of their transformational change, using technology to assist, as the workplace changes dynamically and in new but fundamental ways.