Where does employee centricity meet the future of work?

Authors

Michael Bertolino

EY Global People Advisory Services Leader

Leader of growing, future-focused team of talent practitioners. Award-winner. Supporter of women in business. Extreme cyclist. Husband to Mensa-sharp wife and two thoughtful kids.

Amy Brachio

EY Global Business Consulting Leader

Industry leader in risk management. A voice for working women. Passionate about diversity and inclusiveness. Mother. Wife.

Contributors
7 minute read 1 Jul 2020

The pandemic has shown how central humans are to every dimension of the enterprise. Without them, both supply and demand slow to a trickle.

In brief
  • Early in the pandemic, transformational companies had a higher level of connection with their people, helping employees manage challenges they faced at home.
  • Leaders must be agile enough to operate between two gears (transition and transformation), shifting back and forth in response to external circumstances.
  • Expanding ecosystems create opportunities for leaders to consider talent pools and capacity models differently, improving flexibility and building resilience.

Our experience with clients suggests companies that were able to stabilize and adapt quickly in the early days of the pandemic were transforming their businesses to implement technology at speed, innovate at scale, and most importantly, put humans at the center of their strategy and decision-making.

These transformational companies did more than provide technology for remote working; they formed a higher level of connection with their people, allowing employees to strengthen their ability to work from home. They helped their workforce accommodate all of the other challenges they faced at home — from additional roles as caregivers, teachers and housekeepers, to adapting to the loneliness of isolation, to finding workspaces in homes that weren’t designed for remote working — while also staying engaged to work.

Transformational companies had one more critically important attribute working for them: their response was anchored in their purpose, organizational values, and how leaders were living these values, even in in a time of crisis.

Purpose, culture and leadership create the trust companies need to accelerate performance

The ability to pivot draws from an organization’s purpose, its culture and its leadership. A 2020 Mercer study suggests that “thriving employees are twice as likely to work for an organization that effectively balances EQ and IQ in decision-making.”1

Humans activate the world. Every technology and innovation we create is intended to serve humankind, not replace it. If employees feel that their company and its leaders care about their wellbeing at work and at home, they will be more likely to trust the decisions the company makes. If a company has earned the trust of its employees, it’s more likely to earn the trust of all stakeholders – customer, investors, suppliers and regulators.

Purpose, culture, leadership and trust are the fundamental elements that will help organizations deftly navigate the challenges the pandemic has created. It will also help them to find opportunities as they move forward into the next phase and consider what lies beyond for the future of work — from the workforce experience and the environment, to employee capacity and resilience.

If employees feel their company cares about their wellbeing at work and at home, they will be more likely to trust the decisions it makes. If a company has earned the trust of its employees, it’s more likely to earn the trust of all stakeholders – customer, investors, suppliers and regulators.

It’s time to reimagine the workforce experience

For many companies, it seems that working remotely and digitally happened almost overnight. Agile working and teaming came together on the fly as companies worked to respond to the ever-expanding crisis, often overwhelming calendars and demanding new ways of work. For companies that had no established work-from-home model pre-pandemic, this transition was doubly hard.

Yet, although what we saw was a rapid scaling of remote working — an online communications platform provider went from a daily average volume of 10 million customers pre-pandemic to 200 million during the pandemic — the trend toward remote work has been on the rise for 15 years. As a result, the future of work is now.

In a remote work environment, employees are discovering different ways of working that are about more than technology, method or model. They are exploring what it means to have an agile mindset, where self-forming teams, results and pace are being placed above organizational structure.

As companies look to apply the lessons of the pandemic to the longer term, the ability to attract new talent and reskill existing talent for emerging roles will depend significantly on a combination of flexible experiences and learning opportunities.

In Six habits of digital transformation leaders, 59% of executives overall say they believe there is an industry-wide shortage in the type of skills that would help accelerate their digital transformation efforts. This skills gap has left companies without the proper resources to drive growth. To help address the issue, 59% of transformational leaders say they are developing new incentives to encourage the workforce to learn new skills, while 56% are introducing mandatory new training programs for all staff.

Six habits of digital transformation leaders

59%

of executives believe there is an industry-wide shortage in the type of skills that would help accelerate their digital transformation efforts.

Addressing the resources skills gap to help drive growth

59%

of transformational leaders are developing new incentives to encourage the workforce to learn new skills.

As new and evolving technologies emerge, and as the workforce experience evolves, companies will need to accelerate their eLearning programs. Gamification and online demand streaming learning are becoming more popular to support individualized learning and create an end-to-end learning dynamic. Additionally, companies can initiate the use of digital learning passports that can accredit higher education and work experiences. Employees can use the passports to track their development within their organization or ecosystem, but also take it with them to new jobs. EY has a program called EY Badges that helps our employees gain digital credentials. These types of programs have the benefit of helping the entire corporate ecosystem develop larger pools of skilled talent. Another critical component will be the culture companies demonstrate and the collaborative action toward a defined purpose that energizes it.

For employees physically returning to work, companies will have to switch between two gears: transition and transformation. In gear one, companies have to manage a trusted transition back into the physical workplace. In gear two, they’ll want to drive human-centered transformation based on the lessons they learned through the pandemic crisis into a reimagining of work for the future. In the near term especially, leaders will need to be agile enough to operate in both gears, shifting back and forth in response to external circumstances.

Companies will have to switch between two gears. In gear one, companies must manage a trusted transition back into the physical workplace. In gear two, they’ll want to drive human-centered transformation. Leaders will need to be agile enough to operate in both gears, shifting back and forth in response to external circumstances.

A new work environment awaits

Companies that maintain their existing real estate footprint and expect their employees to make a physical return to work will need to reimage their workspace environments, particularly if they reflect the pre-pandemic office of the future trends of office sharing, bull pens and open-concept layouts. In addition to shifting to a closed workstation environment, companies will want to consider staged returns where teams week-swap to minimize the number of people in the office at any given time.

Where week-swapping isn’t an option, companies may need to expand their footprint to account for physical distancing requirements. A global commercial real estate services company recently launched a physical distancing concept to help their clients prepare for employees to return to the office. Additionally, organizations will want to consider better air filtration, antimicrobial fabrics and surfaces and contactless surfaces.

Organizations that are shifting more of their workers to a work-from-home model may decide to reduce their commercial real estate footprint — if lease agreements allow. In doing so, some companies2 are diverting a portion of their real estate savings to help employees create ergo-dynamic home office spaces. Alternatively, companies may maintain the space for private events or group teaming and project collaboration. An Indian multinational technology and consulting firm has announced that by 2025 only 25% of its employees will need physical office space at any given time.

Organizations might reduce their commercial real estate footprint

25%

of employees, by 2025, at an Indian multinational technology and consulting firm are anticipated to need physical space at any given time.

Expanding ecosystems creates opportunities to create flexible capacity models and build resilience

Although remote working has allowed some organizations to continue their operations, others may have had to contemplate the need to reduce their workforce. Still others have struggled with insufficient resources to manage a sudden spike in demand for their products or services.

These challenges present opportunities for companies to think about their talent pools and capacity models differently to improve flexibility and build resilience. In a recent EY online poll, three-quarters of respondents said they were either planning to or already in the process of identifying pockets of the business with excess capacity and developing a plan to use this capacity. For example, companies that are part of an ecosystem can consider employee leasing or talent trading whereby they move talent capability and capacity to the parts of ecosystem that need it most. Rather than workforce reduction, companies can retain their employees and second them to other companies.

During the height of the pandemic, a global food company partnered with a grocery chain in the US, giving the furloughed food company workers the opportunity to temporarily work at grocery store locations for a period of time agreed to by both companies.3  These types of arrangements create win-wins for both employers and employees. Companies can avoid the costly rebuilding of capabilities when they need it again and employees can continue to call their company “home” while learning new skills and experiences that they can apply when they return to their original role.

Companies that put humans at the center of their talent strategy will generate long-term value

As disruptive, and at times tragic, as the pandemic has been, it presents an opportunity for companies to rethink and reimagine their workforce for the future of work. By putting humans at the center of their talent strategy, companies can generate long-term value in how they live their culture, deploy their workforce and develop the talent of tomorrow.

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Summary

Transformational companies have enabled employees to strengthen their remote working capability. For employees now physically returning to work, companies will have to switch between two gears: transition and transformation.

About this article

Authors

Michael Bertolino

EY Global People Advisory Services Leader

Leader of growing, future-focused team of talent practitioners. Award-winner. Supporter of women in business. Extreme cyclist. Husband to Mensa-sharp wife and two thoughtful kids.

Amy Brachio

EY Global Business Consulting Leader

Industry leader in risk management. A voice for working women. Passionate about diversity and inclusiveness. Mother. Wife.

Contributors