Redesigning the way we work - flexibility, wellbeing and equality

Recent changes to the way we work have been driven by large-scale events, changing attitudes and social pressure for demonstrated accountability - forcing organisations to redesign workforces that are centred on deliberate design and requiring a new set of skills and effective change management.

COVID-19 has, in many respects, fast-forwarded changes that had been occurring slowly for years - it’s a big impact change that provided a platform to create a true shift in the way we work. In Australia, we have also witnessed events such as the Haines Royal commission into Financial Services, the Royal Commission into Aged Care, and more recent events in the political arena that have clearly spotlighted how far we must go in bridging the gender gap.

We are also seeing the impact of significant changes in the talent market, with many organisations struggling to fill vacancies, or finding their employees have many opportunities to leave for roles with higher benefits and increased flexibility.

All of this has led to three key trends that are (or should be) considered by organisations for growth and talent retention. The first is obvious:

1.  Redefining flexibility

We are now looking at the workforce of the future. In this future we are finding market forces and employee expectations are driving organisations to think about the ways they will work in the future. More and more employers have expectations of flexibility and are looking for organisations to deliver on this. Organisations need to deliberately look at what elements of the work-from-home experience they want to retain, and how they will shift and grow their approach to flexible work in the future.

The lexicology of workplace flexibility is now more than part-time mums coming back from maternity leave - it’s a total rethink about who we need, where they need to be and how they can deliver their value to the organisation, and vice versa.

2.  Incorporating the whole sense of the employee's wellbeing

As we break down the barriers between home and work, so, too, do we see a shift in the role organisations play in wellbeing. Originally wellbeing was led from a compliance perspective - based on the concept of ensuring the physical safety of staff as they worked on the company premises, or in the pursuit of company goals. Gradually it became program based, focused on ‘how do we provide Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services, or wellbeing programs that provide support to employees beyond their immediate physical safety?’ Now the shift is in how we design the way we work to incorporate the whole sense of wellbeing for employees. Again, this is taking flexible work way beyond part-time, or one day a week from home. It is considering how work needs to be performed and how we consider the needs of individuals in designing work elements and integrating wellbeing into the way we work. This may include working from different locations, or also how we structure the working week (e.g. working four days and being paid for five).

3.  A deliberate focus on culture

We are also starting to see a change of focus on culture. With the insights from the Royal Commissions and the recognition of the gender gap and toxic cultures where we are still not dealing with issues of harassment and discrimination, the result is that organisations need to drive cultural change very deliberately.

This is not just about focusing on one aspect of an organisation’s culture such as values on a wall - rather, it is being deliberate in designing and building the culture for an organisation, from elements of risk, through to innovation, customer centricity, employee wellbeing and beyond.

For many organisations, the process of changing organisational culture can feel like too big a problem to face, but organisations who get this right are recognising that it pays dividends in customer satisfaction, revenue, and talent attraction - which all lead to bottom line performance.

4.  Redesigning workplaces with the end-user in mind

Finally, to achieve all of this we are seeing the need for Human Resources or People and Culture teams to drive solutions via human-centred design - recognising that all the programs, policies and processes that may be well thought out are frequently not having the impact they are intended to achieve. The way to solve this is to truly commit to designing with the end user in mind - moving beyond what we have done in the past, letting go of forms for the sake of forms, or policies to manage the five per cent that will do the wrong thing - and looking for ways to design solutions that will drive the outcomes they are intended to deliver on. Ultimately, this means People and Culture teams need to build their skills, or bring in capabilities around human-centred design and truly effective change management.