The modern workplace – preparing for the future

By Greg Scileppi on 2 February 2018

Greg Scileppi, President of International Staffing Operations at Robert Half, looks at how to deal with changes in the workforce and create a more flexible way of working.

The traditional workplace is changing rapidly. We have reached a point where the combination of generations and demographics has resulted in often diverging expectations of work and what workers want to achieve. To create a more inclusive environment suitable for an increasingly diverse range of employees, organisations need to be prepared and embrace a different way of working.

For many organisations, it’s about creating a more inclusive and open working ecosystem. This transcends simply rethinking the physical setting. Forward-looking businesses are redesigning the overall working environment and process for a modern workforce – one that facilitates a more collaborative and flexible way of working that appeals to different demographics and caters for everyone.

To embrace a more flexible way of working, businesses need to adapt quickly to ensure they are in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that a modern workforce offers. New technology and collaboration tools have had a huge impact on how people expect to work. For example, the speed of technology and information has further facilitated the need and use of independent contractors and offers businesses a more flexible approach to how they manage key project initiatives and workload fluctuations. Much of this so-called ‘gig economy’ centres around highly-skilled senior professionals offering businesses the opportunity to leverage these specialist skills to supplement their core teams. The challenge will be understanding how to balance the advantages of a more flexible workforce with the need for creating a workplace that is collaborative, motivated and ultimately happy.

A more flexible way of working

Our global research also shows how roles will change over the coming years. It reveals that the workforce will embrace a different resource configuration with job rotation (34%), interim staff (33%), and job sharing either with an automated tool (29%) or with other part-time employees (28%) becoming the norm. We can also expect to see a change in employment contracts across all levels with contract/interim workers operating on either a short-term of less than six months (33%) or long-term basis of more than six months (41%) catching-up with permanent employees (37%). Although, the focus of the evolution differs between countries.

This new approach to working will help combine the insights and skill sets of staff with different experiences, levels and backgrounds to make the most of available talent. Increasingly as organisations evolve and grow, there is likely to be an increase in the inclusion of interim professionals who can support the business when workloads are higher or when specific skills are required to navigate times of change. It also reflects the proliferation of independent contractors that are seeking a more flexible way of working. However, the changing mixture of the workforce will place a new demand on businesses to consider how they are effectively introducing interim professionals to support the organisation as it evolves and grows.

Interim workers have the potential to enrich particular sectors of the workforce. Yet, for organisations to successfully embrace contract workers, it’s important to have the right measures in place – including trusted recruitment partners – to check and validate their purported skills. Another challenge facing organisations is how to balance the advantages of a more flexible workforce with the happiness of both permanent and interim staff. To keep the company’s mission and values at the forefront, it is crucial to find ways of continuing to manage the performance and engagement of interim employees throughout their tenure. This could be through giving employees the freedom and flexibility to experiment with new ideas, empowering staff to contribute their ideas in meetings or introducing new social events to encourage cohesion. Ultimately, organisations need to find ways of making all types of workers feel part of one team by creating a company culture rooted in diversity, openness and inclusivity that appeals to all.

Pay to play

As the nature of work changes, remuneration and bonuses will also evolve to appeal to a modern workforce. For nearly a quarter (24%) of businesses there will be greater individual flexibility allowing employees to swap a proportion of their salary in return for non-financial perks. Other approaches include readdressing the balance between basic salaries and bonuses as well as offering benefits that more greatly appeal to one’s own individual preferences – including healthy-living schemes, remote working and charitable donations or time off for volunteerism.

It’s important to remember that for a modern workforce, money is only one side of the remuneration coin. While it remains a key driver, top candidates receiving multiple top job offers are also keen on re-addressing the work-life balance that has been lost in an ‘always-on’, digital-first society. As such, remuneration packages that include a flexible work schedule, sabbaticals, emergency childcare or elderly care, relocation or housing assistance and financial planning, go a long way to enticing today’s talent.

At the moment, many businesses are tackling this change by introducing greater agility through hot-desking (37%), rotational task-based seating (31%) and communal co-working spaces where individuals can come together to work on separate projects (30%). One in five companies will take it even further and envision a future where every employee will work from home or remotely in the next five years. Naturally there are limitations based on industry and job responsibilities so companies need to consider how to best make the modern workplace work for them.

The key is to balance the ability for employees to work wherever and whenever they want, with a clear understanding of what that entails. In this age of constant stimuli, it’s important that staff feel they can switch-off. By having a clear understanding and agreement about what is expected, the discussion stops being about reading e-mails outside of work hours. Instead it is more about letting work and personal lives flow together as one integrated life.

Managing change

The modern workplace will require organisations to adopt and rethink how they manage this new workforce. For organisations to support their employees in their career progression and preferred ways of working, there is a need to create a flexible environment that advocates cross-working across levels and departments. It also involves finding new ways to provide leadership and accountability at different levels of the organisation to create an open and consistent culture that recognises the diversity of the roles, yet includes all.

If this can be achieved, then businesses will be able to help an increasing number of people to work in the way that best suits them. It will enable the modern workforce to combine the positive aspects of flexible working, such as freedom, flexibility and variety, with the security of career development, access to benefits and exciting opportunities.

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