Human Capital Trends 2021


From remote work to business transformation

- what is really happening?  

As we look towards life after the strict lockdown, business leaders are considering what the next steps should be. Will things return to how they used to be, or will the new normal in our working life remain? Trial and error will be the answer to begin with, but the winners will be those who think through the big picture for the future of business. In this interview our Organisation Transformation Lead Kirsi Kemi will discuss the topic with Jo Iwasaki, Deloitte’s Corporate Governance Advisory Lead in Finland.

A recent report in HS said that Finnish office workers hoped to work from home half of the time. Also, 97% of the respondents said that they would like to work remotely at least sometimes. So, the hybrid model is likely to stay.

What about companies that prefers to return to pre-pandemic work arrangements?

Companies may end up losing their best talent if they ignore what’s on the employees’ minds. If we want to thrive in the new environment, it must be set within and consistent with the long-term, sustainable workforce strategy. It should be more than just a quick fix here and there.

At the same time, we will be learning by trial and error for some time. We all need to be innovative and have more freedom – and responsibility – today than we had previously in order to determine our work arrangements. The best rules will emerge across and within teams, based on what achieves the best results, rather than the rules being decided somewhere and communicated top down.

There is another side to the coin – I see that there is more trust in the workforce than before because things get done without people being closely monitored all the time. Business leaders have started to learn how to lead in this new situation wherein they trust people more and give teams more power to plan how they organise their work.

Do you think businesses are ready to accommodate these new working arrangements in terms of facilities, management and reporting, among other things?

Not every business is sufficiently prepared. This is when modern technologies and investment needs will come into the picture. Certain technologies will help you to feel you are part of the group and in the same room, even when you are participating remotely.

A more urgent challenge could be the workspace. Companies need to seriously investigate how much and what kind of workspace is needed when people return to the office, and it’s hard to say without experiencing how the hybrid work arrangements and other new work arrangements would work out. Businesses will need to try things out a little and then adjust.

Leadership and management should acknowledge a shift towards self-orienting, autonomous teams and the shift is picking up speed. Workers have demonstrated that they can work well by self-organising. To facilitate this, leadership will need to bring transparency to the whole organisation through data and information sharing so that teams can organise their work effectively. Transparency will be one of the keywords going forward.

How about industries that do not have the options to offer hybrid work – would they lose out in the race for talent?

Some industries – for example store, restaurant and hospital industries – may not appear suited to remote working at first sight. But there are aspects of remote work that they might be able to adopt.

We will need to approach the change as an opportunity to re-evaluate our business models. Think about restaurants, for example; some are offering ‘gourmet dinners at home’ experiences – this is an innovation. Look how online shopping has evolved – it is not just about people shopping virtually, there is progress in the whole virtual experience, from designing the online experience to functionalities.

Rather than focusing too much on the kind of work arrangements, i.e. traditional work versus remote or hybrid work, we should be thinking about the future of work at a larger scale. What kind of opportunities might we gain by re-architecting the business model altogether, and what new outcomes can we expect? We can mobilise technology and AI alongside work that requires human input. Thinking through all these possibilities and opportunities can potentially lead to a new business model, and that’s something CXOs should be thinking about. Now, that’s the future of work. Besides, we are much less afraid of using technology and AI – we don’t see them as a threat to our jobs but as an opportunity to identify new ways of doing business.

We can say that it was a reactive response to the pandemic when we switched to remote working a year and half ago. What can business leaders do to be strategic, going forward?

It will require thinking about the outcomes that we want and working backwards. Placing the desirable outcome at the centre of our thinking will help us see what work we need to do, which will then lead to how we can best get the work done, and help us decide whether technological solutions are available or whether intimate interactions with customers increase the value.

In the process, we should allow individuals and teams to have the freedom to decide what work arrangement would bring about the optimal outcome, and people expect that freedom now. Leadership should engage employees in exploring the future of work by way of employee surveys and other means.

For the best result, it is important that all employees share the purpose and vision of the business, which should guide the way we work. It is no longer so important how work gets done if everyone clearly understands what needs achieving. The purpose guides us to organise our work in the best way possible. But the direction needs to come from the leadership, and that’s why the organisation-wide communication is so important today.

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