Resilient work for a resilient future

Three considerations along your journey

The path to managing work

The pandemic tested the flexibility and responsiveness of work and culture everywhere. It accelerated resilient organizations towards their future goals but tested the rest to breaking point.

Organizations everywhere have experienced unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic over the past year or so. For those without the resilience to adapt and ride the waves of change it has felt like anything from a white-knuckle ride to a full-blown shipwreck. The vital lesson we have all learned it is that we can no longer delay our reimagining and restructuring of the way we do work.

Since the disruption, workplaces have never been more remote or disparate, yet resilient organizations have found progressive new ways to embrace flexible team working in ways that would never have been thought practicable a little over a year ago. They have also moved to redefine roles to align with rapidly changing customer needs sometimes redeploying staff into completely new activities perhaps leveraging core skills to provide urgent relief in other sectors.

Meanwhile, many future initiatives have been accelerated to bring forward and prioritize more progressive approaches to managing work, the workforce and the workplace the pandemic has caused the future of work to kick-in a lot sooner than many of us had planning. Above all, resilient organizations recognize the untapped potential in humans, they capitalize on the extraordinary adaptability that is often underestimated in the traditional workplace. The surest way to create true resilience, while also deriving the greatest value from the workforce, is to create an environment that provides the opportunity and motivation for talent to flourish.

"The vital lesson we have all learned it is that we can no longer delay our reimagining and restructuring of the way we do work."

The value of work

Work is, maybe, one of the least understood and underutilized sources of value in the modern business environment. This is not as absurd as it might sound. The output generated by workers has, of course, always been self-evident and quantifiable, as have productivity rates and sales results; but the true value of work can be more profound, complex and harder to measure by traditional means. Consider, for example, the ‘soft’ (human) powers generated by motivating others, by creating a compelling sense of shared purpose, or by building and reinforcing of loyal relationships that galvanizes teams to pull together in times of crisis with individuals within them performing their functions better than had been thought possible?

In most organizations the task for managing soft values, like driving work transformation, keeping up with the pace of change, or harnessing what it can bring to the enterprise, has rarely been a board-level responsibility. The pandemic has changed perspectives on this. The soft values of work have risen in prominence as workers have shown the resilience and flexibility to go beyond traditional job specifications and output metrics.

Organizations must rise to the challenge and re-architect work from a future perspective, not as a mechanized process, but as a flow that aligns with the evolving ways that humans think and engage. The future focus of work will switch from maximizing output to unleashing potential, from being ‘enablers of productivity’ to ‘creators of value’. Above all, by enabling workers to fulfil their potential we can be confident they will add the most value to our organization, not only that, but their uniquely human values of adaptability and creativity will be key to the organization’s future resilience in the face of unexpected change.

Structures

Future work structures will necessarily be more resilient thanks to their greater flexibility and agility in adapting to change, they should also aim to create more meaning and encourage individual creativity. Work, the workforce and the workplace and the interplay between human and technological capabilities will all need to be reimagined so that workers can feel more fulfilled and their potential unlocked, sustained and valued. To achieve this, organizations should aim to shift the focus of work from outputs (i.e., revenue, profit, products) to outcomes (i.e., results not previously achievable).

Work should become something that creates value for customers, the workforce, the organization and its stakeholders. It should generate a sense of purpose and meaning and build human connections. This change in mindset is critical for achieving results beyond simply doing what is done today cheaper and faster, towards doing what is needed tomorrow, pursuing new outcomes, creating deeper value and building an organization with the adaptability to change and flex around the needs of its own people because if it can do that well, how much better will it be able to change and flex in response to the needs outside?

Human potential

Few really know what they’re capable of until they have the opportunity to explore their limits. The pandemic inspired a remarkable display of creative versatility among workers everywhere, from airline cabin crews retraining as nurses, car factory workers turning their skills to building ventilators, beverage companies producing and distributing hand sanitizer and clothing manufacturers switching to make PPE and surgical garments. By giving workers the scope to take their own initiatives managers saw them fulfilling their potential in ways they might never have imagined before the crisis. They had proved that they could, and wanted to, operate differently by adapting and performing in ways well beyond their original job descriptions.

Harnessing these interests and passions with those of the organization will be one of the most effective ways management can build the operational resilience they will need to thrive. It will be doubly important to recognize this new-found potential because, having experienced a new, more responsive and flexible way of working during the pandemic, many workers will not relish a return to former working practices. Thankfully, new technologies are at hand to help identify and unleash the human potential within and beyond the organization. It will be vital to act fast to sustain the spark that has empowered workers to break through hierarchies and bureaucracies, roll-up their sleeves and get the job done. The future of work was, of course, already on a trajectory towards greater flexibility and deeper human engagement; it has, however, just accelerated through several years-worth of progress in a few short months. 

Reskilling

Highly motivated workers have demonstrated their potential to transform expectations beyond those of the traditional workplace. In doing so they have exposed the inflexibility of conventional job descriptions and the need for those seeking to develop more resilient and agile businesses to take a fresh perspective. This should lead to workers being given more choice over what they do and how they do it, enabling them to pursue their passions and find more meaning in their work. Managers should learn how to better spot and nurture talent, encouraging and directing the kind of novel thinking that can add real value to solving business challenges perhaps in completely different fields. This enhanced ability to spot potential will also enable the organization to align future organizational needs with existing talent rather than defaulting to recruitment (which can be time-consuming, risky and expensive).

As we have seen, there could be huge untapped potential within the operation that would be responsive to personal development opportunities, they are known, familiar and can probably hit the ground running. It should also be remembered that if talented workers don’t have opportunities that fit their career development expectations, they are likely to leave anyway particularly during times of uncertainty, fast growth and keen competition. Enabling talented workers to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles should be a top priority for navigating future disruption, providing a clear message that the shift from survive to thrive depends on the organization becoming distinctly and sustainably human. Another way to resolve the challenge of aligning talent with opportunities is to explore the use of “opportunity marketplaces”.

These digital platforms tap into broader talent ecosystems and opportunity marketplaces to align individual and enterprise aspirations. Managers can identify potential candidates from across their internal talent pool, as well as external gig workers. Workers, in turn, can choose to pursue the opportunities that match their interests, passions and capabilities across the platform. Opportunity marketplaces can play a particularly valuable role in building resilience as they offer fast access to curated talent with known track-records, enabling organizations to respond quickly to fast-changing needs.

Eco-systems

The scale of the challenges presented by the pandemic meant that many operations simply ran out of bandwidth as they attempted to cope, simultaneously, with multiple, diverse challenges. The most effective way to keep their head above the water was to leverage the capabilities of external partners and resources to share the load.

Ecosystems have become the modern way to extend organizational capabilities without adding to fixed costs. Not just that, they can enable world class experts, in any relevant field, to be drafted-in when needed as virtual extensions of the organization’s own capabilities. Because ecosystems can easily be expanded and contracted according to prevailing needs, they can greatly increase a company’s agility and responsiveness to change. Because they are effectively acting as de facto employees, they are also responsible for upholding the organization’s name and reputation, so their values and fit must also be considered. Organizations should, therefore, aim to cultivate an ecosystem of partners, vendors, alternative workers, and professional networks and have them in place in anticipation, rather than in response to, an urgent need. As with all resilience planning preparation, eco-systems need to be mapped-out and tested well in advance of potential crises. That they will hold the key to getting work done in the future is beyond doubt.

Deloitte can help you unlock the human potential in your workforce. Our experience in anticipating the future of work has been built on our unusually involvement across all workplace disciplines and our end-to-end capabilities can provide you with anything from a big picture overview to a detailed hand-in-glove solution. Our goal is to enable you to build the resilience you will need to not only survive the events of today but to continue to thrive through the events of tomorrow. 

Leadership

Leaders will have to be quicker to adapt to the fast-changing nature of work and support the flex needed to respond to change. By empowering employees with the flexibility to fulfil their potential they will not merely be making a commercially expedient decision (this being a key factor in building organizational resilience against future change) but an enlightened one from a progressive human-centric perspective. The latter is likely to be at least as relevant as the former given the rise of more socially-aware boardroom cultures that aim to be more transparent, gender-balanced, racially-diverse and approachable. This will include opening dialogues on tough issues like gender-bias, racism and well-being as well as being more engaged in human issues that stray well beyond the traditional C-suite agenda.

Senior leaders will also increasingly be expected to embody the organization’s purpose a set of value-driven intentions anchored to social and human interests to unite and motivate employees around shared, meaningful values. The overhaul of the formal work structures of previous decades should also be prioritized to enable organizations to embrace the greater flexibly they are going to need to ride the waves of change and align better with future expectations. This should be considered an ongoing process with continual reevaluation of employee aspirations, as well ongoing reappraisal of the ways in which employees contribute value to the organization from traditional metrics like cost efficiency and productivity, to more holistic measures like raising stakeholder value or supporting colleagues to help them make an impact that matters.

Contrary to pre-pandemic skepticism about the practicalities of remote working, most organizations have seen very real advantages to flexible working, including increased productivity, reduced operating costs and improved profitability.

The “phy-gital” workplace

The mass migration from office buildings to home offices during the pandemic led to some surprising conclusions. Contrary to pre-pandemic skepticism about the practicalities of remote working, most organizations have seen very real advantages to flexible working, including increased productivity, reduced operating costs and improved profitability. Employees have been developing new home-based office routines and lifestyle habits, many of which they prefer to their previous ways of working, in fact less than one-third is planning to resume their former work routine when their office reopens. This has obvious benefits for employers who can reduce their fixed costs and increase their agility post-pandemic by maintaining more remote working. But, given that most organizations, and the workers within them, will continue to benefit from colleagues spending a certain amount of time in the same physical space, leaders will need to shift their mental model of the workplace from either physical or digital to phy-gital.

This will see the integration of the best of physical and digital realms to create a work culture that supports all environmental and workstyle needs and preferences. It will mean developing an appreciation of the broader scope and technical challenges of working environments (from homes and coffee shops to libraries and publics spaces) as well understanding the relevant social needs including creative collaboration, interactive innovation, idea generation and general emotional support. There should also be strategies to ensure that the organizational structures and culture should be interpreted and maintained across a virtual workplace.

The needs, motivations, perspectives and cultural backgrounds of all workers should also be taken into account to ensure that individual differences and strengths are recognized and leveraged. This phy-gitally-enabled approach could even enrich the social interaction of some workers beyond what they had experienced in their former physical environment a recent study showed that some organizations had been operating in what was effectively a digital workplace (i.e., a screen-based workplace with minimal direct social interaction) within an existing physical workplace. 

Ultimately, the goal must be to redefine the work environment so that it enables workers to deliver their best work possible whilst having the greatest flexibility to adapt to change. The events of the last year have prepared resilient organizations to look to the future, leave outdated workplace models in the past and thrive in the phy-gital future.

Work culture

Work culture, and its potential to provide strategic focus and competitive differentiation, is an area of growing interest in the business world, especially given the changes now taking place in workplace dynamics. Numerous studies have shown that an employer brand, the promises it makes and the internal culture that sustains, it has become among the most powerful tools to attract and retain the best talent, as well as heightening the organization’s appeal to customers, shareholders and stakeholders. The employer brand should also extend to the physical space: ‘intentional design’ sees the work environment as an integral part of the organization’s culture and internal brand experience. It seeks to capture the imagination of employees, enabling them to connect, to be creative and productive, as well as providing a sense of belonging, meaning and shared purpose.  But how, in a new paradigm when so many employees are working remotely, can a distinctive culture be sustained? Enlightened leadership holds the key.

Team leaders, at every level, will need to develop the skills needed to encourage and motivate their team members in ways that embody the organization’s culture and values. They will be the essential, umbilical, connection between their team members and the hub and need to think beyond merely ‘outcomes’ to include ‘moments that matter culturally’, and which can foster trust in the organization. The skills needed to work and lead effectively, while supporting the human needs of their team, are likely to include learning how to empathize better, practicing listening skills and developing new ways to earn the trust and affinity of team players. It is clear that work is increasingly becoming a dynamic experience, rather than a static place and that meeting its changing cultural demands will unlock the potential to build greater resilience and flexibility for the future.

Deloitte is a global leader in helping clients transition towards the benefits of maintaining efficient eco-systems that can adding immense value and flexibility. We also have a specific suite of capabilities dedicated to helping you navigate and prepare for the future of work, as well as hands-on experience gained from implementing new working practices for ourselves and a wide range of client organizations.

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Steve Hatfield

Steve Hatfield

Global Human Capital Growth Leader | Consulting

How can we help your organization?