Work re-architected has been saved
Humanizing work in the future of work
There are people that believe the COVID-19 pandemic is an act by a higher power. They point their fingers at those who’ve been hit the hardest; Airlines, the shopping districts fueled by consumerism, the destructive meat industry. But if you look closely, you will see that they’re pointing at the hedonist, the man who flies to Bali for a dime, who shops until he drops and eats meat until he passes out. The moral of this story is: if humans won’t change, the world as we know it will be wiped out and with it – humanity.
You do not necessarily have to believe in a higher power in order to see the morality within this crisis. In a short period of time, we were able to pinpoint the weakest links within the processes and systems that keep our world turning – from our governance to world economy, production chains, distribution of wealth, climate policies and our ways of working. We have been confronted with a new reality that focuses us to critically reassess the old. Can this be different? Better?
These are not new questions. But, as we are slowly making our way out of this crisis, realizing that there are more fundamental crises ahead of us, these are the questions that keep organizations worldwide awake at night. Increasingly, organizations are realizing their role and responsibility towards this should be used to make a difference. Above all, the pandemic forced organizations back to their core: in the end, it’s all about people. It’s about human principles like ethics and justice, meaningful work, personal growth and passion, working and being together, transparency and openness. These are the factors that make us human, but at times can apparently be easily replaced by efficiency, innovation and short term vision.
2020 will go down in history as a disastrous year, but also one that has brought us many things; organizations have rediscovered the human factor, and alongside that, the right way to add sustainable value – to the organization itself, to their employees, and to society. One thing’s for sure: work will never be the same again, but we are still left questioning what it will become.
Work is more than just output
In Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends-report1 , 61 percent of the executives have the ambition to re-architect work. However, what is “work”? We often discuss commuting and achieving a good work-life balance, but hardly discuss the work itself. Work seems to be a given- the office we go to to do things to earn money, an entity strictly separated from the rest of our lives. Work is more than just the output it creates. For many of us it is entwined with a purposeful goal in life, a motivation, a passion, a possibility to form meaningful relations and focus on personal development. It is nearly impossible to separate our work from our private lives. The rise of technology and smartphones has allowed us to be constantly available, bringing our work to our homes- and vice vera. Work is no longer one designated process, but rather a flow that fits human nature: the way we think, acquire ideas and develop, work together and connect with others.
Work is managed as a straightforward process in organizations. The growth of technologies should streamline work processes and make them more efficient, but they don’t necessarily make the worker’s life easier. We see many technological systems with their own functionalities but they are not created around what works best for the employee. There are systems for cooperation, communication, knowledge sharing, storing of data, performance review and many more and employees often work in ten or more of those systems per day. Employees upload the same data multiple times in different systems, find contradicting information and have trouble finding the right knowledge that is stored somewhere in the organization. For example, the average district nurse needs to use several systems and platforms to register, upload and check information per house call. This consequently increases the burden of administrative tasks, decreases job satisfaction and hinders qualitative time with the patient.
So, it is debatable how useful the current technologies are when they’re not designed around the people who are actually doing the work. This becomes clearer as research shows that productivity was in decline in the past decade, while technology investments, hypothetically making work more efficient, were rising.
Necessity knows no law
Lessons can be learned from 2020. When the whole world went into lockdown, productivity in for example the US rose. And they rose faster than number of working hours, showing that there was not necessarily a correlation between productivity and longer hours. In this new mindset, there was a change in thinking: the longstanding rules and expectations, often traditional and strict in thinking, about how work was meant to be done were broken. So, when necessity knows no law, organizations are suddenly more than able to put aside administrative restrictions allowing for opportunities; slowly, the focus shifted towards working (together) based on trust instead of rules. Deloitte research in Europe showed what the main factor was for coping with the changes brought about by COVID-19: trust from leadership and colleagues.2
In organizations where working from home was not the norm, rules became more flexible. Meetings became both shorter and more efficient, and Zoom and Microsoft Teams allowed substitution for in person meetings. Many organizations were forced to embrace the digital way of working. KLM and ActiZ, the Dutch trade association for elderly care, collaborated to provide KLM personnel who lost their jobs opportunities in heath care. In Germany, McDonald’s employees whose location had been closed, were redirected to ALDI stores that needed extra hands. This nontraditional exchange of labor would have been unlikely pre-pandemic.
Agility became more important and we see a new focus on work-life balance. Many organizations acknowledge that it is almost impossible for employees to separate their work and personal lives under the current circumstances. Organizations are taking responsibility by not just by offering the chance for time off or by organizing wellbeing activities, but also by re-architecting work to create space for autonomy. Many organizations are bringing attention to this eminent new normal by thinking about the best way to implement hybrid working: both virtually as well as in the office.
A new holistic way of working
And with that, 2020 has brought a light to fundamental questions. If we really want to re-architect work, we need to let go of the idea that existing processes need to be improved. It is not about automation and efficiency, but about going back to the drawing table and making humans the focal point.
The new way of working does not mean everyone needs to forget about the office and start working remotely. But it is also not as simple as pushing a button and adding a new technology, platform or workflow. For true re-architecting work we look at a new, holistic way of working where technology is used to optimize the human factor: let the technology do what technology does best, so that people have the space to do what we do best. By looking at the new way of working in this light and designing work focused directly on the employee, business results will improve leading to a healthier and happier workforce. Well designed work stimulates personal growth, maximizes impact, improves job satisfaction and generates a measurable benefits.
The moral of the story is: this crisis offers us an opportunity we cannot and should not refuse. According to American economist Milton Friedman “Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change”. So when we find ourselves in this crisis, the actions that are taken are dependent on the ideas that are available. And there are plenty right now: the crisis has taught us valuable lessons about our workers’ wellbeing and flexibility in working together while apart, which has led to many improved business outcomes. The only thing we need to do is bring these valuable insights to life.
Dutch version via Management Scope: https://managementscope.nl/opinie/werk-is-niet-meer-wat-het-was