Posted: 28 Sep. 2020 8 min. read

Workforce strategies, ethics and the Future of Work

In this blog post we explore the fourth element of the 2020 Human Capital Trends report: Perspective. Rachel Phillips, Partner and Head of Workforce Planning and Analytics, and Davinder Kang, Workforce & Talent Analytics Lead, discuss all things around workforce and workforce strategies, from real-time data and productivity, to ethical decision making and the contingent workforce.

Business strategies vs. workforce strategies

An efficient workforce strategy is a key enabler for an effective business strategy. We can align resources within a workforce strategy that help to achieve the goals and outcomes of the business. Workforce strategy has become more prevalent over the last five years - it makes sure that people are able to carry out the work they're doing as effectively as possible. People are a priority and attracting and retaining people is key to the success of the overall business strategy.

The importance of people

The people imperative is going to continue to rise and the employment structure in the UK is a going to change with the expected rise in unemployment. However, the labour market is very vocal and strong in terms of what it wants from its employers. The workforce has a real sense of purpose about what they're doing as well. This means people will be looking for organisations to work for that can deliver on multiple dimensions, not just the basics of simply having a job.

On top of this, regulations will need to be in place to support new business models as organisations strive to adapt and grow in a ‘new world’ and within a recovering economy. Organisations are starting to change how they view their workforce. This rise of the workforce strategy and the Chief People Officer is reflected in the results of our 2020 Human Capital Trends report where 83% of organisations said they produce lots of information on the state of their workforce. This is very topical and organisations do know that the workforce is a real priority. But what's interesting about this is that only 56% said they've made moderate or significant progress in the last ten years, which does suggest that while it's a big priority, there's still quite a way to go. The data aspect and the insight that organisations collect on their workforce is also critical.

Real-time data

Real-time data is an interesting concept, especially when it comes to insights on people and the workforce. Today, only 11% of organisations produce workforce data in real time, but it can be extremely valuable. The ability to track a person's attributes such as location, health or tiredness in real-time is significant and has enabled organisations to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of their workforce. However, at the moment real-time data analysis is only relevant to some specific use cases. Organisations need to understand which use cases it’s relevant for, and what hypothesis they’re trying to answer.

HR and organisations as a whole are being held back by their understanding of what real-time data can really inform. There’s a big question around the ethics of using data that is real time, data that is external or data that's unstructured, versus how much value it really brings. There are now really good examples of smart buildings that can inform bespoke or personalised styles for employees, right down to being able to set the room temperature in meeting rooms based on client preferences. And in the same vein, wearables can produce really helpful data too. From a data protection and GDPR perspective, there's still some catching up to do on really being able to unleash some of the value here.

Productivity metrics

During the COVID-19 pandemic, where significant proportions of the UK’s workforce are working from home, employer’s thoughts revolved around productivity - they’re asking themselves - how do we measure this effectively? How have we measured it in the past? And how should we measure it going forward? At the moment, data sources available for productivity are softer sources around employee experience i.e. sentiment data to understand experiences, feelings and environment data for where your workforces are positioned and what they are doing.

To create a productivity index or to be able to create a maturity index, organisations should start by thinking - what is it that we're trying to change in our environment or gain insight on? Building a framework and then getting a sense of how to answer these questions, and thinking about which types of data to use is an important starting point.

Returning to work in light of COVID-19

Workforce planning is really important. This is the way we leverage data to understand the workforce a little bit better - from a talent and skills and work perspective - along with understanding the external environment and what drives demand in one’s business. It is fundamental for organisations when thinking about what a new operating model is going to look like, so whether that’s returning to the office or a hybrid remote versus physical way of working, or whether it's something completely new! The key to being able to do workforce planning successfully is to assess jobs roles. Roles should be changed for people who are going to remain at home, who will be doing a mixed in-person versus virtual working and so on.

As we think about returning to work, organisations need to understand exactly what these job roles are going to be and how they might have changed. Workforce planning methods can be used to analyse the data that tells us what the demand is for certain job roles and people involved in those job roles. This is all about redesigning the work that's going to be done in future, and then using data to understand what that means for the size and the structure of the workforce. Organisations could fast-track some of this insight by relying on technology or processes to get real visibility of how work has changed.

Balancing the contingent workforce with ethical challenges

The rise of the gig economy workforce model was driven out of the need for flexibility. From the perspective of the labour market demanding flexibility in jobs, as well as organisations needing in-demand skills such as data science and data analytics – and employees being able to move from one job to another with those skills. Being able to constantly learn, grow their careers and remain interested in their work. The contingent workforce has some very strong benefits for both employees and employers. By using the power-by-the-hour workforce, where you have a mass workforce used on zero-hour contracts or short-term contracts, temporary contracts and deployed as needed. Enforcing good practice in managing and deploying a contingent workforce falls under ethical values, where legislation and governance need to catch up.

With contingent-led organisations there’s a lot of things to grapple with. Organisations need to determine the job title of a contingent worker and it should be properly tracked in HRIS systems. Tracking the work that the contingent worker is doing and compensation and also some of the benefits that that worker will get. The contingent worker if often underrepresented when it comes to having the same policies and processes and mechanisms to track and support career development, than you would have for the traditional permanent/semi-permanent workforce.

The shifting workforce and ethics within organisations

In organisations, quantifying ethical behaviour and getting data on ethics can be very difficult. This is because it's not necessarily a KPI which is tracked proactively as a defined metric, as it's very difficult to quantify. It's also challenging because ethical behaviour will necessitate people inputting data information into a system, to their employer. Employees would need to feel they are in an environment where they are able to provide sensitive information.

There can be some data analysis around policies, practices and procedures, and organisations can certainly analyse those types of things to work out a maturity scale, e.g., how strong are your ethics and compliance procedures in regards to those data points. Internal structured data available for ethics and compliance is very difficult. Companies like Glassdoor provide very public reviews of people's contribution in their thinking about how ethical matters are dealt with in certain organisations, and that’s a significant dataset that’s gathered on a public platform and can be accessed for this type of analysis.

Monitoring workforce data to understand shifts in ethics within an organisation and also thinking about the organisation's role in those shifts in ethics is important as well. The increasing use of technology to deliver work and also to deliver products is one example of how the dynamics of the workforce and ethics have changed. The rise of technology within an organisation has a direct impact on the role of the workforce and how companies are using data i.e. the increased use of AI specifically to automate recruitment processes. Also, the way in which organisations are actually changing and disrupting their business models will have a big impact on the role that the human plays in their organisations and therefore, the ethics around that. There are some real challenges in ethical frameworks when it comes to deploying new technology. The advent of AI and additional digital tools has expedited this.

Across specific industries, employees themselves have access to a huge amount of data. And that data is being consolidated and is being pulled together in the form of data lakes and integrated systems. This poses an ethical question too as there's a lot more information and visibility across processes, people, products and customers than there's ever been before. This increases the complexity within the workforce because of the increasing risk that comes with having more access to data and more transparency around what one can do with that. Ethics flow throughout the entirety of the organisation, all the way from the strategy down to the day-to-day business operations. When it comes to using workforce data to monitor shifting ethics in an organisation, it's worth approaching it at all of those different levels.

For more Future of Work insights, check out our Humanising the Future of Work podcast

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Key contacts

Rachel Phillips

Rachel Phillips

Partner, Head of Workforce Planning and Analytics

Rachel is a Partner in our Workforce Transformation practice and brings over 15 years’ experience working with Public Sector clients, such as the Ministry of Home Affairs, Police, Justice and Security authorities globally (Singapore, UAE, UK, USA, Australia, Kenya). This has included work with the Kenyan Ministry of Information to deliver a project under the United Nations / World Bank Transparency initiative. Rachel’s expertise is delivering Workforce Transformation projects. She developed methodology and tools for Strategic Workforce Planning and has led Workforce Planning projects with complex government organisations, globally.

Davinder  Kang

Davinder  Kang


Davinder is a Workforce Insight and Transformation Lead for Financial Services within Deloitte’s Human Capital, practice. She focuses on driving complex global data-driven HR and talent initiatives, spanning multiple business lines. With an MSc in Occupational Psychology and Statistics, combined with her knowledge and experience of working with talent models and capability frameworks, Davinder supports organisations in driving a successful human capital agenda. She has over 10 years experience working with senior executives, building trusted relationships to drive business outcomes. Her recent area of focus has been to leverage analytical methods the latest research and trends in talent to help organisations navigate complex ‘Future of work’ challenges.