READ the May 2021 issue of our magazine: EMPOWERING 'EXPERIENCE'
How do you like your job at that company?” This is a question that friends often ask each other when comparing notes about different employers. The various answers to this question often shape the reputation of an organization as a good place to work (or not). Leaders in Human Resources will hope that the answer to this question provides a resounding endorsement of the employee value proposition. The employee experience has been studied in many organizations in hopes of understanding the nature of the job, the workplace environment, and how time at work is experienced.
With many workplaces operating in more of a virtual mode currently, our assumptions about employee experience may be challenged. After all, if we were to ask people how they like their work environment over the last several months, most might reply with a retort such as: “My workplace is my living room… it seems fine!” Recent trends suggest that it is time to rethink and potentially redefine how we curate the employee experience in relation to time, place, and task.
Over the past year, many organizations have created new ways of working, a heightened sense of human connection, and in some cases a unique manner of interacting. People used to come to a specific place at a specific time to do specific work… while this is still the case for some jobs, our research suggests that at least 60% have some degree of flexibility – and up to 40% have total flexibility as knowledge work dominates much of the service sector. While there are many factors, let’s look at the potential shifts of work in three dimensions:
1. Time Continuum: Specific Time -to- Any Time
2. Place Continuum: Specific Place -to- Any Place
3. Task Continuum: Specific Tasks -to- Any Tasks
- Time Continuum: As access and connections became ubiquitous, many knowledge workers gradually found themselves to be in “Always on” mode as technology and mobile nearly became an extension of our body. The pandemic crisis forced many managers into overdrive to manage the rapid changes, uncertainty, and issues in a business requiring immediate and all hours support. As the situation stabilizes and we look post-pandemic, we see work time making a shift to more specific times: New rules in Europe limiting the “any time” phenomenon; Leaders stopping the 24/7 responsive email culture; Firms declare no meeting times/days; Managers create no camera days; People managers want to create more sense of “flexibility” vs. “always on.” While customers will continue to expect instant responses, organizations are now shifting on the continuum for the health and well-being of their employees. Rather than an overall shift, we see this as situational based on the industry, role, and culture.
- Place Continuum: Many professionals were enabled by technology to work in a variety of locations. In many parts of the world, work from home models became a part of a more flexible work balance as laptops became standard. However, the COVID-19 responses dramatically shifted the entire world to virtual as office buildings were shuttered and lockdowns forced people to work from home. Jobs that were “impossible” to perform remotely, were suddenly “possible” as businesses re-worked processes, technologies, security, and data management to ensure business continuity. As we look toward offices reopening, many are challenging the prior assumptions about where work is performed. We expect to see many organizations making big shifts to hybrid models: Desk/Office sharing; JIT Offices; Global in-office days; All-in Jam Sessions; Geographic flexibility with regular virtual and physical social interactions. Of course, managing the virtual and hybrid workspace requires new shifts in people management, considerations for company culture, and a reset of expectations.
- Task Continuum: For decades, manufacturing firms have been shifting from repetitive assembly line roles to team-based structures to allow for task variety, job enrichment, and a focus on quality. Professional and office roles have often been overlooked when it comes to considering task variety. Google’s effort to allow technology professionals to work on anything for 20% of their time was an innovative step. During the COVID lockdowns, those organizations with rigid roles aligned to tasks had a more challenging time in adjusting to the rapid changes needed. Many companies are now relooking at the need for task flexibility, cross-training, and team-based structures to address the need to be more agile. Going forward, we expect to see more firms shift on the continuum: Self-managed team task management; Job sharing and rotation; Job enlargement; and Cross-training to create more meaning in work activities while also building a foundation for agility.
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As we re-calibrate the nature of work along these three dimensions, leading employers have the opportunity to re-define the employee experience to align with the new ways of working. Several areas related to employee experience emerge:
- Onsite Experience – with many people working remotely, how important will the office facilities feature in the employee experience? Many human capital leaders are already working with facilities planners to create more common spaces if many employees will do their independent tasks from home. Re-considering a more powerful onsite experience can create positive energy toward the organization and the onsite community gatherings.
- Collaboration – with employees in both onsite and off-site modes of work, how do employers ensure that the right levels of collaboration are being managed both within work teams as well as across functional areas. Recent insights over the past year have given rise to the importance of casual interactions within teams as well as across teams as a means to avoid conflict and improve problem-solving. It can be important to consider how collaboration is orchestrated as part of the employee experience.
- Innovation Orientation – while not all roles involve high levels of creativity, many people are involved in managing unique situations that can require ambiguous or dynamic work efforts. Differentiating between those who are primarily executing tasks more repetitively compared to others who must consider creativity, can help employers address the employee experiences in our new modes of working.
- Manager Interaction – in some cases, a high degree of manager support and guidance is needed due to the nature of the role. With new modes of working, it is even more critical for managers to be trained on how they support people with an inclusive approach. When a role is more manager-dependent, it is important to consider how and where the work is performed to optimize the performance, but also create a positive employee experience.
Since people are experiencing work in different ways today and we are re-designing how work is performed in virtual, hybrid, and physical office modes, we must also revisit our assumptions about employee experience in these key areas. The old ways of managing employee engagement, communication, collaboration, innovation, and management are being challenged and human capital leaders are starting to refocus in these areas.
As we look out to the future, how might our virtual workforce answer the question, “How do you like your job at that company?” My hope is that we will have thought about the employee experience in a multi-dimensional way to elicit a positive response on work in the future.