Since the 9-to-5 workday came into being in the 1900s - mainly to suit the assembly line manufacturing set-ups - not only has it cultivated deep and strong roots, but also given a clear upper hand to the corporates. A typical day of a worker was clearly designed by the employer, be it the number of working hours or the shift timings or even break schedules. What needs to be done, how it needs to be done, when it needs to be done and where it needs to be done was heavily regimented.
Now that times have changed and we have ushered in the services economy which involves a high degree of individual work, creativity and innovation, the world of work has maintained its old rhythm and routine. Be it a manual worker or a modern-day knowledge employee, the approach to handling a person’s work schedule and in fact every other aspect around work has remained more or less unchanged.
When the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic hit us, it started triggering unconventional thoughts and reflections that challenge the fundamentals of corporate working in many ways. Questions like - Is the work still SOP driven? Do employees actually need to sit together physically and work synchronously? Do we always need to be co-located and operating within the 9 – 5 workday? These and more such questions started occupupying people’s minds.
When workers en masse were forced to move to remote work, which was the first time ever for the majority, they suddenly experienced a work day where they had a flexibility to plan their day towards meeting job and other important commitments - e.g. working parents could manage their children and aging parents at home. This fundamental change has now left many believing that they do not want to go back to the earlier regimented way of working. Backed by knowledge and flexibility, employees now have the ball in their court.
In other words, COVID-19 has shifted the power dynamics, finally placing the worker in the driver’s seat of their career, replacing the traditional ways of working which had remained unchallenged till now.
Now that remote work and flexibility demands are a reality, organisations mandating work from office as they did in pre-COVID days are facing backlash, challenges, and imminent threats to their talent pool. With businesses expanding and the evident shortage of required skill sets, employees know that they can easily find a job that offers flexibility and would choose a job that offers what they need over one that does not. They are more likely to quit to find a better job or speak up to seek improvements in their working conditions at the current job. Certainly, workers now have more power than ever in deciding and designing their careers and can choose to work with corporations that offer the desired value proposition.
Well, it’s not only a question of flexibility. An equally important aspect to many is the heightened autonomy and effectiveness in meeting life and work demands, pursuing hobbies, devoting time to other critical aspects like self-learning, and so on. In some cases, people have realised that they don’t want to return to one employer at all. Armed with skill sets and aspiring to achieve effectiveness, many are out to tap the opportunities which the evolving gig economy has to offer. The future of the workforce, work, and workers has changed for sure!
From the employer’s perspective, this shift is going to be massive and with many ramifications. The need of the hour is to evolve a hybrid remote-office model of working which is likely to balance the flexibility offered by remote work, coupled with the benefits of social interactions which is needed for creativity and innovation to happen.
We present this figure to depict how the employee is at the centre of action now. The key shifts required by the organisations being – Career, Connect, and Organisational Culture, underpinned by leadership mindsets. These in turn will enable the much needed trust, flexibility and autonomy for the employees.
Career growth is an important consideration for employees and is playing a critical role in both attraction and retention. The definition of career itself has changed, a majority of employees now prefer flatter organisations which provide faster access to decision making, policy making and strategising as compared to tall hierarchies with multiple layers between the C-Suite and the last mile employee in the structure. With the growing number of unicorn start-ups, employees are increasingly experiencing this compared to larger organisations. Faster growth with timely rewards and recognition which offers not only a sense of growth, but real growth is now a clear and non-negotiable need of employees.
A strong connection and bond with the employer is driven by transparent communication. It starts right from a great onboarding experience, opportunities to continuously bond with the team. Frequent leadership connects, timely feedback on performance, and supportive leadership behaviours play an important role in building a long term bond with the organisation. Creating an environment which allows employees to take risks, embrace failures, and enjoy opportunities to re-learn, upskill and contribute towards the organisation’s vision all impact the employer image positively. In all of these, people managers have a great role to play, specifically in displaying emotional intelligence to manage people in a hybrid working environment.
COVID-19 has also taught us that a culture of flexibility, autonomy and trust can facilitate a long term association between employer and employees. Organisations need to re-orient to explore options beyond the ‘one-size-fits-all’ office solution. For example, sharing of spaces can be experimented in altogether new ways. A clear choice can be placed in the hands of employees: to work 100% remotely or in a hybrid fashion with flexible compensation and benefits offered.
Flexi-work timings and the option to work from anywhere can make an employer really attractive. Clarity of deliverables, technology to support collaboration, and platforms to unleash creativity can make a job into a real dream job!
Organisations which are able to deliver on the 3 Cs of “Connect, Career and Culture will definitely have a competitive advantage in this new era of work. Not compromising on the business results or values, but rather using these levers effectively can drive attraction, engagement, retention and work-life balance for the employees. It’s the right time to balance the power equation between employees and employers and make it win-win for both!