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FIVE LESSONS THE PANDEMIC HAS TAUGHT US ABOUT THE FUTURE OF WORK

Nicki Hay, VP HR Global Functions and Chief Development Office - DHL Supply Chain.

The ongoing pandemic crisis shows us that organizations which use disruption as an opportunity to embody human qualities will thrive.

Given the tidal wave of disruption that we have experienced over the past 12 months, speculating about the future of work seems brave – after all, nobody could possibly have predicted the events of 2020.

But in the way COVID has shaken our work lives to their foundations, while also often bringing out the best in us at work, I think there are some strong clues as to how we can see the future of work shaping up. And the good news is, that – while technology and automation will play a big part – it seems likely that future workplaces will be even more reliant on essentially human qualities than they were before.

What is the future of work?
COVID-19 has profoundly impacted businesses, wherever they are in the world and in whatever sector they operate. A recent Gartner survey of over 800 HR leaders found certain trends coming out of the COVID-impacted workplace that certainly chime with us at DHL: namely the increase in the number of remote workers, the prioritization of resilience, and the renewed focus on crisis response.

But in addition to those, I want to throw into the mix some thoughts on the lessons that COVID has taught me about how the future of work could look – certainly at DHL Supply Chain, and probably more widely.

Flexibility to perform
Part of our approach to our customers’ supply chains is about enabling flexibility so that they can handle the peaks and troughs of seasonality and demand. In the same way, COVID-19 has meant that we have had to embrace flexibility ourselves. At the start of 2020 we needed that flexibility in order to quickly adapt our operations to work safely, provide PPE, adjust colleague numbers at sites and introduce split shift systems.

In the future we also need to enable the flexibility for people to adapt their skillsets.

In the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey, executives identified “the ability of their people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles” as the top-ranked item to navigate future disruptions, with 72% selecting it as the most important or second most important factor. Further, 41% of executives said that building workforce capability through upskilling, reskilling, and mobility is one of the most important actions they are taking to transform work.

Similarly, we need to allow flexibility for our remote workers and accept that the fact that somebody has to home school their children during the day doesn’t mean their work won’t get done. It will – but perhaps over different hours. With the world as it is today, we need to approach remote working with empathy and provide the flexibility for people to perform.

Trusting our people
Another lesson of the pandemic is that employers need to – and can – trust their people. It’s my firm belief that at DHL Supply Chain we do not employ anyone who does not want to deliver. This is a huge organization but our results show that everyone is wholly committed, and we’ve seen that demonstrated throughout the pandemic. When the going has gotten tough, people have got their jobs done in the most trying of circumstances – and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been on site or in the office.

It wasn’t so long ago that a common management attitude was that if you weren’t ‘visible’, you weren’t being productive and you weren’t doing your job properly. Nowadays, thanks to technology – as we’ve seen over the last year – people are capable of doing just about everything that they would do in an office from their own homes.

The use of conferencing and chat platforms is now ubiquitous in DHL, as are employee engagement tools and apps from; brainstorming ideas on a virtual whiteboard to newsfeeds, messaging and broadcasting functionality.

I think COVID has accelerated this environment where we can trust people to deliver and often more quickly than before. Whereas in the past, we might have workshopped projects in person – bringing people together from various locations – we’ve seen that we can do it on a Teams call and get things actioned much quicker.

Yes, it can be beneficial to have people there in the same room with you, but when that isn’t possible, we now know that we can trust people to make it work if they have to.

Culture of health and wellbeing
That new reality of remote working does bring with it the need for attention to people’s mental health and wellbeing.  Given that it seems unlikely offices are going to be full again any time soon, it’s something that is going to become an increasing concern.

At the heart of everything we do at DHL Supply Chain is the question: “How are our people? Are they OK, and how can we support them?

But it isn’t just about what you’d normally regard as mental health issues in the more severe sense of the term – it’s also to do with allowing people to achieve a balance in their life when the home is also their workplace.

We know that people can struggle with the isolation,and the pressures of things like combining work with home schooling. We don’t want anyone to feel like they are sub-par in their job and certainly not sub-par as a parent. When families have parents working from home and children who are remote learning, it really is tough to keep all those plates spinning.

We have started trialling some online wellbeing classes that have been well-received, and we are currently analysing the kind of support that our people want and need.

Achieving that balance has to be a part of any modern organization’s DNA.

Online training that reflects the new reality
Like most other things this past year, our training has moved largely online and we have spent significant amounts of time creating e-learning curriculums.

The pandemic has provided us with the opportunity to review our existing training tools and platforms, and accelerate improvements that reflect the new reality. For example, to accommodate remote working  we provide training and resources for employees to access anytime, anywhere.

Our philosophy is to encourage the idea of learning as a lifelong journey by offering courses ranging from, studying a new language to becoming certified as a “green specialist”. Whether it’s training our workers to run robots in the warehouse, drivers to adopt route optimisation or our sales force to go digital in maintaining customer relationships. We have comprehensive programmes in place to train and upskill and we continually update the content and functionality to maintain relevance and attract our employee’s interest.

Our internal certified training programme – Certified Supply Chain Specialist (CSCS) – is a comprehensive training programme to on-board new joiners. We have migrated that online and included interactive elements to retain the same personal, fun element that was there in the physical modules that we previously ran. These sessions are great as they instil a sense of our culture and purpose, while equipping our teams with the basic knowledge to perform their tasks.

Connecting with the people around us
At DHL Supply Chain, we define our purpose as Connecting People, Improving Lives. It’s never been more relevant than it has over the past year, as we have continued to keep the flow of goods and critical supplies moving.

But connecting people doesn’t only apply to our work for our customers – it’s something that we pride ourselves on internally as well.

Employee engagement is always a top priority for us. In fact, one of our strategic pillars revolves around forming a team of Connected People – ensuring we keep one another safe and engaged, collaborate as a diverse team to deliver high performance and strive to be certified and passionate experts in our tasks.

Over the last few months, we have been creative in engaging our workforce, arranging virtual get-togethers and team-building exercises. For our annual Employee Opinion Survey (EOS) where employees submit responses anonymously, we further sharpened our focus on team collaboration and people engagement to ensure we are getting timely feedback from employees. This year, we achieved a hugely impressive 95% response rate from employees.

A very human future for the workplace
As we continue to work our way through the pandemic, I believe that – behind the generation-defining disruption – we can begin to discern some signs that give us hope that out of this will come some positives about the way that we work together.

By definition, as HR professionals we are each of us a ‘people person’. It should therefore give us cause for optimism that the future of work might encapsulate those very human attributes of adaptability and trust, as well as a deeper appreciation of wellbeing, transparency, learning and forming connections with the people around us.

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