Nobody can be in any doubt that so far this decade, major forces have been affecting both employers and employees, creating a very different world of work in the process. The emergence of this new workplace is full of both opportunities and risks.
During the pandemic, employers worked hard to create a world of work designed with collaboration, support and involvement in mind. Many also now have a working from home policy in place, but with these new-found freedoms comes a warning. Handled poorly, the new frontiers of work being created by hybrid and virtual offerings risk turning into a “Wild West” – uncharted and lawless.
Early evidence points to a range of problems. A new survey from CIPHR suggests that staff who work from home are more likely to quit their job (more than 82% of employers with staff working from home have seen increased numbers of resignations). In its report, Is remote work sustainable? RingCentral found nearly half of employees struggled with group work during the pandemic period; while more than half felt their employer did not make significant attempts to help them collaborate remotely. Office for National Statistics data, meanwhile, backs up the concern that remote workers are less likely to be promoted. And a 2021 Robert Walters survey among business professionals working remotely found that 53% felt ‘overworked’, while 39% were ‘exhausted’.
More flexible working arrangements are here to stay and will also bring the potential for important benefits to organisations in terms of employee engagement, productivity and loyalty. But the year ahead will involve trying to find the right regime for taming the “Wild West” of work: questions over how to harness the potential of the new frontiers of work while understanding and limiting the risks and the new pain points that they bring. Too many employers believe that IT tools and regular Zoom catch-ups alone will be enough to deliver a hybrid future that will work.
All of this makes examples of HR best practice more relevant than ever. The World of Work Trends Report for 2022, based on research among our 1,857 Certified Top Employers provides insights into what’s being done around the world in response to the challenges, as well as some gaps in practice that are being addressed.
In general, the use of internal social technology has helped new working environments to prosper, as has more supportive managerial practices, focusing on well-being and more frequent pulse surveys. This has made it easier for many employers to make working from home more effective.
More than four in five (81%) of certified organisations now have a working from home policy in place, although fewer are fully convinced yet that it works as well as it could. 68% say they are consistently optimising the employee journey through remote working, however there is still room to be doing more. More than one in five (22%) still have not specified what seems appropriate in their working from home policy, while a further 6% have no working from home policy at all.
Nearly all employers now know and accept that giving employees flexibility will not impact negatively on productivity. But this new world of work will place more responsibility on employees to be secure in their working practices. Freedom and flexibility will inevitably mean less control for companies with their data, documents and intellectual property. This can be a source of risk — so it is vital that all employees are supported to interpret and adhere to ethical rules and standards.
Digital HR is being seen as more of a priority and a key to driving a deeper level of integration within teams and transforming the overall experience of employees. 81% of Top Employers carry out consistent and regular assessment of their HR technology; and digital HR overall has risen from 12th place as a priority up to 8th. Three-quarters (76%) say they have a vision for the role of digital HR in shaping the overall employee experience. And 41% of Top Employers are already mapping the employee journey to provide the best digital employee experience.
Internal networks and the sharing of knowledge is increasing in importance in the new workplace models. Our research suggests that Top Employers generally feel that their workplace is collaborative in design. Cross-functional and departmental networking is made easier through online networks or regular meetings, company-wide social events, etc. For all organisations, there will also be a hidden danger underlying their networks. For example, barely a third of Top Employers evaluate the effectiveness of their networks, and only 6 in 10 set standards for the formal networks that they do use.
Development of a culture of trust and transparency is currently only eighth out of thirteen suggested people strategy priorities. This may be understandable, given the focus on the more urgent priorities faced by organisations to existential challenges over the past two years — or it may reflect the trust already placed by organisations in their employees. Either way, given the degree and nature of changes to working practices, the challenges around supervision and communications, there is a need for a re-assessment of trust and transparency issues.
Against a background of more employees working from home and the power of today’s social networks there are inevitably risks, such as the rapid and uncontrollable spread of data and documents. Issues around trust and transparency may need to be resolved through better communication, education and training. For example, the transfer of information is a serious matter when it comes to company materials and classified information and compliance training is already mandatory in some organisations. Put simply, those with a remote workforce need to work even harder to involve employees with handling these concerns. Businesses will also need to monitor their ethics and integrity programmes and encourage feedback from employees in their development. And they will need to give training on how to drive high ethical standards deep into the organisation.
Lessons around the implications of hybrid and virtual working need to be learnt quickly. No one has found an ideal formula for HR practice in this area, as relationships and attitudes keep on evolving. To move out of the “Wild West period” for good, employers will need to stay in touch with what’s working and how and find ways to benchmark themselves against the best.