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Resilient Work

Transform work, the workforce and the workplace

Developing a resilient approach to work is valuable preparation for the kind of unexpected short-term disruption we have recently experienced. But more than this, it is vital preparation for the long-term where the future of work is going to look very different from the present.

The pandemic

tested the flexibility and responsiveness of work and culture everywhere. It accelerated resilient organisations towards their future goals but tested the rest to breaking point.

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Resilient work for a resilient future

Three considerations along your journey

The path to managing work

The pandemic tested the flexibility and responsiveness of work and culture everywhere. It accelerated resilient organisations towards their future goals but tested the rest to breaking point.

Organisations everywhere have experienced unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic over the past year or so. For those without the resilience to adapt and ride the waves of change it has felt like anything from a white-knuckle ride to a full-blown shipwreck. The vital lesson we have all learnt it is that we can no longer delay our reimagining and restructuring of the way we do work.

Since the disruption, workplaces have never been more remote or disparate, yet resilient organisations have found progressive new ways to embrace flexible team working in ways that would never have been thought practicable a little over a year ago. They have also moved to redefine roles to align with quickly changing customer needs sometimes redeploying staff into completely new activities perhaps leveraging core skills to provide urgent relief in other sectors.

Meanwhile, many future initiatives have been accelerated to bring forward and prioritise more progressive approaches to managing work, the workforce and the workplace the pandemic has caused the future of work to kick-in a lot sooner than many of us had planning. Above all, resilient organisations recognise the untapped potential in humans, they capitalise on the extraordinary adaptability that is often underestimated in the traditional workplace. The surest way to create true resilience, while also deriving the greatest value from the workforce, is to create an environment that provides the opportunity and motivation for talent to flourish.

 

"The vital lesson we have all learnt it is that we can no longer delay our reimagining and restructuring of the way we do work."

The value of work

Work is, maybe, one of the least understood and underutilised sources of value in the modern business environment. This is not as absurd as it might sound. The output generated by workers has, of course, always been self-evident and quantifiable, as have productivity rates and sales results; but the true value of work can be more profound, complex and harder to measure by traditional means. Consider, for example, the ‘soft’ (human) powers generated by motivating others, by creating a compelling sense of shared purpose or by building and reinforcing of loyal relationships that galvanises teams to pull together in times of crisis with individuals within them performing their functions better than had been thought possible?

In most organisations the task for managing soft values, like driving work transformation, keeping up with the pace of change or harnessing what it can bring to the enterprise, has rarely been a board-level responsibility. The pandemic has changed perspectives on this. The soft values of work have risen in prominence as workers have shown the resilience and flexibility to go beyond traditional job specifications and output metrics.

Organisations must rise to the challenge and re-architect work from a future perspective, not as a mechanised process, but as a flow that aligns with the evolving ways that humans think and engage. The future focus of work will switch from maximising output to unleashing potential, from being ‘enablers of productivity’ to ‘creators of value’. Above all, by enabling workers to fulfil their potential we can be confident they will add the most value to our organisation, not only that, but their uniquely human values of adaptability and creativity will be key to the organisation’s future resilience in the face of unexpected change.

Structures

Future work structures will necessarily be more resilient thanks to their greater flexibility and agility in adapting to change, they should also aim to create more meaning and encourage individual creativity. Work, the workforce and the workplace and the interplay between human and technological capabilities will all need to be reimagined so that workers can feel more fulfilled and their potential unlocked, sustained and valued. To achieve this, organisations should aim to shift the focus of work from outputs (i.e., revenue, profit, products) to outcomes (i.e., results not previously achievable).

Work should become something that creates value for customers, the workforce, the organisation and its stakeholders. It should generate a sense of purpose and meaning and build human connections. This change in mindset is critical for achieving results beyond simply doing what is done today cheaper and faster, towards doing what is needed tomorrow, pursuing new outcomes, creating deeper value and building an organisation with the adaptability to change and flex around the needs of its own people because if it can do that well, how much better will it be able to change and flex in response to the needs outside?

Leadership

Leaders will have to be quicker to adapt to the fast-changing nature of work and support the flex needed to respond to change. By empowering employees with the flexibility to fulfil their potential they will not merely be making a commercially expedient decision (this being a key factor in building organisational resilience against future change) but an enlightened one from a progressive human-centric perspective. The latter is likely to be at least as relevant as the former given the rise of more socially-aware boardroom cultures that aim to be more transparent, gender-balanced, racially-diverse and approachable. This will include opening dialogues on tough issues like gender-bias, racism and well-being as well as being more engaged in human issues that stray well beyond the traditional C-suite agenda.

Senior leaders will also increasingly be expected to embody the organisation’s purpose a set of value-driven intentions anchored to social and human interests to unite and motivate employees around shared, meaningful values. The overhaul of the formal work structures of previous decades should also be prioritised to enable organisations to embrace the greater flexibly they are going to need to ride the waves of change and align better with future expectations. This should be considered an ongoing process with continual reevaluation of employee aspirations, as well ongoing reappraisal of the ways in which employees contribute value to the organisation from traditional metrics like cost efficiency and productivity, to more holistic measures like raising stakeholder value or supporting colleagues to help them make an impact that matters.

"Contrary to pre-pandemic scepticism about the practicalities of remote working, most organisations have seen very real advantages to flexible working, including increased productivity, reduced operating costs and improved profitability."

The “phy-gital” workplace

The mass migration from office buildings to home offices during the pandemic led to some surprising conclusions. Contrary to pre-pandemic scepticism about the practicalities of remote working, most organisations have seen very real advantages to flexible working, including increased productivity, reduced operating costs and improved profitability. Employees have been developing new home-based office routines and lifestyle habits, many of which they prefer to their previous ways of working, in fact less than one-third is planning to resume their former work routine when their office reopens. This has obvious benefits for employers who can reduce their fixed costs and increase their agility post-pandemic by maintaining more remote working. But, given that most organisations and the workers within them, will continue to benefit from colleagues spending a certain amount of time in the same physical space, leaders will need to shift their mental model of the workplace from either physical or digital to phy-gital.

This will see the integration of the best of physical and digital realms to create a work culture that supports all environmental and workstyle needs and preferences. It will mean developing an appreciation of the broader scope and technical challenges of working environments (from homes and coffee shops to libraries and publics spaces) as well understanding the relevant social needs including creative collaboration, interactive innovation, idea generation and general emotional support. There should also be strategies to ensure that the organisational structures and culture should be interpreted and maintained across a virtual workplace.

The needs, motivations, perspectives and cultural backgrounds of all workers should also be taken into account to ensure that individual differences and strengths are recognised and leveraged. This phy-gitally-enabled approach could even enrich the social interaction of some workers beyond what they had experienced in their former physical environment a recent study showed that some organisations had been operating in what was effectively a digital workplace (i.e., a screen-based workplace with minimal direct social interaction) within an existing physical workplace. 

Ultimately, the goal must be to redefine the work environment so that it enables workers to deliver their best work possible whilst having the greatest flexibility to adapt to change. The events of the last year have prepared resilient organisations to look to the future, leave outdated workplace models in the past and thrive in the phy-gital future.

Work culture

Work culture and its potential to provide strategic focus and competitive differentiation, is an area of growing interest in the business world, especially given the changes now taking place in workplace dynamics. Numerous studies have shown that an employer brand, the promises it makes and the internal culture that sustains, it has become among the most powerful tools to attract and retain the best talent, as well as heightening the organisation’s appeal to customers, shareholders and stakeholders. The employer brand should also extend to the physical space: ‘intentional design’ sees the work environment as an integral part of the organisation’s culture and internal brand experience. It seeks to capture the imagination of employees, enabling them to connect, to be creative and productive, as well as providing a sense of belonging, meaning and shared purpose.  But how, in a new paradigm when so many employees are working remotely, can a distinctive culture be sustained? Enlightened leadership holds the key.

Team leaders, at every level, will need to develop the skills needed to encourage and motivate their team members in ways that embody the organisation’s culture and values. They will be the essential, umbilical, connection between their team members and the hub and need to think beyond merely ‘outcomes’ to include ‘moments that matter culturally’ and which can foster trust in the organisation. The skills needed to work and lead effectively, while supporting the human needs of their team, are likely to include learning how to empathise better, practising listening skills and developing new ways to earn the trust and affinity of team players. It is clear that work is increasingly becoming a dynamic experience, rather than a static place and that meeting its changing cultural demands will unlock the potential to build greater resilience and flexibility for the future.

Deloitte is a global leader in helping clients transition towards the benefits of maintaining efficient eco-systems that can adding immense value and flexibility. We also have a specific suite of capabilities dedicated to helping you navigate and prepare for the future of work, as well as hands-on experience gained from implementing new working practices for ourselves and a wide range of client organisations.

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