The future of work is here and it’s more human than ever
Accenture’s Remote Working and the Human Experience report highlights the many benefits and positives for employees and employers as we adjust to our new reality
“As we adjust to a new normal in how work can be done, now is the time for employers to reimagine their employee experience and to fundamentally disrupt institutional culture,” says Audrey O’Mahony, Accenture’s talent and organisation managing director. Photograph: Getty Images
One of the potential benefits of the Covid-19 crisis has been the acceleration in the journey towards the future of work. Changes in working practices which had been thought may require years to accomplish have been adopted virtually overnight.
This move to widescale home and remote working has been facilitated by technology but, according to Accenture’s talent and organisation managing director Audrey O’Mahony, the future of work is still about people.
“As we adjust to a new normal in how work can be done, now is the time for employers to connect with their people, to reimagine their employee experience and to fundamentally disrupt institutional culture,” she says.
“Despite all the recent business challenges, what we have actually seen so far is a spike in productivity. The question now for employers is how do they sustain this and how do they support their people in the long term in this new model.”
Leading employers are starting to look beyond merely facilitating a workforce to work remotely. They are aiming towards building a more skilled, more agile and resilient workforce of the future.
Several leaders had already seen the writing on the digital wall, O’Mahony believes. “At Accenture we help clients with business transformation and my job is to work with them on helping the workforce navigate this transformation, adapt to the technology changes so they unlock the potential of their people,” she explains.
“Increasingly, we are seeing recognition among the C-suite that if they want to differentiate with customers, and steer their businesses through on-going uncertainty, they need to think about how they manage their workforce and how they lead and engage their people as well as equip them to learn, to change and adapt.”
Work is changing
The nature of work itself is changing. “New technologies such as machine learning, robotics, cloud, blockchain and applied intelligence are creating jobs and this job creation is enabling human beings to do more uniquely human work. Acceleration towards more automation is a key trend as we emerge from the crisis, potentially taking away the repetitive tasks, freeing up people to do the work that only humans can do,” O’Mahony points out.
How work is structured is changing as well. “Organisational structures and models are changing. Employers have to think about how work gets allocated and distributed, and how it gets done. We sometimes talk about the four Bs when it comes to accessing talent; the traditional levers like buying (recruiting), building (re-skilling at scale), now also borrowing (tapping into much broader talent eco-systems) and finally bot-ing (using automation). Talent leaders are now exploring the right blend of these four constituents as they prepare for the future and thinking about what that means for their people,” she says.
And then the challenge of making decisions around workforce strategy can be compounded by the not-so-small matter of demographics. “Many employers will have several generations working for them,” O’Mahony notes. “Creating an employee proposition in that context as well as thinking about how and where to invest will be critical.”
O’Mahony believes the experience of Covid-19 has brought about an inflection point for employers. “Most organisations have been surprised at the pace of execution of remote working and the productivity gains it has delivered. They are asking what the right way is to do it for the long term. They recognise that the way we can work has fundamentally changed, but they also need to plan for greater fluidity and agility as they plan through uncertainty.”
[Find out more about Accenture’s Remote Working and the Human Experience report here.]
As business models and channels have been disrupted by Covid-19, there is a window for a significant shift in mindset at C-suite level. “Right now, employers are very open to new conversations about different ways of working. They have experienced how flexibility has improved the metabolic rate of the business, and the pace of change forced on them by the Covid-19 crisis has left some employers looking at how to capitalise on the workforce’s appetite and ability to change,” she says.
The really encouraging thing for Irish employers is that our research shows that 80 per cent of workers think their employers are doing the right thing in their response to Covid-19
This could bring about transformations in operating models. “There is an opportunity to re-wire the DNA of organisation,” O’Mahony claims. “In particular, there is an opportunity to look at traditional hierarchies and decision-making structures, to build more fluid teams or organisational networks, that are multi-disciplinary, that are equipped and empowered to make decisions. Giving greater autonomy to people at all levels, being more trusting and inclusive and creating safe spaces for people to ideate and experiment paves the way for being able to change.
“When we are helping clients transform, we spend time gaining a deep understanding of the challenges facing their workforce,” O’Mahony explains. “Many struggle to create a personalised experience for their employees and to prioritise how they want people to feel in work. Employers overlook this at their peril, as we know so much of what drives our actions in work is emotional, so really listening to your people and understanding and responding to their needs is key.”
She also points to evidence that shows that transformation and change processes don’t fail because of technology failure but because of lack of trust and psychological safety in organisations.
“The really encouraging thing for Irish employers is that our research shows that 80 per cent of workers think their employers are doing the right thing in their response to Covid-19. Employers now have an opportunity to foster trust among their employees. That will be critically important when it comes to navigating the challenges they face over the next 12 to 18 months as they emerge from this,” says O’Mahony.
“Also, almost half of those who never worked from home previously now plan to work from home more often in the future. But employers need to balance that with a recognition that many employees are actually struggling with remote work. Implementing a remote working solution requires gaining a much better understanding of the workforce and taking a human centric approach. If employers specifically focus on looking after the morale, wellbeing and engagement of their people, extensive evidence tells us that productivity will look after itself.”
Reskilling for the future
There is also a very strong emphasis on re-skilling the workforce for future needs. This represents a marked, but very welcome change, according to O’Mahony. “Accenture research has found that between 2017 and 2019, organisations doubled their investment in digital capability, but only one in five increased its spend on re-skilling in the same period. There was a big gap between the two and, whilst we are beginning to see some improvement in re-skilling efforts, it is not happening at the scale or pace necessary,” she notes.
We are helping organisations unlock the full potential of their people by helping them foster a culture of learning and agility
“Organisations significantly invest in creating a brilliant customer experience but not on thinking about the employee experience of executing tasks. But actually, the real business case for automation lies in the fact that the more we can automate tasks, the more an organisation can focus employees on doing the work that humans really love to do. This means requiring them to double down on their uniquely human characteristics like problem-solving, designing, being empathetic, applying judgement and so on. By enabling employees to continually exercise these creative muscles, organisations can tap into uncapped potential.”
On a positive note, there is clear evidence that employers are beginning to focus more on workforce issues. “Accenture interviewed 14,000 people around the world in our largest ever piece of Future of Work research,” says O’Mahony. “Almost 70 per cent of business leaders cited talent and the ability to repurpose the workforce for future needs as one of their top three concerns. There is some nervousness around the ability of the workforce to travel at the pace required, but actually most employees are eager to make the journey. When we surveyed the workforce, three quarters of employees know they need to continue to re-skill to stay relevant and, interestingly, they are expecting their employers to invest in them on this journey,” she adds.
These trends are now aligning, according to O’Mahony. “The disruption of the Covid-19 crisis has created a catalyst to reinvent and already responsible leaders are starting to lead the charge in this area. We are helping them unlock the full potential of their people by helping them foster a culture of learning and agility; learning that gives people the skills to do their jobs brilliantly and empowers them to determine new ways of working that drive better outcomes for business.”
Find out more about Accenture’s Remote Working and the Human Experience report here.