Sunday, 19 July 2015

The future of work - think employee experience

Everybody now knows that the world of work has been disrupted. During the past years, many organisations have learned slow and painful lessons about how to adapt the way they work and do business.

On some measures rates of change are spreading across the world: new technology such as enterprise social networks; business models like the free-lance economy; different generations working together - Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers (not to mention our near future colleagues, the Gen Z); and modalities of communication such as mobile interactions, are just a few influences.

Exploring how the workplace is evolving remains within the ambit of many researchers. But Jacob Morgan, the author of The Future of Work and co-founder of the Future Of Work Community has studied, worked with and advised companies for over a decade to help them understand "how to create better experiences for employees," as he puts it.

I wanted to explore with Morgan what the future of work is going to look like. In this interview, he shares his views on a new type of management, the digital workplace and diversity at work. Plus, what he thinks the strengths and the weaknesses of the sharing economy are.

Gloria Lombardi: In your book you encourage organisations to think about and foster a "very different place to work." What does that mean? 

Jacob Morgan: There are a couple of important trends to consider. Firstly, the big global trends that are impacting the future of work - from globalisation, to Millennials entering the workforce, new technology and behaviours invading the company and the rise of mobility.

Secondly, the specific changes that we are going to see in the future of work. Over the next ten years we will see a focus on employee experience. It is about thinking of how employees interact with the company they work for and create a great experience for them - from how the individual finds that job to how they work there and what happens when they leave.

It also includes thinking of new ways to help staff shape their careers, giving them the technology that they want to use - it is about giving them a workplace environment where they feel they can succeed. It is basically re-thinking what it means to work and create a place where employees want to show up.

GL: Which companies are doing well at creating a compelling employee experience?

JM: A great example comes from Cisco. They are very focused on making sure that their employees want to be part of the company; they constantly think about what they can do to improve HR processes and all sort of people management programs.

Cisco employees can work from anywhere in the world, set their own schedules and use their own technologies. There is not a very rigid hierarchy. Also, their offices are beautiful and technologically advanced.

You go to a place like Cisco and say 'I want to work for a company like this one'. It is a fascinating environment - very different than working from 9 to 5 in a cubicle where managers always tell you what to do.

GL: Where should more conservative organisations start to move towards those new approaches? 

JM: The simplest thing to start from is to listen to what employees are talking about, care about and want. Employees would give you all the information you need if you are ready to listen - from how they prefer to work to what they value and believe in.

It is up to you as an organisation to make the changes based on what employees are telling you.
Also, you need different functions being involved and collaborating. HR and the whole team of talent definitely have an important role in driving what the future of work is going to look like. But, you also need technology and communication professionals.

GL: You write about the digital workplace as something that every organisation needs to create

JM: Organisations have to create their digital workplace. It is the next evolution of how work is going to be done. In the world that we are living today and the world that we are living towards, if you don't focus on digital transformation you are going to have many troubles in future.

The best way to move quickly and keep up with the changes is to experiment and ensure to have the right team and resources to empower that testing. Just like anything in our personal lives, when new technologies emerge, you test them; and if they are right for you, then you keep using them. Organisations need to have the same level of agility internally.

GL: How is this impacting on management practices?

JM: A very different model of management is emerging today. Before, it was the employee's job to support and do what the manager said - it was their job to make managers look good.

The big shift that we are seeing now is that the manager exists to make the employee look good - the manager is supposed to encourage and empower staff like if they were a coacher or a mentor. This model is going to spread even further in future - managers are there to help employees.

GL: Could you give me a concrete example, which shows the benefits of this new management style? 

JM: The first example that comes to mind is Tangerine Bank, a financial institution that was formerly ING Canada. Their CEO Peter Aceto does a great job at listening to staff and empowering his team members.

Aceto is a big believer in embracing vulnerability in the workplace. Most managers try to act differently at work. For example, they do not show their emotions. But, when they go home they are they become their true self. In contrast, Aceto is comfortable at talking about personal things in the workplace - he is able to connect with employees on a personal level as much as on a professional level.

It is a very powerful approach; I have not seen many other executives doing it that way. And, he constantly outperforms competitors because people like to work with him. This is still a new concept for many managers - it is about acting as a person.

GL: You also write about diversity and women in leadership position

JM: The workplace is changing so quickly that diversity is crucial - you need different perspectives, different points of view and different ways of thinking about and looking at problems.

The biggest area of frustration is that in many companies there is much talk but not so much implementation. Definitely it is not going as fast as it should be going.

GL: What should be done to change the situation?

JM: The biggest area is around education. Before writing my book, I had no idea of what it was like to be a woman in an executive role in a corporate environment. And, I believe many other people are not totally aware of this issue either. So, we need to have more education about the importance and values of diversity.

Also, making a strong effort from the top in bringing more diversity into the company. Again, Cisco is a great example. They have started a huge initiative aim at solving this problem and currently around 50% of the executive team are women.

GL: What's your view on new business models such as Uber in transportation or Airbnb in accommodation?

JM: Whether we choose to accept it or not, the Sharing Economy is part of the new business world. The question is 'What we will do about it?'

Right now, we are still trying to make sense of what it actually means; what this space looks like. There are many legal and regulatory issues to define. But, I think that over the next few years it will become clearer.

The biggest benefit is that people are able to get what they want from each other - you can work, share and collaborate with peers.

However, oftentimes people forget that they still need to go through a business - when you share a car you go through Uber; when you share a room you go through Airbnb.

So, the business acts as the middleman to connect people together. It is just a different type of business model. I think that this is part of the confusion.

GL: Healthy debates are going around the changing nature of work as a consequence of those new business models. For example, there are challenges around regulation and whether people should be contractors or real employees. How do you see it? 

JM: Overall, I think it is a great opportunity for the world of business. The Sharing Economy creates jobs for many people that might not otherwise happened. It is a big positive for everyone who wants to be more in control over their schedules, working hours and the type of work they do - you are your own boss when you work for Uber.

GL: What should large enterprises do to adapt to those new business models? 

JM: Firstly, organisations should be tapping into the on-demand workforce.

Secondly, it comes back to the employee experience - organisations need to change their idea of what it means to work. Maybe, companies will not have full-time employees any more; maybe their staff will stay there just for a couple of months as opposed to five years.

So, it is really about re-thinking the whole model of what it means to be an employee and to work for a company.

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This article originally appeared on simply-communicate