How Future of Work is Changing Workplace Culture

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Business leaders and HR professionals need to deal with three systemic changes impacting employee engagement and work culture. This article discusses these changes and provides some action items to prepare for the new workplace.

The 21st century workforce changes are arriving faster than at any other time in the history of organized work. By 2020, the workplace as we know today would have altered significantly.These changes are Multi-generational workforce, Gig & contract work and Remote employees. All three will alter the way culture is built and sustained in the organization. Doing what we do today in this area will not give us the results we want.

1- Multi-generational Workforce:

As several businesses are observing, there are up to five generations in the Indian workplace – Traditionalists, Baby boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. With life expectancy on the rise and the retirement concept becoming irrelevant, those born in the fifties are working with those born in the late 90’s. Expectations from career, life aspirations and needs are vastly different amongst these generations causing them to value different aspects of the organizational culture. Whilst baby boomers and Gen X are comfortable with hierarchy and a chain of command, the Millennials expect to be able to contribute and lead projects and work across levels without barriers. Similarly, baby boomers and Gen X value parental benefits whilst Millennials value opportunities for experiences. Balancing different aspects is critical if you want your organization to remain attractive to different generational cohorts. One size does not fit all. Building a supportive culture which values each of these generational groups and yet is cost effective is key. For example, a flex benefits and recognition model which allows employees to pick and choose what they value is a strategic decision. The organization needs to review its strategic options, invest in enabling technology and prepare managers to have robust communication with prospective candidates and team members.

2- Remote Employees:

It is easy to build a culture when everyone shows up to work and you can depend upon traditional approaches of team meetings, town halls and face to face meetings. Uniformity of messaging, dressing up, timings and office structures lend themselves to sustaining a work culture which you want. The pressure of long commutes, preferred living locations, spousal relocations, global timelines and real estate costs are creating remote worker arrangements in many white collar roles. The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the US reported that 2.9% of the total U.S workforce work remotely. Technology has made this practical and easier which permits an employee to work from anywhere and anytime. Many employees have no need to come to the office and are far more productive and effective from their remote location. How do you build a consistent experience and recognized culture for these employees? Training managers to work with remote teams, cross-cultural sensitization, providing an experience for remote employees which they value (flexibility on work hours, technology access, ongoing communication and involvement using all possible modes) would be critical.

3- Gig Economy and Contract Workforce:

The ability to employ someone for a specific assignment is spreading across the business world. It fits in the Millennials expectations of working only on what interests them, provides for specialization and reduces ongoing employment costs. The gig economy is like the contract workforce arrangements that companies have long used. In most companies’ large parts of the workforce is not on the payroll. Instead it is an expense item invoiced by a Supplier/Consultant. In US, data from BLS 2005 survey shows that about 7% of the workers were independent contractors. How do you ensure a shared value system, alignment to your vision and a common culture in this situation? Companies usually let their procurement or finance or operations departments to manage contract labor. This is a missed opportunity from compliance and organizational alignment perspectives. It is not uncommon to see Glassdoor postings about a company which show the wide contrast between the treatments meted out to contract v/s full time employees. This is an opportunity for HR leaders to create better value for the company by defining a strategy to manage contract workforce and taking responsibility for all FTE who work in the company irrespective of how they are paid. This can include establishing norms around number of hours worked, skills and behavioral training, provision of benefits from the vendors, compensating adequately to allow a living wage, recognizing work and treating all FTE with the same respect afforded to employees are some possible action items. It is amazing that most companies do not invest in training and recognizing their contract workers even though they have an equal impact as a permanent employee.

These three significant changes occurring in the workplace world are having and will continue to have an even bigger impact to the way culture is built and sustained. By making strategic choices and an informed approach to the new workforce, HR leaders can create a tremendous positive impact on FTE engagement and culture. The workplace of 2020 will be comprised of multiple generations, remote workers and a mix of permanent and contract workers. HR has an opportunity to take responsibility of all of them to create a meaningful impact to the workplace culture.

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