#MercerChats rewind: an innovation playbook for success in the future of work

Each month, Mercer brings together in-house experts, employee advocates and external thought leaders for an online discussion of the most pressing issues. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals around the world engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our August 2020 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared.

When’s the last time you went to the office? Depending on where you live and the nature of your role, the answer may be wildly different. From Tokyo to Toronto, employers have been moving at different paces to welcome their workforce back to the office. While the ongoing threat of the pandemic is undoubtedly the primary factor, another reason looms large: many have realized that people aren’t in a rush to go back.

The pandemic has kick-started a long-overdue and well-documented shift to remote working, but I believe this is just the beginning of a much more profound change in the way we work and engage as professionals in the years to come. With the realization that “work” doesn’t need to be tied to a “workplace”, employers are now able to question other assumptions that are vestiges of a bygone era. From rethinking the “9 to 5” to reconsidering what it means to be an “employee,” we’re at the beginning of a revolution that could recast the global business landscape in a way that’s more aligned to the way people live and work in the 21st century.

Adapting to this new reality won’t come easy, and it will require both employers and their employees to adjust to this new shape of work. But if there’s any positive outcome from the global pandemic, it’s that we’ve seen mass transformation work on a global scale, and now it’s time to fine-tune the experiment.

While we at Mercer have extensive experience and expertise in workforce management and HR transformation, the current pace of change warrants us looking outside our firm to see how others around the world are handling the moment. With that in mind, we convened global thought leaders and industry experts on social media to discuss the outlook for the months and years ahead, and below are some of the key takeaways. 

 

Managing the change comes first

Before we can enjoy the advantages of a more flexible and agile workplace, we need to help individuals and whole firms navigate the transition. From an operational perspective, this has been made easier by a shift to cloud-based storage and improved cyber security, but most leaders are still reluctant to take their hand off the wheel and allow for more expansive flex working.

As Isil Cayirli Ketenci pointed out during our chat, the pandemic may have forced their hand, yet that doesn’t make the transformation any easier. Thoughtful people strategies and proactive leadership are vital in times like these, and it’s not safe to assume that what’s worked thus far in the pandemic will carry you into the future of work. In pivoting to a long-term flexible workplace, Antonio Vieira Santos notes that many employees may respond better to an integrated approach to virtual working whereby individuals have the option on how and where they want to work. Rather than racing towards a fully flexible program, follow Tamara McCleary’s advice and “create an environment which fosters success no matter the work environment.” 

 

It’s time to rethink recruitment

Finding and onboarding talent has never been easy, and it won’t get any easier in a flexible working environment. From identifying talent pools, to coordinating the interview process, to training and upskilling talent, a flexible workplace dynamic brings new challenges to almost every aspect of workforce management.

But top professionals know that challenges present opportunities. In the process of redesigning the workforce recruitment and reskilling process, HR can address what’s broken in their current talent pipeline and what’s outdated for the future of work. This could mean retraining talent for new roles and new functions, as Cecilia Giordano pointed out, removing barriers to entry, per Andrew Spence, or following Walter Jennings’s lead and integrating AI into the evaluation process. Consider, for instance, the new talent pools that organizations can select from if they no longer need talent to commute to an office five days a week or work during a prescribed eight-hour window. When organizations pivot to a flexible workplace model, they don’t just cater to their own in-house talent, they open themselves up to a whole new world of potential. 

 

Necessity breeds innovation

Building a flexible workplace isn’t all about building something that works for employers. It also needs to work for talent, and this is where the real opportunity lies. Since the advent of benefits and HR policies, organizations have generally adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to talent management, and as fair and equitable as that may sound, it really made no sense at all. Why should a working parent and a fresh-faced new hire be expected to adhere to the same work schedule, and who’s really losing when experienced talent walks out the door because the traditional working model no longer fits into their lives?

A flexible working model can help organizations overcome these hurdles and allows them to tailor the work experience to a diverse workforce. This is something that both Janet Schijns and Will Ferguson touched on during our chat, and it’s in line with the trajectory of top employers around the world. Where there’s opportunity to make life easier for your talent, do it. Not only do you benefit by becoming a more attractive destination for talent, but you reap the rewards of a more engaged workforce.

 

All this puts greater responsibility on HR

Even if thing are getting easier for employees, that doesn’t mean HR can sit back and relax. That’s because remaking the employee experience around flexible working will require a massive commitment from leadership, and much of this work will fall on the desk of human resources. Per Dr. Marcia F. Robinson, communications strategies will need to evolve, leave and benefits policies will need to be reviewed, and performance evaluation metrics may need to be reevaluated for an environment where people managers have less one-on-one engagement with their direct reports.

In a way, the pandemic has been a proving ground for this transformation, and during the turmoil of the last few months CHROs have become a key link in the leadership chain. Emily Klein shared as much during our chat, pointing out that the disruption of the pandemic has led employers to reinvest in themselves and their people. Under normal times this type of strategy shift would have been immensely difficult, but unprecedented challenges called for unprecedented solutions. 

Danielle Guzman
by Danielle Guzman

Global Head of Social Media