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 January 2020 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared.

To say nothing else of 2020, the past 12 months have rapidly propelled us into the future of work. The pandemic has accelerated trends that have been a long time coming, including the expansion of remote and virtual work, the adoption of new technologies, and the reprioritization of purpose, culture and the health and safety of our people. 

 

The reason for this quick pivot is two-fold. First, there is no precedent or playbook for business leaders looking to confront today’s challenges. While many employers may have experience operating with a remote workforce and decentralized operations, no organization has had to reinvent itself for a full-time flexible work framework. And second, as the pandemic stretches into its second year and new virus strains continue to delay the “return to the workplace”, it’s increasingly clear that employers must confront and adapt to the new reality rather than endure and outlast it.

 

So as leaders around the world ask themselves how to innovate for the future of work, we invited them to our #MercerChats tweet chat series to discuss their biggest pain points and the areas where they see real opportunities for success. Held in conjunction with the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda 2021, it was an opportunity to crowdsource insights from some of the world’s leading minds and thought leaders on the future of work and workplace innovation, and below is a collection of the key themes and trends that emerged from the event.

Managing from Afar

Every business is about people, and that simple truth will hold true even as managers get less and less face time with those people. This poses a challenge to leaders, who will need to adapt to agile teams and complex projects in the “digital and distributed work environment”, as Stela Lupushor articulated. For many, the growing pains of shifting to remote teams may have been excised by the end of 2020, but organizations still need to find ways to make these solutions permanent.

 

To start, this means taking a step back to reconsider the building blocks of leadership and adjusting for the new digital ecosystem. As both Christina Dove and Helene Li shared, leaders may have to listen and trust more as the decentralization of the workplace limits close oversight and micromanagement. Doing so will require an increased reliance on digital tools and communication, per April Rudin, but Tamara McCleary pointed out how this also presents an opportunity to reimagine and improve other parts of talent strategy. Consider, for instance, how employers can shift how they evaluate performance from subjective measures like manager’s perception to more quantitative productivity-based metrics. Once again, where the pandemic creates challenges, it also presents opportunities.

Reinventing for the Future

Leaders aren’t the only ones who will need to adjust for the new working model. The entire workforce – as a whole and individually – also need to start considering where they fit into the new dynamic and how they can adapt for the future. This is nothing new (as I said, the demand for new skills was a top HR concern coming into 2020), but the need is more acute now that we’ve been forced to leave our offices and everyday routines behind. Heading into the future, organizations must, as Angela Maiers put it, find their way to the next normal.

 

At its simplest, organizations must prioritize agility, and both Soumyasanto Sen and Dr. Marcia F. Robinson pointed out that this is a process rather than a goal. By evaluating their internal structures and priorities, leaders can identify centers for innovation and growth in their own firms and areas that are resource constrained. Once done, employers can redeploy talent to where it’s needed most. By incentivizing the reskilling of workers, Avrohom Gottheil suggests that employers can give their business a competitive edge in the marketplace and create the skill swaps, job shares and knowledge transfer programs that Yvonne Sonsino notes are the key to the reinvention process. 

Culture and Benefits

If leaders and organizations are reshaping for the future of work, then HR better keep pace. That means reevaluating culture and benefits to ensure that no part of your organization is left behind as we pioneer into the new normal.

 

If they’re looking for a place to start, no place is more important than benefits. From healthcare to leave policies to wellbeing resources, employee benefits are a core part of any organization’s employer value proposition and are integral to keeping a workforce engaged and productive. In today’s remote working dynamic, employees will expect to retain the same quality and access to care they’re accustomed to, and Lisa Lint rightly noted that health and safety are only going to become a greater priority after the pandemic. With this, it’s incumbent upon HR to find ways to deliver care and support to a decentralized organization, and the emergence of the new and innovative digital health services that Nicole Passmore cited are sure to play a major role in this.

 

Once needs are met, HR can focus on fostering the purpose and culture that are so vital to energizing employees around their work. While seemingly nebulous, culture binds employees together and provides identity and stability to an organization, per Alvin Foo. Losing this in the shift to a remote work model could be devastating for an organization, and employers would be wise to follow Antonio Vieira Santos’s advice to use their business purpose to reset their culture and maintain continuity. This may mean a greater reliance on employer championed social platforms or networks, per Amy Laverock, but the next 12 months are sure to see a renaissance of creative ways to maintain culture from afar. 

Making Flexible Work Work

So much of the conversation around the “transition to the future of work” has been preoccupied with the transition, but surviving in the new normal means finding a way to make these temporary fixes sustainable. The increased use of online collaboration tools and video conferencing are sure to play a major role in this revolution, as Tyler Cohen Wood shared, but it’s so much more than that. Flexible work is here to stay, and while leaders need to adjust how the manage, train, and reward their workforce, they’ll also need to reconsider what it means to “go to work.”

 

This is true in the micro and in the macro. As Will Lassalle shared, organizations will now begin accommodating employees wherever they are, which will have massive impacts not only on talent management, but also on recruitment and retention. But it also means our baseline conception of the “workday” is subject to change. It may be that employees are no longer expected to be online and reachable five days a week during a set time period, and instead they’ll engage with work on a project-to-project basis as they balance other priorities and obligations in their lives. While this may sound like an employee-empowering model, Mark Babbitt was quick to point out that it also requires managers to be vigilant for burnout. While there are many different ways to manage this new paradigm shift, one thing is clear: the kind of “work” we once knew may be a relic of the past. 

Danielle Guzman
Danielle Guzman

Global Head of Social Media