Kathryn Barnes, Employment Counsel EMEA at Globalization Partners outlines how remote work has evolved business practices
For many of us who’ve had to adjust to the realities of remote work over the past 12 months, the future of work life looks set to be very different. Many of the changes that have resulted in the reconfiguration of day-to-day operations for most industries have generated unexpected positive outcomes for workers. Everything from improvements in employee wellbeing, to the relative ease of applying for and undertaking work across borders.
According to the Institute of Directors, 74 per cent of organisations intend to continue to offer home-working options to their knowledge workers and a variety of other employee categories after coronavirus. While some companies are pushing to put an end to the physical office once and for all, others are leaning towards adapting business practices to enable a more ‘hybrid’ approach that will see staff working from home two or three days a week.
One thing is for sure, the events of the past year have served to change the world of work for ever. In the process, employee expectations around workplace flexibility have shifted. In response, management styles and organisational cultures have had to evolve at speed.
As businesses prepare to build back better, it is clear that the recent enforced move to remote working is set to have a lasting and profound impact on workplace and employee strategies. As HR leaders adapt to these new realities, they will need to prepare their teams to cope with five significant trends that are on the horizon.
- Roles are emerging and evolving
Strategic workforce planning is moving centre stage in the remote work age. But while companies are eager to seize the opportunity and hire talent from lower cost emerging markets, ensuring that this makes sense where the wider business strategy is concerned will be key.
Having broken through the technological and cultural barriers that prevented remote work in the past, organisations have now set in motion a structural shift in which many work activities can take place outside of the physical office. Now they are eager to cast their talent net wider in order to find the right people with the right skills.
As a result, roles such as global mobility managers, remote work directors and remote change managers are evolving fast and moving to the fore. Responsible for helping to guide executive level talent management decisions, these personnel will play an increasingly pivotal role in re-imagining talent investment and distribution for the enterprise.
- The nomadic workforce is going mainstream
The digital nomad lifestyle first emerged among bloggers and influencers. Often self-employed, these ‘location independent’ trailblazers placed a high value on achieving the work/life balance they desired, utilising co-working spaces and advancements in technology to work where, and whatever time of day, suits them best. So much so that way back in 2019, it was predicted that the number of freelance digital nomad workers worldwide would hit a billion by 2035 thanks to a growing project-based and digital work economy.
Fast forward to today and the concept of working where the Wi-Fi is, regardless of country, is well established. In response to the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, organisations are looking to expand their post-COVID use of contingent workers in order to reap the benefits of assembling a more flexible workforce.
The implications of this shift for HR leaders are key. Evaluating how performance management systems will apply to these workers, and whether they should be eligible for the same benefits as their full-time peers is just the start.
Remote workers looking to live and move to different countries for medium-term projects creates new complexities for HR teams and employers. Each country has different employment regulations that employers will need to respect. Meanwhile, issues like whether taxes should be paid in the host country or the employer’s country are also difficult to navigate and can be dependent on an individual’s length of stay or employment type.
As the need to engage and support nomadic employees grows, companies will need to be poised to adapt.
- Digital upskilling becomes a top priority
With 61 per cent of CEOs saying that their workforce will be more digital in the future, HR teams are going to have to up their game when it comes to leveraging tools that will enable a fair digital selection process and a professional and considerate onboarding and offboarding experience.
Similarly, with remote workforce models going mainstream, organisations are investing heavily in new digital platforms that will make it easier to monitor employee engagement and wellbeing. This includes initiating digital L&D to support employees to acquire critical skills for their next role and workforce management platforms that will enable the enterprise to recalibrate workforce competences in line with predicted needs.
The whole arena of recruitment and talent management is becoming much more agile as organisations figure out how best to deploy and reskill their people for a more digitally-led future. Which means HR teams will need to gain mastery of all digital collaboration and automation technologies that are being adopted to enhance all these processes.
- Meeting employee expectations
Standing out as an employer now goes beyond offering a good salary and providing a genuine work/life balance is no longer an expectation only held by millennials and Generation Z. Boston Consulting Group termed the COVID-19 pandemic a ‘people-based crisis’ and the workforce experience during protracted national lockdowns changed employee expectations around flexibility, support, mental health awareness and cultural integration.
In response, global brands like Adobe, Salesforce, Twitter, Fujitsu and Amazon changed their HR policies to protect employees. In the process, they facilitated a radical shift in working culture and output that led these companies to be just as effective – if not more so – despite having a workforce that was primarily working remotely.
The shift to remote work modes has created a long lasting impetus for change. In the future, obtaining and retaining the best talent will depend on how well HR teams are able to modify long standing processes to improve the overall employee experience. Because from this point forwards, employees and prospective candidates will judge organisations on how well they treat, support, and recognise the contributions of employees.
- Closing the global legal knowledge gap
In these tumultuous times, the regulations and norms that already vary from country to country are subject to frequent change, especially as priorities shift in today’s virtual-first business world. Authorities expect companies to stay informed of local laws if their teams moved to another country while working remotely, or if they hired internationally to take advantage of remote work.
Internal HR teams are now confronted with learning how to regulate employees in home offices, potentially across multiple jurisdictions, and will need to call on specialists with the know-how to provide clarity on these points.
All of which presents a major opportunity for specialist HR companies to step into the breach and help enterprises build out their global teams in a constructive and conformant manner.
Looking to the future
Organisations looking to thrive in the post pandemic world will need to focus on treating employees as people, not workers, evolving an employee value proposition that reflects how recent events have changed the relationship between people and their work.
Alongside delivering workplace flexibility and opportunities for personal growth, employers must also demonstrate a holistic approach to wellbeing while engaging employees in a shared sense of purpose.
As remote work changes the rules of the game with regard to hiring wherever talent is located, HR teams will need to become adept at a whole range of new workforce management practices in order to pivot successfully to an effective and sustainable remote global workforce model.