Article: Designing a human future of work

Employee Engagement

Designing a human future of work

The future of work is about people, but how can work be designed to be more human-centric? HR leaders offered some perspectives at Mercer's Regional HR Conference 2021 last month.
Designing a human future of work

The pandemic prompted a rush to digitalisation – followed almost immediately by the realisation that amid the efficiencies of technology, the future of work still needs to be human. But what does it mean to design a human future of work?

“There's a quote, 'The good thing about the future is that it happens one day at a time'. And when we talk about the future of work, that quote invites us to think about it one day at a time: what about tomorrow? What about the day after tomorrow?” said Ester Martinez, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of People Matters, speaking on a panel at Mercer's Regional HR Conference 2021 last month.

During one of the conference's first panels, HR leaders from major firms (above) came together to exchange their perspectives of how HR can shape work to fit the world as we want it to be.

Are we valuing the right things?

Before we can even begin the design process, one core question emerges, said Mayank Parekh, CEO of the Institute of Human Resource Professionals: “Are we valuing the right things? The world is moving into uncharted territory. We are seeing tremendous shifts, not just in technology and in the way it's impacting us, but also in the way we collaborate, we live, how we interact with each other. We are valuing things like diversity and inclusiveness in decision making, having a more holistic view of an employee in terms of not just productivity but also in terms of mental state and well-being. We in HR need to understand what that means for the way we design our programmes and the way we provide for employees.”

Several elements emerged as critical to HR's work, the panellists agreed: employee voices, organisational purpose, and well-being.

Mark Wilson, EVP Human Resources, Jaguar Land Rover China, said that listening and capturing the voice of the employee is central to shaping the future of work: identifying the key interaction points and experiences that matter the most to people, and using these as the basis for creating a consistent employee experience.

“You have to start with putting yourself in the shoes of the employee,” he said. “What does a day in their life look like and what do those interactions feel like from an employment perspective?”

As an example, he described how the team at Jaguar Land Rover has been implementing initiatives to document stories of employees' best work experiences, and working backward from those to identify the design elements that contribute to a positive experience. By replicating those elements more broadly, he said, it becomes possible to create a consistent, elevated experience throughout the organisation.

Katrina Symons, Head of Human Resources, Future of Work, Asia Pacific, Johnson & Johnson, spoke about the importance of connecting employees to the organisation's purpose and meaning:

“When I think about employees being at their best, I think that we absolutely must enable our employees to perform, individually and collectively, at their best. Part of that is enabling their health and well-being. These elements are a key competitive advantage that will ultimately help us achieve our mission.”

Human well-being: the central piece

Most importantly, the panellists said, human well-being must remain central, because from a practical perspective it is an important part of enabling employees to do their best work.

“To thrive, organisations must remain human at the core,” said Symons. “We need to approach every question, every issue, every decision from that human angle first.”

In implementation, well-being can be about showing that the organisation cares about people beyond just their production value, said Wilson. “If we take an interest in what's going on in people's lives outside of work, maybe setting up employee networks to bring people together over things they are interested in, that's a really powerful way to show that the organisation does care, that we're not just interested in the job that they do. I think that is where we need to take the well-being agenda.”

The need for well-being is closely intertwined with business needs, said Parekh.

“If you have workers who are balanced and resilient, who are capable of providing the outcomes that businesses need in a sustainable way, it's ultimately good for business."

"So how do we get business leaders to recognise that this is not something nice to do, that you tuck away in the corner as a wellness programme, but it's an integral part of your business sustainability? I think that's one of the challenges we face within HR.”

What's the next step forward? The panellists had a few suggestions:

  • Instead of trying to plan ahead, plunge in and experiment; start shaping your preferred future now
  • Focus on the outcomes you want for the future of work
  • Look at whether processes add value; before turning to automation, consider whether the process should be kept at all
  • Keep an open mind; stop saying 'no', and start saying 'maybe' more often


People Matters is the exclusive media partner for Mercer's 2021 Regional HR Virtual Conference.

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Topics: Employee Engagement

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