The growing demand among employees for flexible work—and the growing recognition of its value among even traditionally-minded employers—presents organisations with a new challenge. What does employee experience mean when half the employees are working remotely or want to work remotely?
People Matters asked Stephen Koss, EY's Asia-Pacific Workforce Advisory Leader, for some thoughts on how the shift to flexible working is affecting expectations of employee experience and how employers can adapt. Here's what he told us.
Based on findings from the majority of market research, employees are demanding the option for flexible work and even making it a non-negotiable. How do you see this affecting people's expectations of employee experience?
Flexible working has quickly become an expectation for employers. Our recent global EY survey called this out as the key employee shift since the onset of the pandemic, and employees believe this is here to stay.
For employers, this means that they need to become ‘ambidextrous’, providing a great experience regardless of the mode of work. This is shaping up to be a larger challenge for many firms as there is some hesitancy to ‘lay down asphalt’ over the ‘dirt tracks’ they have formed around flexible working policies. Given the importance placed on it by the people surveyed, we are advising Chief Human Resources Officers to get on top of this as soon as possible.
From your point of view, what would executives, hiring managers and HR professionals need to change in the employee experience or engagement strategy to match these changing workplace expectations?
The shift here is in the need to create a single employee experience but now across multiple work modes. We are advising our clients that this will require them to become closer than ever to their staff, placing them at the centre of the organisation. Understanding their wants and needs, creating and applying personas to help ready their organization for various situations, and most importantly, knowing and matching employee work preferences with the work requirements.
Almost every market survey on the topic seems to indicate a major gap between how employers view flexible work and how employees view it. What do you see it taking to close this gap?
There are many misconceptions around flexible working, as the term itself can be misconstrued, both by the organisation and by employees. Different employees may have very wide-ranging understandings of the term, and very different needs depending on their personal circumstances. To close the gap, organisations will need to ensure that all employees and business units are aligned on the terms of the flexible working arrangements.
We have seen some clients create new branding for their programs to help redefine what they are offering to employees. Regardless of the approach, a high degree of transparency on the policy and how it should be applied, should be communicated throughout the organisation.
Where do you see the largest considerations for employers as they move to make the flexible working experience a seamless one?
The biggest consideration for employers shifting to flexible working is getting the right balance between the requirements and capabilities of the organisation and employee needs. It is a question of how companies communicate their flexibility while retaining a level of control over ‘how’ and ‘where’ the work gets done.
This then becomes a question of how many policy changes organisations make, how much autonomy managers are given, and how much flexibility employees are given in deciding where and when to work. It is not yet a seamless experience for all as many organisations do not yet have a permanent policy position or the capability to manage this effectively.
There's some ongoing conversation around the idea that HR ought not to bear the sole responsibility for the employee experience strategy. What are your thoughts on this? Where can HR make the largest contributions to the employee experience (EX) strategy, and where do they need to bring in other functions?
I do not think that HR should bear all of the responsibility for the employee experience strategy, but I do believe that HR should take a lead role in owning the strategy and coordinating the other business functions accordingly. Aside from HR and business leaders, other groups that can help own and drive the change include those working in technology, facilities management, and real estate. This will be a big challenge for some HR leaders who have traditionally seen themselves as ‘strategy enablers’ aligning their activities to the business strategy.
In this case, it requires a shift to becoming a ‘Strategic Owner’, to make a case for change, develop the strategic priorities and bring the organization together to execute it.
HR leaders that were prominent during the earlier stages of the pandemic will have a natural advantage for being seen as a cross-functional leader within their organization.