What helps us be better HR leaders? In a world where the pace of technological change has greatly accelerated, where a crisis of mental well-being looms, where social and political issues have become magnified by the aftermath of the pandemic and now the conflict in Europe – what does all this mean for the future of work, and how do we respond to these challenges?
At the People Matters Futurist Forum ANZ 2022, 100-odd HR leaders from Australia and New Zealand came together to briefly share some of the practices that have worked for them, as well as some of the ideas they hope to implement in the near future. Here are seven important tips that emerged from the conversation.
1. Be clear about what flexibility means
Flexibility is a huge buzzword now, but in practice, it means very different things depending on what a person's job role is. For instance, it's simple enough to provide flexibility of working hours and working location for those in outcome-focused roles; but there are just as many people whose roles do not allow those options, and for them, flexibility is more likely to be a matter of when and how they can communicate and give feedback. It's not a one-size-fits-all definition; there has to be clear messaging and a great deal of transparency around how the concept will be applied.
2. Offer plenty of guidance for the hybrid world
Hybrid work is a wonderful approach, but collaboration tends to suffer if it's not managed properly, and one of the major challenges is coordination. For example, scheduling has to be carefully managed to ensure that the people who need to work together physically are on site at the same time. Many norms also have to be revisited, and employees will often need some guidance as to what should be acceptable in this relatively new model.
3. Develop an intensive listening strategy
As organisations change their policies, the approach of mandatory consultation – demanding that employees provide feedback in a fixed format – is shifting to a more fluid and flexible approach of active listening and adopting best practices. This is best done in tandem with gathering and analysing data, for better decision making.
4. Reflect feedback in tangible changes
The follow-up to listening is to ensure that people know they have been heard. Gathering constant feedback is one thing; organisations need to find a way of reflecting that feedback in their subsequent actions, or otherwise communicating that the feedback is received, so that people know they have been heard and can see the value of their contributions.
5. Skill building and training for leaders
As organisational accountabilities change in the new normal, many leaders are uncertain about how their roles are impacted. They need to be able to have conversations about the challenges their teams face, they need to bring the human connection into their daily practices, they need to be able to communicate, and they must model the way for their teams. But they aren't necessarily equipped for that, and so it becomes imperative to help them develop these capabilities – even to the extent of creating a new competency framework just for leadership in the hybrid model.
6. Create psychological safety for employees
The other side of this challenge is to make employees feel safe about having those same conversations, which are today far more frequent, personal, and important than in the past. This idea of psychological safety also extends to the new and developing workplace norms: for instance, organisations need to help people feel comfortable with that very same flexibility that is meant to enable them.
7. Make wellness initiatives inclusive
Well-being is central to the future of work, and has already expanded from simply providing physical health benefits, to supporting employees mentally, socially, and emotionally. It ties in closely with many other cultural shifts happening in the workplace, and is supported by the same things: communication, authenticity, empathy. Importantly, well-being – like flexibility – does not benefit from a one-size-fits-all approach. In the future of work, the philosophy of well-being is one of fitting the initiative to the individual, rather than fitting all individuals to one initiative.