Firms warned to adapt future working or lose resilience

A whitepaper which explores the future of working has warned operational resilience cannot be achieved unless firms radically change the way they work.

Zurich Municipal has published the white paper which examines how firms will be required to reassess not only how their staff work but also their risk appetites and operational structures.

“Workforce risk as a defined threat moved up the agenda for employers as it impacted on organisational resilience in the last few years,” said Andrew Jepp, Managing Director, Zurich Municipal. “Ensuring a sustainable workforce in a changing world became a recognised challenge long before the pandemic. That challenge is even more acute now, as workforce risks are universal and require constant attention.”

“Workforce transformation including flexible working, work/life balance, upskilling and training, wellbeing and inclusion and diversity was high on agendas,” he added. “COVID-19 became the catalyst that coalesced these plans and ambitions, fired some into action and dropped others promptly down the priority list.”

The whitepaper outlines the ways in which the insurer believes work life and workplaces will be required to change.

Some organisations are enabling a blended workforce with no contractual constraints on location shifting to a work as the things you do rather than a place you go approach.  It said flexible working can become standard for office-based jobs with offices themselves having more collaboration spaces and less fixed desks. Employees can craft an appropriate work/life balance, with a supporting management culture. Risk considerations include fractured working culture; health and safety frameworks; mental health and wellbeing; ensuring equality and inclusion; blurring of home/work life; skills needed to manage split teams.

The whitepaper added relationships with colleagues, across departments and locations, and with partners, suppliers, providers, unions and communities, are now direct and deeper. Silos have been dismantled. Risk considerations include conflicting cultures; lack of shared objectives; data sharing; decision by committee or lack of decision making; increase in workload.

“Organisations must be talking to and listening to employees openly, actively and honestly through a 360 degree feedback loop,” it said. “Direct and digital senior leadership engagement with all employees is vital”.  However, risk considerations include organisational culture; skills to have the right conversations; demonstrating action in response to engagement; inclusive engagement in a digital world.

The whitepaper said organisations can capitalise on employees with supported learning and development, developing employees into role, rather than recruiting externally or making people redundant.

Digital platforms and the skills and knowledge to deliver through them and engage with them are becoming increasingly important. Regular investing in robust digital platforms and IT personnel and skills and embedding them in teams are organisational priorities. Providing employees with remote digital capabilities, hardware (including broadband) and software is essential.

“We are increasingly looking at the whole person, rather than just the work person, and are developing holistic employee policies to respond to this,” added the whitepaper. “Strengthening and streamlining internal team and management structures to support individuals will help attract and retain the right employees.”

Employees are increasingly expecting true flexible working that enables colleagues working in different ways while still supporting each other. Continuing to flex to meet ongoing changes and challenges will be key to future organisational success, flexing across job roles, remits, relationships and collaborations. A flexible workforce brings more agility, pace and productivity.

Organisational support for good mental health and wellbeing is a given, said the report. Providing a solid occupational health provision to rely on is a priority. Recognising the added pressures of changing times and skilling managers to recognise and support mental health issues is critical.

“As we move to working at distance and in disparate teams, trust, both in the workforce and of the workforce must be the foundation,” said the whitepaper. “This will mean rethinking the objectives and processes of engagement and performance management to demonstrate true empowerment and value. Organisations must also ensure they earn employee trust with good communication, visible leadership, keeping promises and culture transformation. Reinforcing a ‘can do, let’s do’ attitude and a ‘we care’ culture enables this.”

“We have an opportunity to re-imagine our organisations and the ways in which they work,” said Mr Jepp. “As employers reset, strategies must reflect the desired culture and an updated risk appetite, responding to what employees are saying about how they would like to work. We cannot do the same things in the same ways any more to achieve organisational resilience.

“We need to share successful strategies for bringing about meaningful change and improved workforce engagement and performance.”