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The never normal: Continuous change and reimagining work

As Baker Tilly’s global human resources lead, Donal Laverty believes the mindset of organisations must be geared towards evolution, with cultures to support people and processes to sustain adaptability.

The more things change, the less the word change has meaning — and this year has shown that very little in workplaces is fixed.

Instead, we are in a time of progression, of evolution, and it means a new kind of workplace is beginning to emerge.

How well organisations manage that evolution will determine how effective they are in adapting to the new world.

There are a few key elements in the evolution taking place.

“As people have been dispersed power, leadership and responsibility has delegated down and therefore you’re seeing a much more collaborative approach to decision-making and to leadership.”
– Donal Laverty

The first is the hybrid model of work, which includes the rise of semi-permanent staff and a blend of working from home and the office.

Any idea that the lockdown of March was a limited experiment in remote working has been dispelled by the rise of second and third wave infections and the restrictions on activity needed to bring the virus back under control.

But even once that occurs, it’s likely people in the future will have much more input into the design of their own working world, in terms of how they do their job, where they do their job and the operational parameters.

The leap in digital working will also play a role here, with the activity of humans augmented by the tools and technology provided by their employer.

A second theme is the rise in collaborative teams — acting almost as small organisations on their own.

As people have been dispersed power, leadership and responsibility has delegated down and therefore you’re seeing a much more collaborative approach to decision-making and to leadership.

Collaboration underpins that decentralised model, as will alliances both within organisations and to external groups.

It will mean strategic mergers because organisations have understood that working together makes them more effective. It’s better to be with someone else or something else, rather than being on your own, and these alliances mean organizations can be flatter and more nimble.

A third element will be the change in the transactional nature of work for pay.

The value proposition for employees has changed and it is unlikely to return to what it was pre-Covid, as people enjoy the flexibility, independence and time or cost saving associated with new forms of work.

People are increasingly going to be happy negotiating away bits of their role to keep the pieces that they want, whether that is home working or flexibility, whatever it might be.

And in return, their employer is going to trade back trust or broader parameters for their role. The whole aspect of job design will be different. 

When you bring those elements together, you start to see the shape of a very different workplace operating in an environment of continuous disruptive change

It will be an organisation where you have a combination of permanent office staff, of employees working from home, of artificial intelligence and robots performing some of the tasks, and of contingent workers who may be drawn on as needed.

It will operate in a collaborative, flatter structure, with stronger component parts, and where temporary or permanent alliances are made as needed to achieve goals.

For organisations to succeed in this world requires a change in mindset.

The goal of leaders cannot be about returning to life before Covid. Nor can it be about trying to find a fixed moment that can be declared the new normal.

Effective organisations in this evolving space need the right strategy that reimagines what they want from their organisation.

They need the organisational culture that supports their people to feel safe, happy and perform.

They need both an employee development process and leadership development process to ensure they can adjust to continuous change.

They need the internal processes and tools to support the behaviour and performance required.

And they need a strategy that keeps their employees engaged and on target for the growth and outcomes their organisation seeks.

Adjusting to constant uncertainty is now the one certainty for human resources teams. How well they manage this challenge will determine their success from now on.

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Donal Laverty

Baker Tilly Mooney Moore

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