Written by Marc Bolick
Two years ago, a global pandemic proved that our personal lives and businesses can be turned upside down, quite literally overnight. We were thrust into a new, uncharted world of remote work, and human resources leaders faced a type and level of disruption never before seen. The good news? We learned a lot.
In Why HR and Design Thinking are Perfect for Each Other—Part 1, we described a minefield of acute challenges that are driving human resources leaders’ priorities in 2022, according to trend reports by prominent research firms, HR-focused organizations, and business publications. Then we explored the number one priority for nearly 60% of HR leaders: identifying and building skills and competencies for the future.
Here in Part 2, we examine a second priority: evolving the “mechanics” of work—i.e, the procedural, organizational, and physical frameworks within which the work gets done. Many established beliefs and approaches to process, structure, and environment—long assumed to be rigid and untouchable—are now being held up for scrutiny.
That’s a daunting prospect, we know. Keep in mind that addressing these challenges now will help ease immediate pain points within your organization while also spurring worthwhile, enduring rewards. It’s to every organization’s advantage to embrace obstacles and explore solutions with transparent determination. Remember, too, that essential to the success of these efforts is a human-centered approach to problem solving that puts people—your vital customers, team members, and other stakeholders—at the forefront of your organization’s collective efforts. This deliberate empathy is at the heart of a design thinking approach. It’s a critical mindset shift that, when paired with methodical exploration, creates a foundation for insightful strategies to emerge, setting your HR goals on creative, unique paths to success.
Transforming the “Mechanics” of Work Is Essential to Satisfy Workforce Demands
What do we mean by the “mechanics” of work? It’s where work occurs and how it happens—the set of frameworks, formal and informal rules, norms, etc., within which work occurs. Physical office spaces, processes, practices, policies, reporting structures, and teamwork protocols are all examples. Prompted by the necessity of remote and hybrid work during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizational leadership and a weary-yet-savvy workforce now question some basic tenets of doing business. Do we really need to be together in a single physical space? If not, how does that affect operations, policies, efficiency, accountability, and all other aspects of how work gets done?
Of course we already know the answer to the physical space question. Many companies and teams have realized that proximity is not always necessary and are beginning to refine this reality and fully understand how it will affect workflows, policies, roles, and other aspects of organizational design. Although this shift applies less to organizations delivering in-person services, knowledge-based industries are undergoing fairly radical changes in where the work gets done—and for many companies this change will prove permanent.
SITUATIONAL CHALLENGES ORGANIZATIONS ARE FACING
DTG’s investigation paints an intriguing landscape of situational challenges that can be at once exciting and intimidating. (Click here for direct links to sources.) Statistics and trends—as reported in yearly analyses and recent articles published by business magazines, global research firms, HR-focused providers, and professional organizations—tell us many things.
The “Place Shift” of Work Is Here to Stay
Through their amplified struggles to hire and retain talent during the pandemic, employers have realized that responding to employee needs is no longer simply nice but is now a necessity. Organizations are three times more likely to report that remote work has had a positive impact on recruitment, and roughly the same number say it has a positive impact on employee retention.
Nearly 70% of full-time U.S. workers have been exposed to remote work in the past two years, and it is crystal clear that the pros far outweigh the cons for most workers:
- With regard to worker desires: 87% are interested in 4-days-per-week/10-hours-per-day work schedules; 84% in flexible policies that don’t dictate specific office hours, and 84% in working from any location in the world.
- In many sectors, remote and hybrid work is now a norm for knowledge workers. In fact, flexibility around how, where, and when people work is no longer a perk—in the US, many employees expect this as a standard, just like they expect a 401(k).
Not only are workers expecting flexibility, but this need for flexibility is figuring into how they look at the overall compensation and benefits of a job. For example:
- 81% of employees believe they should receive the same pay whether they work on site or remotely.
- 58% would expect a pay raise if they are not allowed to work remotely after public health restrictions are removed; 48% would stay in their current role but would be less enthusiastic to go “above and beyond.”
For many people this need is so important that they are willing to give up pay in return for flexibility—an eye-popping 50% of workers would take a 5% pay cut. To others, the desire to work remotely after the pandemic (at least for part of their workweek) is reason enough to quit altogether:
- 25% would quit their job immediately if they could no longer work remotely.
- 48% would start looking for another job if they could no longer work remotely.
Remote Work Benefits Both Employers and Employees
As we said in the intro, this desire to maintain work flexibility comes as no surprise. Work has crept slowly and relentlessly into our private lives such that many now think that work/life balance is a myth. Perhaps a more modern view is that work should simply blend into our lives, and the challenge is about finding ways to manage dueling demands of work and personal needs.
The pandemic has provided an enormous body of proof that it’s possible to be as productive as in the “before times.” While only one percent of employees said they were less productive working from home, a full 90% said they were as productive—or even more so!
There are some clear downsides to working from home. It isn’t easy to draw lines between your “office” and your home space, especially if you don’t have a separate dedicated room for work that allows a clear, physical distinction. And yet, 80%+ of people see an improvement in family life, mental health, and overall stress levels, but many are also working longer hours.
ACTIONS ORGANIZATIONS ARE TAKING—OR NOT
Our meta research also reveals the actions, attitudes, and advice of many HR leaders and authorities.
Our sources show that companies that have not responded to evolving needs of their employees risk losing the battle for the best talent. Sadly, the vast majority of organizations neglect something as simple as asking “What can we do to improve our employee experience in this new era?” and then putting plans in place to get answers. These stats about managers of remote workers speak volumes:
- Only 11% are concerned about employee burnout.
- 36% are preoccupied with reduced productivity and focus.
Successful organizations have moved from crisis adaptation to deep, strategic re-thinking. They are learning. They are being proactive, calculating, and flexible with decisions and priorities, designing tactics, iterating as necessary, to redefine and accomplish goals.
What are recommended responses to these challenges and trends? Organizations may choose from many forms of action—or inaction. A major common approach already emerging is that, with such profound change creating a “new normal” with regard to remote work, organizations are hesitant to make drastic changes to roles, work processes, and teams. Instead, they are simply tweaking these existing frameworks as necessary to incorporate remote and hybrid options.
The most forward-thinking, high-performing HR teams are also bracing and planning for future challenges:
- It’s clear that employees experience many benefits of remote work, but potential drawbacks—long hours, increased stress, and burnout—mean that managers and employees will need to work together to find a sustainable balance.
- Many HR managers champion the creation of seamless digital and virtual connectivity, collaboration, and communication channels which workers can access from anywhere. This may mean financial investment in equipment for individuals and/or new enterprise software or management systems to improve remote workflows.
- Watch and consider adopting emerging HR technological tools for new employee onboarding, virtual training, workforce planning and forecasting, measuring belonging and culture, as well as studying correlations between compensation, performance, productivity, HR effectiveness, and other factors.
- Organizational leaders will begin to mull transitional adjustments to org charts, roles, and workflows for greater agility.
Another statistic we learned (from the McLean & Company report) is that only 14% of organizations are embracing iterative, human-centered approaches to solutions design—and these companies are twice as likely to be high performing across the organization in innovation. This percentage has remained flat for many years despite its continued positive associations with performance, agility, ingenuity, productivity, and DEI.
HOW ORGANIZATIONS CAN USE THE POWER OF DESIGN
Knowing what tactics are being implemented by other organizations is a great resource, but how do you know what’s right for your organization? Human-centered design and other methods of innovation can set you on a confident, customized path.
As we mentioned in Part 1, the mindset organizations need to adopt in order to address these substantial challenges is to bring empathy into the problem solving process. This is much easier said than done, because the messy space of human emotions, needs, and desires is generally reserved for the rarified corners of organizations that deal with consumer research, user experience, or industrial design. HR and IT functions within organizations need to build entirely new processes that put employees at the center of how they deliver internal services to those employees.
The beautiful thing about using human-centered design is that it can be applied to finding solutions to the organizational challenges we found in our research just as it has been applied to designing new services and products for customers. For example, basic design research such as specially designed employee surveys and sample interviews can generate data and insights to create employee personas and journey maps. From there, you get a picture of the lived reality of your workforce and can take purposeful steps to design an experience that helps you attract and retain the best talent.
But design thinking is only one of the methodologies needed to solve some of the challenges. Service design, systems design and even futures and foresight have tools and approaches that are essential to solving some of the challenges that are structural and strategic in nature. This is a time for HR teams to lean into organizational development specialists and even bring behavioral science into the equation to provide a full spectrum of tools to drive needed changes.
In the heart of the pandemic, we worked with a team from a global Tier 1 automotive supplier in a pilot of the ME WE Program™ that focused on building more resilient and inclusive teams. In the process of following the 2-month program, the team was able to build a more healthy, collaborative environment through the program activities.
Some of the challenges the team faced included common struggles of getting everyone to attend the online sessions and finding time in their busy weeks to do the ‘homework’ needed to exercise new habits. The team was, overall, very good at collaborating remotely and maintaining a healthy team environment. Using this empathy-based approach to team development revealed areas where remote collaboration put pressures on the team, allowing the team leadership to clearly prioritize development focus on specific processes and behaviors.
How to Get Started
Curious about using this methodology to equip YOUR team to excel in 2022 and beyond? Dig deeper into the benefits and processes of design thinking:
- Learn more about how design thinking might aid your HR leadership team’s efforts to rethink where and how work gets done. Check out BookAuthority’s list of 27 best books in 2022 about remote working
- Sign up for a course that provides a thorough, interactive, actionable learning experience. DTG’s expert facilitators frequently offer live-online instruction—view our current offerings.
- Schedule a consultation to discuss challenges and opportunities unique to your team, organization, and industry. Email email@example.com.