Working from home is one of the symbols of the trend towards greater work flexibility for workers and a more trusting, less commanding and controlling management style. Having to work from home due to the pandemic, however, more and more loses this taste of freedom. What used to be a compulsory presence in the office is now one at home.
What the future of work might really look like
Working from anywhere, meeting through virtual platforms etc. will undoubtedly remain important elements to increase employee satisfaction and employer attractiveness. But in the wake of the pandemic the term “employer attractiveness” has taken on important new facets like employee health, job stability and reliability.
Thus, to remain attractive employers must be ready to meet their duty of care towards their employees and guarantee business continuity even in the most turbulent times. Certainly, IT capabilities respectively digitalization will play a major role, but the challenge is much more multifaceted. It requires a rethinking of legacy, not only in dealing with personnel and their workplace, skillset and needs, but also with operational day-to-day processes, associated risks and costs. In other words: an adjustment of the entire business model.
Are companies ready for the “new normal“?
While most managers have accepted that their workforces will never work the way they used to anymore, only a minority are already preparing for the new normal by reworking their strategies and operating models. Still, the focus is very much on business continuity related to financial issues, which outweigh other critical points. And often legal and compliance hurdles hinder the implementation of flexible solutions. Neither current tax and social security laws, nor their labour and immigration counterparts accommodate the increased flexibility need. And the pandemic has even increased the appetite of domestic regulators. Thus, providing greater flexibility is not only a strategic and operational challenge but also a compliance stretch that requires careful assessment of related risks.
A statement for the commodities industry
The authors interviewed HR leaders of selected KPMG clients in the commodity sector. Most of them confirmed that they had already introduced working from home before COVID-19.
However, many stated that they had to adapt their infrastructure and accelerate digitisation considerably to secure permanent remote business continuity and the safety and well-being of the staff.
Employees had adapted very quickly to the change, which was much appreciated by management. Also, employees who had to continuously visit the office for logistic reasons, e.g. traders, showed a high level of understanding.
Overall, the interviewed companies rated their switch to remote working a success. Some even reported unexpected positive side effects such as a significant decrease in sick leaves. About a third of the respondents stated that the rise of virtual meetings has moved their management closer to employees through more regular and somewhat more personal virtual meetings and boosted cross-border networking within the own organisation and thus, is helping the industry to overcome one of its oldest weaknesses. On the other hand, spontaneous contact with local peers declined which led to less collaboration and innovation.
Human Resources itself sensed a momentum to take advantage of increased remote work arrangements and improved technology to widen recruitment efforts to talented professionals who live far from headquarters, including younger generations and those who did not previously consider a commodity career. With a view beyond the pandemic, most of the interviewed HR leaders identified a trend towards a higher appetite of employees of all grades to freely choose between working in the office or from home. They concluded therefore that there is a need to reinforce and tighten their ethics and compliance reviews and procedures, which can become lax in remote work situations.
All in all, flexibility is key. Not only for employer attractiveness but also for the sake of securing business continuity, compliance and sustainable success. With respect to workplaces, flexibility clearly means going towards hybrid models allowing both the employer and the employee for a needs-and preference-based alternation between work in the office and remotely. The biggest upcoming challenge will therefore be to establish and maintain two parallel, fully functional, compliant and affordable work environments.