With people working remotely, suddenly companies have the opportunity to hire crack teams of highly skilled technicians from firms such as Accenture for short engagements. This means a company doesn’t have to employ a permanent team of crypto-currency experts, or AI engineers, or other specialists to execute a project, only to have to let them go after a few months once the project has been delivered.
The world of staffing is shifting, but so is the world of work.
Accenture recently released a research report called the Fjord Trends, which explores the ways the world of work is changing.
The report sets out four main areas that companies need to consider when thinking about working from home, or as the report phrases it: living at the office.
- Technology. A global survey found that three quarters of people wanted to keep working from home exclusively. Companies are having to think about how they will approach home-office infrastructure. The social contract between employer and employee used to be that workers would commute to the office, and be supplied with the computers, desks, chairs and internet access they needed to do their work. Now that people want to work more from home, how will that contract change? Will workers be expected to outlay the money for their office setup? Or will companies be expected to supply computers, expensive ergonomic office chairs and other technology? What will happen when the employee moves on?
- Culture. The father of business consulting, Peter Drucker, famously said culture eats strategy for breakfast. The old ways of building culture relied on people being physically together. Informal get-togethers like Friday night drinks almost seem like an automatic part of office life, but these and other rituals like smoke breaks and water-cooler chats are powerful culture-building occasions. Companies need to find ways of intentionally expressing culture online, and using face-to-face interactions in deliberate, culture-building ways. Accenture uses a combination of intensive inductions and trainings, as well as sophisticated online training, to help cement our culture – proving that culture can be built and sustained online.
- Talent. Working from home means the world becomes our recruiting ground. Companies headquartered in expensive cities such as Cape Town or New York City can now look further afield and employ people who live in less expensive areas at lower cost. The Fjord Trends research has found that companies are better able to meet their equity and diversity goals than before because they are not limited to drawing from populations who can afford to live where the company is, or those who can afford the cost of relocation. The research does point to a backlash from workers who don’t see why they should be paid less for the same work, simply because they choose to reside in a geography with a lower cost of living.
- Control. In the 1980s, IBM famously insisted that all their salesmen (they were almost all men) wear white shirts. When you’re working from home, can your employer reasonably dictate what you wear? What about your home decor? Can your employer tell you to take down that painting in the background? Vendors supplying employee surveillance tools have done very well out of the pandemic. Keyloggers, mandatory webcams that monitor employees’ work habits, data collection tools that report on how many hours a worker spends online have all been employed by companies. And as the researchers wryly observed, hacks and work-arounds have been employed by workers trying to get out of the all-seeing eye of their Big Brother employers.
How ethical is it to keep tabs on people in their own homes? And is this the best way to build a culture, lead a team, and create value?
The pandemic has definitely given the whole system a jolt. It’s a sobering thought that in countries where the pandemic is better controlled, commuter numbers are up to 75% – 85% of their 2019 levels. But for a significant and probably growing proportion of people, working from home will be a reality, at least some of the time. And that can have benefits for worker and employer alike, if it is approached thoughtfully and intentionally.
For the full Fjord Trends report, please click this link.