COVID-19 has prompted all organizations, regardless of size, sector and location, to rethink their workforce models. In our recent survey, 84% of participants are currently exploring different working models. They are doing this from a point of necessity – possibly with a need to reduce costs and investor pressure, but certainly with a strong degree of creativity.
Companies across the world have already made drastic changes as they entered fire-fighting mode during the COVID-19 crisis. Consider Boston Scientific – cutting hours and salaries as a direct response to an increase in pressure on cashflow – but with a view to protecting jobs.
Rather than redundancy and closure, the majority of our clients want to explore more creative ways of curbing expenditure, driven by a desire to protect jobs and people. In short, they are rethinking how their workplace operates and building different scenarios and hypotheses to test. For example, what would be the impact of a shorter working week? What if costly office space and rent were reduced by ramping up remote working or flexible working hours? What would be the impact of a blanket reduction in base pay – or a cutback in pay but an increase in other benefits? These options are being considered as alternatives to job losses.
Of course, there is no single right model. Different firms will work out what works for their operation and, importantly, their people.
As companies pivot towards cost-savings and cash conservation, we very quickly come to realise that some of the levers at our disposal in the short term are nearly exclusively people-related. These include a temporary cut in salaries, furloughing parts of a workforce or moving a workforce to a four day working week.
Voluntary Not Mandatory
If we take the four day working week as an example, how do we go about creating a win-win situation for the organization and the employee?
Depending on where you are operating and the legislative differences regarding employees, the initial start point may be to get employees to opt-in to such models. The focus should be on designing an attractive model and messaging that people would want to buy into: why would someone choose a four day working week in the first place?
A Road Map Recognizing Difference
We have in place a practical, six step road map that takes clients from the stage of imagining and articulating the future working state through to the development and monitoring of an effective people strategy. Data-led, it gives our clients an understanding of the current workforce and an insight into individual preferences and differences. It enables us to know what drives and motivates the workforce, where the pinch points and risks might be and how different scenarios might play out.
The starting point is understanding role practicalities and organizational structure.
For example, we need to understand that not all roles are suitable for a shorter working week (think about a trader and markets operating on a five day basis) or working in a home office (think about staff with access to highly confidential data).
At Aon, we have developed our Aon Accelerate Model. This compares 30+ criteria and benchmarks these criteria against our market data thereby giving organizations a baseline understanding of the suitability of different roles. However, this does not answer everything. Apart from understanding our workforce as a whole, we need to understand individual employees. Some thrive on being surrounded by colleagues and team members in an office. Others thrive on working from a home office. Others still work best with a blend of the two.
The result is a number of employee personas or employee segments. For each separate segment, an offer, messaging and communications are worked through. This is what allows us to create a win-win for all. It is this possibility to tailor to the individual that will result in high take-up rates of any new working model, such as the four day working week.
Reimagining the Future
Investor pressure is mounting for organizations to move from a period crisis management to a crisis recovery stage. They need to rethink how they can work through current uncertainty, save costs, protect the knowledge, skills and workforce and be best placed to move forward.
There has to be a culture shift. A shift in the way we think about work and where it needs to be carried out. Those companies willing to think of a new model and work through the possibilities are more likely to get the best results for its business and workforce. Arguably real change is more accessible today than ever before. The time to act is now.
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