As we prepare our organizations for the ever-evolving response to COVID-19, we wonder what the future of work will look like after we are safe to return to ‘normal’. Most companies are continuing their COVID-19 work policies and postponing the full opening of their offices at least until this summer. While no one can predict the future, some organizations have started planning for their post pandemic offices and work culture. A trend seems to be allowing employee flexibility for their place and time of work, while keeping in mind the employer’s responsibility for creating a safe and productive environment.
“Moving forward, it is our goal to offer as much flexibility as possible to support individual workstyles, while balancing business needs and ensuring we live our culture. Flexibility can mean different things to each of us, and we recognize there is no one-size-fits-all solution given the variety of roles, work requirements and business needs we have at Microsoft.”
– Kathleen Hogan – Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer
More than ever before, there is a dependance on workforce organizational and job information in HR Systems. This is due to the importance of an organization’s purpose and the roles within the workforce, impacting each company’s ability to offer flexible work arrangements. Technology companies such as Facebook and Slack, with a workforce largely comprised of knowledge workers, plan to allow employees to work from home permanently. Businesses that are service providers and especially those that employ healthcare and essential workers allow less flexibility, requiring fixed on-site operations schedules. Those in Sales roles are going back in the field and returning to in-person client visits. Some organizations like Salesforce and Amazon, are planning a “hybrid” model, in which there will be a combination of both working inside an office and at home. Companies will need to determine work location and schedule policies, based on the roles of their workforce segments after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted.
As HR technology professionals, we need to support the planning and create the systems that will prepare our organizations for the new ways of working and collaborating. This will be an extraordinarily complex workforce planning strategy analysis, never done before. To prepare the roadmap for the future of work HRIS vendors, consultants and practitioners need to ask:
- Where will people work?
- When will people work?
- How will the workforce be assigned to on-site work?
- What technology will support the distributed workforce collaboration and managing the workforce beyond established work locations?
- How will organizations track this flexible workforce for required reporting and compliance?
Offsite / Remote Work
Predictably remote work will be much more prevalent after the pandemic, than it was before the pandemic. According to McKinsey research, eighty percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than they had been before and twenty-eight percent that they are as productive. PwC’s US Remote Work Survey published in January of this year found eighty-three percent of employers say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company. It also reported by July 2021, seventy-five percent of executives anticipate that at least half of office employees will be working in the office. In comparison, sixty-one percent of employees expect to spend half their time in the office by July.
Green Street Advisors expects that office demand will be reduced by up to fifteen percent as a result of work from home policies once the coronavirus pandemic is contained, resulting in less real estate demand by companies world-wide. Some company policies support this; as an example Twitter will let all employees choose whether they want to continue working from home forever after the pandemic. Microsoft will let employees work from home freely for less than 50% of the working week when offices reopen.
COVID forced a rapid acceleration of adopting automation and digitization to support the remote and largely distributed workforce. This allowed organizations that moved to mostly home-based, to maintain employee engagement and collaboration to be productive and meet objectives. These businesses also realize that offering remote options to employees can reduce their operating expenses and increase employee satisfaction. So naturally, most employers will continue to offer work from home in some format to their workforce past the pandemic.
With the increase of remote work, IT Departments with heavy HRIS involvement must implement systems to manage the on-going larger percentage of the workforce off-site. Technology must be implemented to prepare your organization to operate and manage the workforce beyond your established work locations. Tax jurisdictions will need to be setup for every remote address, and companies will need to ensure they are in compliance to operate beyond their existing establishments. Workforce management systems need to provide management views of their team’s hours worked, replacing the in-person monitoring of time in the office.
Even after the pandemic, with new COVID 19 variants and heightened concerns for other viruses, employers need to create a work environment where their employees feel safe. The days of packing employees side-by-side and across from each other in open floor plans may be over.
Now companies are reviewing their location-based policies, considering options such as allowing some work from home hours, broadening office hours and splitting work shifts (already happening in offices in Asia) to allow more social distancing in the office. When each employee will be on-site will need to be carefully planned by role and team compositions – allowing for in-person collaboration, with consideration of space between workers.
Organizations will also need to prepare for those working on-site occasionally, part-time, or full-time. With more employees visiting offices or with flexible location arrangements, less of the workforce will have a dedicated office or desk. Open floor plans will need to be arranged to allow workers to freely select on demand, their own place to work from different spaces set by role. Office hoteling and conference room scheduling will also need planning. These shared spaces will be used in new ways, for example conference rooms may be used as an alternative space to cafeteria seating to allow social distancing at lunch hours.
HRIS should work with Facilities to build a system to request and reserve spaces, assigned by location-based employee schedules and roles. Some vendors such as IBM’s TRIRIGA integrated workplace management system1, are creating solutions leveraging AI, algorithms, and wearable devices to help optimize the use of office space for collaboration, productivity and safety. HRIS will need to integrate their workforce management systems with facilities planning systems, leveraging safe workplace and these other new technologies.
Location, Location, Location
Since many organizations are planning to offer a hybrid of remote and office assignments, HRIS will need to be configured for administering employees’ split work locations. It will beg the question – when is someone considered remote?
Employers with a large percent of remote workers may no longer set jobs’ compensation variances by the office’s location. Twitter and Square have indicated that employees at their companies will be allowed to work from home indefinitely, however, their compensation may be adjusted based on the Cost-of-Living of their work from home location. Recruiting might move from location-based sourcing, to acquiring the best talent regardless of applicants’ residence states and regions. In 2020 we saw some of the workforce moving away from their office’s jurisdictions, especially from cities such as New York, and San Francisco.
The USPS reported an increase in moves during COVID, over a half million more in 2020 than in 2019. A PEW study found about a quarter (28%) chose to move because they feared getting COVID-19 if they stayed where they were living. About a fifth (20%) said they wanted to be with their family, or their college campus closed (23%). A total of 18% gave financial reasons, including job loss.
HRIS will need to track the multiple locations, defining the primary location, whether temporary or long-term to be able to manage compensation, pay and regulatory concerns. For employees splitting their hours between home and the office, HRIS will need to track their hybrid work arrangements. Also expect that remote employees will continue to be associated to an office that they report to, as Finance may continue to budget and track expenses by location.
When – Flexible Hours
As more employees work from home, they will need flexibility on when they work, to balance work and home/family demands. Allowing employees to define their own work week also benefits companies to support global coverage across time zones. In addition, companies are realizing that offering flexible schedules, allows employees to juggle their work-life balance better to be more productive during their work hours.
Some companies are considering options for tracking the distributed workforce, including measuring work outcomes instead of hours for exempt salaried employees. On the other hand, tracking time worked for non-exempt employees working off-site is challenging, though necessary for FLSA compliance. One solution is to have employees clock-in from their work computers, to track when employees are connected to their jobs.
Time and attendance policies will need to be updated. For instance, employers may choose to calculate overtime on a work week basis instead of daily basis if regulations allow. That would give employees more flexibility on when they work their weekly hours, without adding costs to the employer. Workforce Management Systems will also need to support the new flexible hours rules, and address tracking for new regulations and the employer’s shift and attendance policies.
Responding to Government Guidelines and Compliance for Monitoring a Safe Workplace
Governments are updating their regulations for safe workplaces and individual’s rights. As the CDC site recommends, you will need to check with state and local health officials on precautions to take for each of your organization’s work sites. The CDC shared their own guidance on their web site:
• Business Guidance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
• Employer Guidance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html#anchor_1609682970029
When offices reopen, we may still continue health screenings for anyone entering the office. Organizations are beginning to include vaccine questions in their health certifications. A recent KPMG survey found ninety-one percent of U.S. CEO’s plan to ask employees to inform the company once they are fully vaccinated. Contact tracing may continue, with employer responsibilities for reporting and following up on positive cases. Companies need to follow EEOC guidance on confidentiality of medical records2, and keep in mind other data privacy regulations such as CCPA and GDPR. When using technology to collect information, individual data privacy must be ensured, as well as following data purging policies.
Technology for Distributed Workforce Collaboration
With the location of work becoming more distributed between home and office, there is a greater need for on-line connection and collaboration, replacing the in-office team meetings and coffee station and over the cubicle conversations. Companies are rapidly implementing EXP (on-line workforce experience) solutions, such as ServiceNow, to support virtual work, employee development and training, benefits and wellbeing. Microsoft released a new EXP tool this year – MS Viva, which runs with MS Teams using AI to automatically share the right content with the right people at the right time.3
This and other EXP systems run on top of your core HR/Payroll, talent management and other enterprise applications. To create a real-time and seamless experience, Web-Services/API’s should be implemented for system integration. To personalize on-line content and processes, EXP systems require organization and roles information. This will go beyond the standard Job Code and Department information. HR Systems will also need to track role responsibilities, project assignments and gig work to ensure that the workforce is meaningfully engaged to perform optimally. If AI is leveraged for automated connections and collaboration, HRIS will need to ensure data privacy and security of confidential information to limit content sharing to a need-to-know basis.
Six Steps Towards the Future of Work
- Analyze your workforce by roles to determine where flexible work arrangements are optimal for the employee and employer.
- Analyze your workforce by roles and schedules to plan and reconfigure on-site workspaces.
- Plan for the return of onsite work with systems that monitor office use, support well-being, and re-define workspaces and office hours to create a safe and productive work environment.
- Update your workforce management systems to support the new time and attendance policies and tracking of work.
- Implement EXP systems that integrate with your core HR Systems, to enable connection and collaboration for the distributed workforce.
- Upgrade your systems with real-time (API) integrations to create a seamless on-line experience for your employees, no matter where or when they are working.
While we cannot predict when the new ‘normal’ will start or companies’ post COVID plans, it is not too early to get started now on the future of work!