Jun 24th 2019
Weekly News Roundup
Agile is the new bright shiny object in business and increasing numbers of companies are jumping on the agile bandwagon. Based on new ways of working guided by the Agile Manifesto and authored by Jeff Sutherland, the hype is not without justification. Agile delivers results that are hard to argue—increasing velocity and output while reducing development time and increasing customer satisfaction.
Because a fundamental tenet of agile is putting people over processes, HR systems are key to agile success. Whether you’re an HR professional contributing to your organization’s strategy or a leader shaping expectations for your internal HR partners, these are ways HR can help agile succeed:
Inspire New Thinking
HR professionals increasingly have a “seat at the table” and a strategic role in the business. Part of this role should be to provoke new thinking and make some waves—in a good way. HR can contribute to success with agile by staying aware of context and trends, and by bringing new thinking to the organization at all levels. While other functions may stick to their core competencies, a fundamental value of HR can be expanding viewpoints—in terms of policies, practices, talent approaches and especially as it relates to new methodologies like agile.
Start With People
While positive culture and attention to people practices must be the responsibility of every leader and department within an organization, HR has a unique role to play in ensuring organizations put people first. Agile succeeds when people come before process and have primary importance within teams and work approaches. Beyond the obvious role of advocating for people, HR can find ways to empower people and give them more choice and control in their assignments, their development path and even their hours of work.
Foster Team Accountability
Because agile teams work so closely together and manage their tasks with high levels of transparency (think: story cards and Kanban boards), there is nowhere to hide in an agile team. Likewise, the most effective agile teams see colleagues helping each other and adapting constantly to cover workloads, apply team members’ skills and develop individual and team capabilities. HR can support this effort by ensuring performance management systems are based on team performance more than individual performance and feature teams comparing their performance to their own output over time, rather than to that of other teams.
Recently we have seen two interesting reports come out of the OECD.
Both give us valuable insight into how the world of work looks right now and how it could look in the future. The first, the Employment Outlook on the Future of Work, touched on a wide variety of topics relating to how technology, demographic change and an evolving labour market are affecting the world of work, and how the dangers of these changes can be mitigated.
This report stresses that we should not be bracing ourselves for a jobless future, estimating that in the UK just 12% of jobs could be completely automated in the next 15-20 years. However, a further 26% could change significantly, creating both new methods for completing tasks and new jobs. Alongside this, innovation and disruption from new businesses, as well as the changing preferences of workers, mean that more flexible ways of working are becoming more prevalent: over a third of workers are now in non-standard employment. When we add in the UK’s ageing population, it becomes clear that the labour market could look very different in a generation’s time.
This transition will undoubtedly come with a number of challenges; some are already affecting us today. Many people will have to be retrained or upskilled, either because their role has been automated or just to keep pace with the changes to their current role.
Worryingly, the Employment Outlook found that six in ten workers currently lack basic IT skills, which are essential for many emerging jobs. In addition, the OECD’s Skills Outlook, published in May, found that only 37% of workers in the UK have good literacy and numeracy skills, ranking it 16th out of 29 countries behind Estonia (11th) and Slovakia (9th).
The Skills Outlook also found that 14% of UK workers are in jobs at high risk of automation and need access to training if they are to transition to a lower-risk position – that’s compared to an OECD average of 11%. Both reports stressed that lower-skilled workers, older workers and people from working class backgrounds tend to be at a higher risk of automation in their roles, and yet it is these groups who are least likely to participate in training and adult learning. Research from the Social Mobility Commission in the UK backs up these findings.
All this points to a worrying state of affairs, but as the Employment Outlook indicates there are measures we can put in place to mitigate the dangers. It is essential that all workers have more opportunities for training and retraining throughout their careers, but adult learning and training must be targeted at those who are in more vulnerable positions, for example by incentivising employers to train groups who are more at risk. We must also tackle unequal access to training for people in non-standard work, including agency workers: the REC is continuing to push for reform to the apprenticeship levy to allow recruitment agencies to do just that.
The Future of Work is Now, HR Exchange Network
It wasn’t too long ago work looked like exactly what you would expect: an open office space with desks and/or cubicles lining the walls or throughout the space. Conference rooms were nearby and the break room was always bustling.
The people in charge were older and more experienced. Those lower on the ladder were younger and focused. Some were climbing the corporate ladder while others held it in place for them.
Now, spaces are more avant garde. Desks are still present, but now, many of them are nameless belonging to everyone and not one person alone. There are couches with tables nearby, green spaces, and quiet spaces. Everyone works on a laptop or a mobile device moving from spot to spot. Some are there everyday while others are transient; remote workers working in the office rather than at home.
Future of Work
So, what are the forces behind the change? The answer is simple relatively speaking.
Millennials and Generation Z Technology Culture
HR professionals who have been in the business for sometime probably remember the rise of Generation Y (Millennials) and how spectacularly unprepared HR was when it happened. In an attempt to stop history from repeating itself, HR is on point and ready for the rise of Generation Z. And the timing couldn’t be better. By 2020, it’s estimated the workforce will be 50% Generation Z.
Like their millennial predecessors, Generation Z has a strong sense of technology. In fact, many parts of their lives include technology and they are quite comfortable with it. So comfortable in fact, some prefer to work remotely. Translation: the days of going into an office and working in a cubicle are dwindling.
Buffer’s State of Remote Work report says remote workers will account for nearly three-quarters of the U.S. workforce by 2020. In addition, the remote workforce is not only growing in size, but also in the level of positions on a “remote payroll” level.
Full-time employees from the lowest ranked to the top executive spend entire days at home logged in to their company’s mainframe through a remote client. Some don’t even stay at home, taking their laptop with them to the library or favorite coffee shop to work. They are video conferencing with fellow remote workers and conducting full scale projects without having to be in the same room with their team mates. In fact, the same report mentioned above says 90% of the remote workers they surveyed said they would spend the rest of their career working remotely.
Remote workers aren’t just full-time employees. A growing segment of them are freelance or gig workers; workers who shop their skills out to multiple employers at a time. This has real implications for HR.
“This whole concept of the gig economy, that’s going to change the workplace significantly,” Jami Stewart said. She’s the Senior Director of Operations at Cisco Systems, Inc. “It changes the way that we lead and manage teams,” she said. Stewart explained that, in a gig economy, the person is not a resource controlled by the company. Instead, the person is shared with other companies. It’s a significant change to the workplace because that gig employee can change companies based on their skills and desires with no strings attached.
Having said all that, most HR professionals who’ve talked about the remote workforce aren’t focused on the technology that makes it real; they focus, instead, on how to keep those employees connected to each other.
That’s driving a huge culture change. Some have joked both generations were practically born with technology in-hand. As a result, these workers have built-in expectations when it comes to access to information in their personal lives, and they extend that to their professional lives.
For instance, many of them are accustomed to asking an AI-powered device such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Echo device to play a song for them or turn on the lights and it happens instantly. Within minutes, they can put together a playlist for working out or play music during a party. It’s all about personalization.
“Change is a constant, as we all know. We’re all always preparing for the next thing and so when we say future of work, what do we mean? One year? Three years? 10 years? 50 years? We’re in a constant state of evolution,“ Luciana Duarte said. Duarte is the Vice President of Employee Experience at HP.
HP is one of the most recognizable technology companies in the world. The company sells different types of technology; everything from laptop computers to printers. It’s for that reason Duarte says change is constant and happens quickly for the company.
“We have to be more adept at change in order to survive in our industry,” Duarte said. The same can be said for HR as a whole. In fact, lots of things are changing, not just technology. Take transparency for instance.
Current and future employees don’t submit to traditional work models held by employers. As a result, HR is going to have to take a serious look at the information they make public. An extreme example would be publically disclosing the salaries paid to workers. At least one social media company, Buffer, does this.
In a survey from PayScale regarding job satisfaction and pay, the organization found the more information employees have about why they make what they make translates to higher retention rates.
If there is one critical point to take away here is that the future of work is in flux. Never before has there been such a change in the way people take on the challenges of their jobs and the responsibilities involved. But there is some peace of mind for HR: the same can be said for their jobs as well. For those professionals, the future of work is not just about redefining the workplace, the employees, or technology… it’s about redefining themselves. Ultimately, HR is in the driver’s seat of this change. The power to mold the future of work lies in being able to address the change in generations, handle the challenges of technology, and find the culture that works best for the employees and the business of their respective companies.