As a self-confessed research geek, I was very excited to read this year’s Human Capital Trends Report by Deloitte. It was published a little later than usual as it comes with a supplementary ‘Return to work’ reporta ‘wrapper’ adding relevance for our post-Covid world. Which means it’s now time for my little annual summary!

The reports are based on the results of a global survey of over 9,000 business and HR leaders, sprinkled with the magic-insight-dust of the very clever people at Deloitte. If you have the time, they make 140-odd pages of fascinating reading. But if not, get comfy, grab a cuppa and read on…

The main report starts by walking us through the last ten years of the world of work; the journey of trying to bring humanity and technology together. And puts forward the view that all the apparent contradictions we see are actually two sides of the same coin.

Interestingly, it appears that the current pandemic hasn’t actually changed any of the trends. Instead, it’s brought many of the key areas sharply into focus – and accelerated many of the changes we were already starting to see.

The three paradoxical themes are:

1.   Belonging v. individuality

Here, we need to connect employees through their purpose at work, and design work around that purpose and values.

“When teams are united by a common purpose, differences in opinion on matters unrelated to that purpose become less relevant.”

They look at three ways organisations can transform individuality into collective value:

  • By fostering belonging through a sense of contribution – i.e. whoever you are, this is what we’re all here to do and this is the impact it has on the world. Your contribution matters.
  • By supporting employees’ wellbeing through the design of their work e.g. true flexibility – not just as stand-alone ‘wellbeing’ initiatives. This strikes a massive chord right now!
  • By building strategies based on a nuanced understanding of employees’ attitudes and values, rather than basic demographics. Let’s stop talking about generational differences alone.

Key take-away for me as we emerge from lockdown?

“Now is the time to embed wellbeing into every aspect of the design and delivery of work itself and to fundamentally redesign work toward outputs instead of activities.”
2.  Security v. reinvention

This section builds on this theory: when the world around us is changing at pace (mainly due to technological advances), employers need to encourage and support people to reinvent themselves at every opportunity. Only then will people feel secure in their work.

Again, three areas they focus on are:

  • Building ‘superteams’ by integrating AI into teams – not separating the roles of the human and those of technology.
  • Creating a culture where people recognise that their value (and therefore sense of security) increases only if they share the new knowledge technology has afforded them.
  • Investing in resilience. Those who are able to learn new skills will be most likely to find work in today’s rapidly shifting job market.

How does this impact our work as communicators?

As we return to work over the coming weeks, it’s time we harness the technological knowledge, resilience and adaptability people have developed. Through effective use of tech channels and great communications, employers should celebrate the skills their people have gained, and encourage more of these behaviours.

3. Bold action v. uncertainty

Perhaps the most pertinent theme for our current situation. It asks us, “what if, instead of prompting doubt, uncertainty could give rise to new possibilities: the opportunity to shape the future through decisive action?”

It suggests that in an uncertain world, we should take decisive action in the following three areas:

  • A more human approach to compensation. Forget data, benchmarks and ‘market value’ and compensate employees based on how organisations value them, and how they value the organisation. (‘Key workers’, anyone?)
  • Organisations shouldn’t be afraid of confronting the ethical questions which will undoubtedly arise head-on. Don’t think “could we” but “how should we.”
  • Employers should ask new questions to inform bold decisions about people, especially now, as uncertainty about the future of work, the workforce, and the workplace has increased.
“As they stage the return to work, organizations should take advantage of the power of technology to…gain the real-time workforce insights they need.”

What does this tell us? Let’s leave old fashioned annual surveys and review processes in the past. Let’s move forward boldly using real-time sentiment analysis and regular feedback to keep our business and employees’ needs aligned.

Closing the report is a reassuring and encouraging message for all the great HR professionals out there. As humans and technology come together, the future of HR is “one of expanded focus and extended influence.” Increasingly (and quite rightly), HR’s role is increasingly to inform business strategy.

So what can we take from all this to guide us through the coming months?

The world of work has been transformed over the last few weeks, in many ways for the better (potential economic meltdown aside). As we try to return to some semblance of normality, let’s not forget the good bits and slip back into old bad habits…

“While moments of crisis can lead to heroic and unprecedented actions, the sustainability of those actions is where the true path towards recovery will begin.”