It is now accepted universally there we will be no return to the old normal. We will tell our grandchildren there was a time when people all had to come to the office to work, a meeting actually required everyone to be in a room, and we used to “hot desk”. Much has been prophesised about the new world of work expected over the next decade, but it arrived on the back of COVID-19 in three short months.

Organisations were not prepared, so leaders improvised to make it happen. Necessity has always been the mother of invention. However, it is time to closely review the bootstraps used and build structures to strengthen the way we cope with work in this new now.


Behavioral science has always pointed to the need for something more than the profit maximisation concept of Adam Smith to motivate employees.

In the new now, and organisation’s vision might need recalibration because of the changed economic climate but organisational purpose should definitely be revisited because of the very different social environment.

People working from home are not being constantly reminded of what the company is about because they are not attending the office and working inside it. Equally, managers have lost “line of sight” involvement with their team, and the personal relationship that exists and used when people share a workplace no longer happens. Over the longer term, people may question the reason why they are working for (and staying with) their employer. This needs to be a stronger magnet than ever before.

Organisational purpose provides the intrinsic motivators (sense of achievement and doing something worthwhile) that an employee needs. Extrinsic motivators (reward and benefits) work just fine with remote employees but ensuring people are intrinsically motivated is more of a challenge.

Purpose needs to be more than a statement in the Annual Report or a few sentences of a team presentation from the MD. It needs to become real and frequent, contextual, and relevant.

Organisation purpose can be supported by divisions or teams developing their purpose that they have contributed team and bring them more closely aligned. Digital can be used to remind and engage your team about the meaningful work they are doing and remind them of why we are doing this.

If you want to strengthen the magnet between your people and your organisation create a clear purpose, make it contemporary (we are in a new world), get it out there, and demonstrate it to your people when you can. Above all, be genuine, not cheesy, and if you want them to be sticky employees they must believe in it.

Clear and unambiguous objectives

People will be working alone and more autonomously. They won’t have the benefit of informal chats with colleagues seeking clarification on what is required. People are enjoying working at home and it isn’t just because they can do it in their tracky dacks. They like autonomy. They like to work out a way to do something and deliver it. (This is actually an important element of intrinsic motivation.)

To ensure the right outcomes are achieved it is important that your people understand what is expected of them. It is therefore critical that objectives need to be specific, not vague and ambiguous. They must also be measurable so that performance can be objectively reviewed, and they must be agreed with the employee if you want to have accountability. Many objectives are not met because the necessary resources, be they budgetary, other people, or organisational support, have not been provided – this is setting someone up to fail. Finally, an objective must have a timeline for delivery and the milestones along the way.

Put these requirements together and remote workers can, and will, continue to deliver outcomes if the objectives put in place are SMART.

Strategic Pillars

Disruption from technology has been accepted for a good while now, but we have not had other external factors materially drive disruption until COVID-19. Business models have been turned on their heads in a matter of months. New, improved and many innovative ways to meet the new needs of the marketplace are evolving every day.

Organisations need to be agile and adaptive but what is to stop a new initiative taking the organisation materially and dangerously away from what it does. What sets the boundaries so that people can innovatively and autonomously get on with their job but know they are operating within the swim lanes set for the organisation.

Frequently we hear of a business that has “pivoted” which is taken to mean it has undergone a major change and has a new vision. As organisations struggle with an economic recovery that is going to take its toll on many, the temptation of managers and even employees to pivot their way out of difficulty will be there.

This is where strategic pillars come into play. A revised vision should be supported by strategic pillars that define both what business we are now in and how we do business. The rate of change is such that these strong foundations need to be clearly enunciated and understood.

Vision is a reasonably nebulous and certainly a long term concept such that many initiatives could be arguably undertaken as part of the new vision. However, testing objectives against strategic pillars is a more robust way to ensure strategic focus is not lost.

Workplace Flexibility

The rise of the contingent worker has accelerated and increasingly organisations will power up and power down their workforces to meet seasonal and project needs. This suits the employer organisation currently and increasingly suits a growing employee ecosystem of skilled workers.

A consequence is that more skills and expertise needed on a periodic basis will be hired in rather than grown and developed from within. Organisations may find this a cost convenience now, but in boom times they will be back in the war for talent. Knowing where these people are, assessing their actual skills, being able to attract them to you (extrinsic motivation of money and intrinsic motivation of feeling good and helping the work), management of contracts, development, retention, and protection of IP. This is a new world of skills in itself.

And then we add “bots” into the equation. Workforce will have a significant growth in the use of machine learning assistants who will service both external customer needs and internal shared services.

Learning, Development and real conversations

People will reskill not many times over their careers, but rather it will need to constantly update. We have seen in the pandemic how people of all ages and backgrounds have adopted new technologies – look at how many people who are using zoom regularly had never heard of it six months ago.

Expert systems and technical solutions will provide a lot of the discipline mastery needed, just like for example spreadsheets can do advanced mathematics that very few of us can do. Undeniably there will be deep expertise in the technical areas and R&D will drive knowledge forward. For many people, however, the growth in skills most required is around people management, problem-solving communication, EQ, negotiations, project management, and so on.

These are skills not easily learned and whilst online learning content will proliferate, learning in the workplace is going to be more challenging. Some estimates show that about 80% of adult vocational learning occurs at work – watching and doing. How are organisations going to increase the competencies of their workforce and teach them these soft skills with a significant amount of time spent working remotely.

Two things have emerged in discussion around this new need. Firstly, a structured and formalised method of mentoring needs to be developed. This needs to be built around competency models and individual needs.

Secondly, there will be a need to put email, slack, texting, etc away and revert to speaking with people, interacting and understand their needs. The need for human contact, emotional support and encouragement cannot be replaced by technology.

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