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Your workforce is changing – and it’s changing fast.

Some UK studies suggest there’s been a 74% increase in the number of people working from home in the past decade. But the change is even deeper than that. Globalisation and rapid advances in technology are changing not just how we work, but also how we *think* about work.

There’s been a shift away from the concept of a job for life, with many members of the workforce opting instead for flexible work on their terms – when they’re given the choice, of course.

Add in the gig economy (think short term contracts or freelance work rather than traditional, permanent working arrangements) – responsible for 1m jobs in the UK and millions more globally – and you’ve got a situation that brings opportunity. And a lot of uncertainty too.

Decision-makers are feeling an increasing demand to empower their teams with preferred tools and techniques. It can be a daunting process at first, so here are nine straightforward ways to prepare for the workforce of tomorrow.

1. Provide support for autonomous and flexible workers

It’s not enough for employers to just introduce flexibility and increased autonomy for their workers – it’s so important that they keep up a dialogue with those employees, encouraging them to maximise the opportunities afforded to them. After all, how good is autonomy if employees don’t feel truly trusted to innovate and try things out?

Progressive employers are realising that the relationship has changed but they stand to gain hugely by fully buying into that.

Speaking candidly about this shift, one Senior Accenture Talent Manager stated:

“The war for talent is over. The employee won. They demand from us the same level of choice and service as they do as consumers. Millennials are less interested in pensions and other benefits like equity or stock options. They value choice, autonomy, growth and purpose.”

While this can be a disconcerting change, businesses that support and enable this shift will reap the rewards. It’s not hard to tell a motivated new starter apart from a jaded veteran in the workplace. But imagine if you could unlock the enthusiasm of the experienced worker by showing them how much you trusted them? It’s a win-win.

2. Empower teams to work across borders

One of the most profound changes in the modern workforce is the evolving way we interact with colleagues. Finding ways to cultivate a workspace that allows remote teams to flourish is a challenge but one that offers huge rewards.

(cranks up time machine) Just 20 or so years ago, most offices were still isolating employees into cubicles or in enclosed rooms. And while Office Space is a great movie, that style of layout doesn’t lend itself to collaboration.

Now, office spaces are typically open plan – to encourage collaboration within and between teams. 

In plenty of other companies, there is a shift towards remote collaboration – with teams working from multiple locations, often in different timezones. (It’s something we embrace at Pleo. Just ask the Slovenian, British and Irish workers combining forces to bring you this list).

But great collaboration like this relies on great software – supporting the specific needs of the team. 

If it’s a remote design team, collaborative tools like Marvel or Abstract offer intuitive and powerful solutions. If it’s a remote content team, tools like Trello or Airtable can streamline the content management process.

3. Simplify internal communication

If I miss your call, you’ll hear my automated message apologise for missing you… and tell you if you really want to get me, you won’t leave me a voicemail. You’ll text me instead. Or hit me up on Whatsapp. Or reach out on Slack. I can’t stand voicemails, but that’s not a problem because there are 503 other ways to reach me.

Sound familiar?

In today’s workplace, Slack and Skype can keep your team connected throughout the day, no matter where individuals are. It frees employees up to travel and work abroad, without sacrificing productivity.

One suggestion though is to establish guidelines on “switch off time”. Most people won’t mind a call or WhatsApp message at 7pm in case of an emergency, but they probably won’t appreciate a random Slack notification to share the latest Stranger Things meme.

4. Develop a culture of continuous feedback

One of the more outdated practices within the corporate world is that of performance reviews.

These annual or semi-annual reviews are intended to evaluate how well a particular employee is performing, but in reality tend to only create extra tension throughout the office when they’re taking place. Everyone can remember that feeling when a review was approaching – the pressure to not screw anything up often leading to an almost inevitable screw-up.

A better approach is for managers to communicate daily with their team and use collaborative tools to give them real-time feedback on tasks. This not only reduces the stress caused by an annual review but also facilitates faster, more actionable insights on actual performance.

5. Insist on work-life balance. Yes, insist.

From striking workers in Germany pushing for flexible hours to sweeping changes to the strictures of Japanese work culture, evidence of people becoming increasingly resistant to the rat race is hard to miss. A CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) report suggested the UK ranks poorly for work-life balance compared to comparative economies, so the issue seems unlikely to go away.

Improving work-life balance for employees also helps to reduce burnout, often cited as one of the leading causes behind employee turnover. Providing employees with flexible hours, working around personal events, and switching from fixed hours to a deliverable-based environment are great ways to boost employee morale.

Work-life balance can also be improved while employees are still at work. They might feel like a gimmick at first, but implementing features like exercise rooms or meditation areas can help employees pursue personal goals within the office space. If they don’t sound like a great fit for your team, why not canvas opinion on what does?

6. Encourage employee engagement

Trusting employees to help drive the direction of your business can have huge rewards for companies, boosting job satisfaction and potentially unlocking new ways of working better. But just paying lip service to workers’ input isn’t sufficient, with CIPD research showing that only 40% of employees feel their superiors are good at listening.

So how can leaders do better at encouraging employee engagement?

Transparency is one big step. Celebrating achievements is easy (and fun!), but speak candidly about low points too. If teams aren’t reaching their goals, ask them about pain points that management might be unaware of. Even if there’s nothing that can immediately be done, employees will likely value being heard about problems they’re tackling in the trenches.

Finding the right forum for engagement can help too. Some of your staff might love to offer up ideas in a committee setting, while for others, a one-to-one or digital suggestion box might work better.

Learning how to listen is vital – and yes, it is something you can learn. Whether it’s thinking about a conversation or meeting as a form of meditation (ie clear your mind of other things) or trialling a “listening stick” (you can’t speak until the other person hands you the stick – maybe try this one at home first), there are ways to ensure employees know you’re really listening.

7. Increase productivity through automation

Rather than replacing jobs, automation is helping to make many employees faster, smarter, and more efficient.

So many of the roles that employees fill are spent doing menial, repetitive work. These kinds of jobs take a toll on employees, not to mention distracting people from more high-impact work.

Automation has the ability to offload these more repetitive, time-consuming tasks so that your employees can work on things that matter more to them and the company as a whole.

Find areas that it makes sense to automate within your business, for example company spending, and then use that time saved to engage your workforce in meaningful, high-value tasks.

8. Encourage remote working

We spoke earlier about how remote working is increasingly popular – but more than that, it’s something to be encouraged. The benefits include increased productivity and lower overhead costs for businesses.

Employees’ work also tends to be more effective, as there is more focus on delivered work rather than hours worked. Now that it has become less important for employees to be in the same physical location, we are seeing a massive increase in remote work.

Embrace this change and find ways to empower it.

9. Share the values of your employees

Sustainability, workplace diversity, corporate responsibility. Millennials care about all of them, but… how much? 

One US study suggested 64% of employees in that age bracket won’t take a job if the company doesn’t have strong social values. Meanwhile, 86% of female millennials in a PwC report said their employer’s policy on diversity was important to them.

A lot of companies talk the talk on these issues, but how to truly make this a core strength of your modernising business? One answer seems to be: involve everyone.

There’s a common trend in companies that have made sustainability work, argues this Harvard Business Review piece. Those firms have made sustainability everyone’s responsibility, in a goal-oriented and structured way. It’s a great approach to tackle one of the key issues of our time but also to engage every level of employee, from CEO down.

The trend of focusing on the happiness and well-being of employees isn’t actually a trend. It’s progress.

The modern economy is dominated by jobs that require intense intellectual effort.

There’s a battle for talent and the best employees know to look for companies that boast a good track record on worker well-being. They want you to go beyond vague promises to show in practical terms how well you treat workers. Prospective hires are less afraid to ask questions about work-life balance and the input they’ll have with leadership. 

So why not come up with answers now, rather than when employees you want to hire or retain turn the tables and ask you some tough questions?

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