3 Emerging Work Models: How HR Can Prepare

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3 Emerging Work Models: How HR Can Prepare

Digital transformation was influencing ways of working long before the pandemic, but lockdowns and the shift to remote working accelerated these changes in significant ways. 

Welcome to the future of work, where 4-day work weeks are proving to be more productive than traditional 5-day weeks, CEOs and CIOs are considering job sharing, and top talent want the flexibility to work on an assignment basis instead of being full-time employees. As an HR professional, how are these trends going to disrupt your world? 

Market uncertainties impacting way we work 
Trend 1: Triple peak days
Triple peak model: What HR should be considering
Trend 2: Top sharing
Top share model: What HR should be considering
Trend 3: Unilever’s U-Work agency model
The future of work is here – is HR ready?

Market uncertainties impacting the way we work 

Employers and employees alike have learned that it is possible to not only work remotely but to do so productively, efficiently, and collaboratively. But COVID-19 had a far more momentous impact than showing hybrid work is a real possibility. It proved that different people are productive at different times and that employees expect more flexibility and agency in designing how and when they work.  

What does this mean as markets continue to evolve and face new uncertainties and challenges? Organizations have the opportunity to harness these new findings and support employees in ways that let them bring creativity and efficiencies to the business, or they can hold on to old ways of doing business and risk losing key talent.

As an HR professional, you can help your organization navigate the future of work and embrace new model trends that help both the business and the employees continue to deliver results. Let’s review what these new trends are and how they can be leveraged and supported by HR professionals and managers.

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Trend 1: Triple peak days

As new ways of working continue to emerge, like remote and hybrid working, it is becoming increasingly clear that the traditional 9 to 5 model will soon be replaced. And data from Microsoft’s research is proving this trend to be true. 

At the start of the pandemic, Microsoft tracked that Microsoft Teams chats increased significantly outside of ‘traditional’ work hours, particularly between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Where there used to be two peak periods during a work day (just before and just after lunchtime), a third emerged amongst its employees. Interestingly, post-pandemic, this way of working continues to remain.  However, the question is raised whether this is people adopting flexible working or an attempt to catch up after a busy day.

There is no doubt that ‘out of office’ hours were amplified during the pandemic. According to Microsoft’s Work Trends Index, time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings more than doubled globally since the 2020 lockdowns and remote working began, with the average meeting increasing by 10 minutes and the average Teams user sending 45% percent more chats, and 42% more chats per person after hours.

The Microsoft graph indicates about 30 percent of studied subjects experienced “peaks” of work in the morning, afternoon, and the evening.  Source

This data clearly indicates that the lines between ‘work’ time and ‘home’ time have blurred and continue to be blurred. HR should consider where the benefits and drawbacks are of the third peak and how they can support employees to ensure engagement and productivity remain unaffected. 

The pros of a triple peak day

When you’re working from home and living in Zoom and Teams meetings, it’s natural for the work/home life lines to begin to blur and for some people to hit their keyboards later in the evening. This allows for less interruption and more concentrated bursts of focused work, as illustrated by Microsoft’s research – with a 30% evening spike in keyboard activity.

So, what are the benefits of this new peak?

  • Increased flexibility: By offering flexible work arrangements, employers can accommodate the needs of their employees. This is especially beneficial for employees who have family or other personal commitments that they need to juggle with their work life. According to SHRM, 55% of employees cited work-life balance and flexibility as very important aspects of their job satisfaction.
  • Attracting top talent: Businesses embracing hybrid work and the realities of triple peak times have access to a much larger talent pool as geographic locations are no longer important. In addition, employees who value flexibility and autonomy will be drawn to the emerging work model. Autonomous employees are often natural top performers.
  • Increased collaboration: Teams that work across different time zones can collaborate as long as all team members are comfortable with the arrangements.
  • Reduced stress levels: When employees can design their work schedules, stress levels can potentially be reduced.

The cons of a triple peak day

Ideally, work-life balance should achieve productive work hours while also having enough time for personal pursuits and family. However, according to one study by the Harvard Business Review, 94% of employees reported working more than 50 hours per week, and nearly half said that they worked more than 65 hours per week – which is the opposite of carving out more time for loved ones.

Here are the cons that HR professionals should be aware of:

  • There is still room for traditional models: Not everyone wants to work outside of the normal 9 to 5 work day. Many people still want to work during the day and do not want their work to encroach after hours.
  • The lines become blurred: Accepting evening work runs the very real danger of an ‘always on’ work mentality, which reduces (and even eliminates) work/life balance.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach: Some employees want work-life integration and are happy to stream meetings from the breakfast table. Others want work-life balance and a clear delineation between work-life and home life.
  • Some employees may have difficulty adjusting: Companies choosing flexible work models should be aware that employees who are used to a traditional work week may have difficulty adjusting to a more flexible schedule. Training, support, and clear structures will be required for a smooth transition.

Triple peak model: What HR should be considering

Working late isn’t something new. People have worked late for decades. However, the triple peak day can either support productivity, flexibility, and new ways of collaborating, or it can open the door to extremely unhealthy work-life practices if all limits to how and when we work are removed. The answer to the future of work lies in finding the right balance.

Here are three key guidelines HR professionals should consider when designing new work models that support triple peak working.

1. Define flexibility policies

Use a top-down and bottom-up process to define flexibility policies:

HR should survey employees, listen to their needs, and set expectations. The hybrid working model supporting three peaks must be co-created, and the business should commit to iterating as everyone learns what works and what does not work.

Linda Shaffer: Chief People Operations Officer, Checkr

HR and managers must encourage employees to be honest with their needs and feedback:

Based on this exercise, set company objectives and goals and create a framework that will deliver on the business’s core strategy and revenue goals. The goal is to find a balance between flexibility and consistency.

Communicate with employees that, while the business wants to support flexible working, it is important that individual, team, company, and customer requirements are met.

Share the framework and invite employees to choose the flexible working option that suits their needs. This is a critical step – the company provides the framework, so you will need to carefully think through your options, including:

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  • When work gets done
  • How work gets done
  • How teams can collaborate
  • When there should be meetings and when there should be no meetings
  • How outcomes are defined and measured
  • The equipment each employee needs to do their job
  • Supportive performance-management systems
  • The platforms you will use

Finally, be ready to iterate. This is a new way of working and won’t be perfect, to begin with.  

2. Solve for work encroaching on personal time

  • Set core hours and availability limits. This will involve determining how many hours per day employees are expected to work, how those hours are captured, and where there is flexibility.
  • Empower employees to manage their flexibility by giving them the tools to capture when they work and what they are working on.
  • Determine communication guidelines, including when a chat tool/email can be used for communication instead of meetings, remove the pressure to respond immediately to messages, and encourage employees to turn off channel notifications in the evenings when they are doing focused work.
  • Workers who utilize the after-hours third peak should also schedule their emails to only send the following morning so that they do not encroach on the personal time of their colleagues or clients.

3. Make well-being a priority

  • In a flexible model, it is important to stop valuing presence over performance. Instead, managers should sit with their teams, set clear performance targets, and then measure how their team progresses.
  • HR’s role is to review how managers are measuring their teams to ensure all core business objectives are being met without employees working longer hours than expected.
  • It is critical that employee well-being is taken into account to avoid burnout, which is why average work-week hours should be carefully monitored against output.

Jolanda’s HR pro tip

HR should consider their role in strengthening culture, trust and connection and creating practices that address all aspects of wellbeing (physical, mental, social, professional, and financial). Leaders should consider:

How they further instill this in their teams and what else they can do to create clear expectations and prioritize work in asynchronous schedules. This includes a regular check-in on workload and total hours per week, regardless of when they are worked.  Facilitate discussions in the team on how people work together, how to set boundaries, and how performance will be managed.

HR should lead discussions on meeting fatigue. A recent Atlassian Report suggested that 23% of employees who had up to 15 hours of meetings each week experienced one or more signs of burnout and 23% of people exhibited burnout symptoms when they had more than 20 hours of meetings each week.

Take the opportunity to rethink meetings. Does every meeting need to be a meeting? Could it be an email or video that people can watch asynchronously? Does each meeting have a purpose, outcome, agenda, pre-reading, and a facilitator? Intentionally working on new meeting practices will be a win for wellbeing, productivity, and business outcomes.

Jolanda Rotteveel, Senior Associate, Future of Work expert, Keogh Consulting

Trend 2: Top sharing

Job sharing is not a new concept. For decades government and private organizations have used the job sharing model to mitigate the risks of too much knowledge residing with one person, to address skills shortages and to provide some individuals with more flexibility. However, it is a work model that has not been widely explored or adopted – until now. 

Top sharing is similar to job sharing but at a leadership level, something that is much newer and the result of how the way we think about work – and the future of work – is changing.

Most industries are currently facing the perfect storm:

  • An aging labor force with a wealth of leadership and institutional knowledge
  • A tight labor market and skills shortages
  • Younger employees who are expecting flexible and hybrid work models
  • Tight economies
  • Market uncertainties

Leadership and highly expert or technical roles tend to be the biggest cost to company, where most of a business’s experience and institutional knowledge sits and one of the areas where organizations are struggling the most to fill roles. Businesses facing these challenges could look at a top sharing model as a solution.

An agile solution to leverage more skills

Traditionally job sharing hasn’t reached top-level positions because there has been an expectation that if you work fewer hours, your career won’t progress. However, according to Fast Company, Switzerland has seen great progress in top sharing over the past decade – even reaching CEO level. In fact, one-third of the Swiss workforce does not work full hours – including C-Suite and highly skilled individuals.

So, who is top sharing typically for?

  • Managers and leaders who are nearing retirement but want to still work part-time and share their knowledge while also having the freedom to travel and pursue other activities.
  • Younger managers who bring tech knowledge and fresh perspectives.
  • Individuals who are leaders but are passionate about other areas in their lives as well and would prefer to work fewer hours.

The pros of top sharing 

While top sharing may not be for everyone and will rely on finding two individuals who can work well together and trust each other, there are key benefits to this new work model.

These include:

  • Access to more skills: Two people naturally bring more skills and knowledge to a role than one person.
  • Innovation and creativity: Diversity in the workplace increases solution-building because different mindsets and experiences are brought to the same problem. Cross-generational top shares in particular, increase diversity in the workplace.
  • Supportive of the hybrid model: One of the challenges of the future of work is finding ways to offer employees increased flexibility while delivering higher productivity and improved decision-making to the organization – top sharing potentially offers both.

The cons of top sharing 

The future of work may be flexibility and finding innovative solutions to challenging market conditions, but it’s important to remember that not every solution will suit an organization’s needs.

Here are a few cons to top sharing that HR should consider:

  • There are added costs: Even though the salary is shared, hiring two employees instead of one will cost the company more in terms of complexities and benefits.
  • The business could lose talent instead of attracting it: If a potential candidate does not want to top share they won’t be interested in the position.
  • There is potential for conflict: Top sharing requires a high level of trust, collaboration and the ability to relinquish control. It is not for everyone.
  • Lower salaries can be a problem: Not everyone is looking for flexibility at a lower or shared salary range.

Top share model: What HR should be considering

“I believe that top sharing is one of the models businesses can utilize a lot more than they currently are to provide employees with broader flexibility regarding work arrangements,” says Dr Dieter Veldsman, Subject Matter Expert at AIHR. “We are seeing more portfolio careers with employees also seeking time and opportunity to pursue other interests. Job sharing is a way to create some of those opportunities.”

With this in mind, HR professionals should consider the following key elements to ensure top sharing is a success.

1. Ensure compatible individuals top share

  • Top sharers must be able to communicate, collaborate, and disagree with each other.
  • It may take multiple interview rounds and even a trial period to ensure two people are compatible.
  • Compatibility does not mean two people who have the exact same qualifications and experiences – in fact, diverse skills and backgrounds are a plus in top sharing because the position has a broader skill set and a great ability to see all the angles.
  • Be clear about why the business has considered top sharing for this specific role, and make sure the candidates have candidly shared their reasons as well. This is crucial to everyone understanding and respecting each other’s boundaries.
  • As the HR professional, work with the two people who are top sharing to help them discuss, define and capture the ways they want to work that will suit them both.

2. Effective work is built on clearly defined roles

  • Begin by clearly capturing what the role entails and the expected outcomes of the position.
  • Next, capture the skills and experience of your top sharers.
  • As the HR professional, work with the top sharers to align the duties and responsibilities of the position with their talents and expertise.
  • Co-create the position with them, ensuring they each take accountability for their specific and clearly defined roles.

3. HR must remain involved

  • Do not simply design the shared role and then leave it up to the top sharers to manage themselves.
  • If they have a manager, ensure that their leader has adequate coaching and mentoring to be able to supervise top sharers without favoring one over the other.
  • If the top sharers are C-Suite executives, put mechanisms in place that track that both top sharers are equally invested in their deliverables.
  • Ensure the entire organization understands the roles and responsibilities of each top sharer and where there is overlap.
  • Entrench communication and collaboration channels to ensure accountability, and transparency and to solve any issues before they arise.

Dieter’s HR pro tip

Top sharing requires a clear purpose, sound principles of how work gets done, and the individuals involved must be clearly equipped on how to manage the requirements of collaboration, boundaries and outcomes. 

Job sharing is not about competing with my counterpart who I share the role with.

It is about being able to deliver on job expectations in a more flexible manner.

Dr. Dieter Veldsman – AIHR Subject Matter Expert, HR and Organizational Psychologist

Trend 3: Unilever’s U-Work agency model

If you’ve been paying attention to the top HR trends shifting the future of work, you’ll have seen mention of Unilever’s U-Work. The contributing factors to this new work model should be all too familiar: aging workforces, the need for upskilling and reskilling, an increased focus on care roles and responsibilities, and of course, employees who are looking for far more flexibility in their lives.

According to Forbes, the idea behind U-Work was triggered when Unilever realized almost a third of its UK workforce was eligible for retirement within the next five years. Additionally, there are employees in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who have parental responsibilities and Gen Z is also expecting a highly flexible and hybrid work model. 

The company realized that a new work model was required that could address the demand for flexibility from three different segments of today’s workforce.

The solution? U-Work; an assignment-based work model that Unilver has implemented to solve all these challenges and more.

“This is not a Unilever-specific initiative,” says Erik van Vulpen, Founder of AIHR. “Organizations are increasingly moving towards an agency model, where different individuals form temporary teams to solve problems and run projects, only to dissolve after the problem has been solved or the project has been completed. They then join a new project and start again.”

This system keeps overheads low and increases the talent pool because full-time resources do not need to be hired to solve short-term problems or deliver time-sensitive projects.

Inside U-Work:

People in U-Work don’t have a fixed role. They work on varying assignments, and between assignments are free to do other things that are important to them. They get a monthly retainer and specially designed suite of benefits whether they’re working on an assignment or not. They can design work patterns that suit them – anything from a few days a week for a few months, to short, concentrated bursts of full-time with breaks in-between. And they get paid for each assignment when they’re working.

The benefits of U-Work

According to Dr Dieter Veldman, there are a number of key benefits to this new model:

  • Work has become more human, with the balance between employers and employees shifting towards partnership as opposed to previous patriarchal models. 
  • U-Work, and other innovations regarding flexible marketplaces, assignment-based stretch projects, and gig-working, give employers access to more diverse skillsets while still being cognizant of growing overhead/headcount costs.
  • For employees, assignment-based work offers more flexibility within their job requirements, expands individuals’ interests and skills, and helps people build their portfolios.
  • Challenging work is a big driver of employee engagement, especially among early career builders, and this type of approach allows employees to move between challenging assignments. 
  • On the other end, we are also seeing organizations harnessing the wisdom within their more experienced employees, who are looking for new late stages of their careers yet do not want the rigidity of traditional line management functions.
Emerging Work Model Trends

The future of work is here – are you ready for it?

For many HR professionals, these shifts and new work models can be daunting. There are multiple clear benefits, but designing new processes, systems, job roles and outcomes can be complex. However, organizations ignore how the world is shifting, what employee expectations will be moving forward and how innovative businesses are leveraging these trends for competitive advantage at their peril.

What was considered impossible a few short years ago is now the norm, and the bar keeps shifting. For example, USA Today reports that the non-profit organization, 4 Day Week, is six months into a 4-day work week trial with 70 British companies, and almost all respondents say that despite losing an entire day, productivity is not down. In fact, some have even reported significant improvements. Unilever is beginning its 4-day work week trial in Australia, and other companies are following suit.

Key takeaway

For HR professionals, the most pertinent questions to be asking right now are:

  • Is our business considering what the future of work looks like and do we have a plan to address flexibility and hybrid working expectations?
  • What are our competitors doing and what will it mean for their productivity, innovation and employer brands?
  • Where are the red flags and danger areas if we do not get this right? As we’ve seen, flexibility and hybrid work is far more complex than sending people home with their laptops. The entire way we look at work is changing and work models need to evolve accordingly.
  • Are we using this opportunity to design a new way of working that supports our employees, customers and business?
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