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Knowledge is power

Sara Bean sat in on Quora Consulting’s latest Smartworking summit to hear some major thought leaders ponder the question of how much is known about today’s employee life cycle.

The first of the 2017 series of Smartworking Summits, which feature seasoned main board executives – including Group Property/FM Directors from major organisations who between them reflect the key decision-makers involved in changing work practices was held on the 14th March.  

It had as its theme the fact that the knowledge worker is increasingly becoming the prevalent labour group, representing 60 per cent of the overall workforce and 88 per cent of the service sector; so given that knowledge equals power, it’s absolutely crucial that we ask: “How much do we know about their employee life cycle?”

The assembled group of eminent speakers at the Smartworking Summit were there to address some of key issues inherent with managing these valuable employees, including the fact that 75 per cent of the hard-won newly hired top talent (those with degrees and above) leave their organisations within the first two years, citing dull management and workplaces not optimised for productive work.

What’s more, over the next decade, there will be 13.5 million job vacancies advertised but less than seven million people leaving schools and universities. How is this 6.5 million shortfall going to be bridged?

Many organisations talk of having ‘stripped the labour market’ and 93 per cent of CEOs state that they need to change their talent strategies to offer any chance for future growth, but do they understand the talent pipeline? The most obvious solution, but one which is yet to be truly tackled is what is being done about retaining an older workforce. And while 70 per cent of graduates are now women, is enough being done to attract and retain this critical workforce into their 30s and beyond, or like previous generations before them will they be forced to bow out early, taking their vital skills along with them?

Finally, with 2.8 million people in the UK impacted by neurological differences, is enough being done to tap into the vast neurodiversity talent pool? Surely neurodiversity needs to be respected on a par with gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status?

Throughout the morning, the Summit explored the employee lifecycle journey and came up with some novel suggestions on how to solve the people and skills crisis while also discussing ways of innovating to create the right work space…

Really flexible work
The most recent statistics have predicted that half of the people born today will live to over 100. This means the workplace will need to accommodate people of all ages, including people way over the traditional retirement age. But it’s not just about offering a work environment which caters to people of several generations under one space, we’ll also need to ensure that those leaving school with certain skills and qualifications in their late teens and early twenties will have opportunities to continue with their learning throughout their careers.

The careers of this long lived demographic will not resemble those of people nearing the end of their working lives today either, because it’s been estimated that most of us will now get through five careers and between 10 and 15 employers in our lifetime.

Employers need to aim for a work/life blend model which offers workers total flexible working, at a pace suitable for each individual. It’s all about controlling your hours, not just where you sit when you arrive at work, and this means that that a strategy which supports flexible working must extend to ensuring people are afforded a high degree of trust.

The impact of technology on work is nothing new, and as yet there’s no real evidence that it will reduce the number of jobs but they may certainly be different jobs from before; after all, who visits a travel agent these days?

But as things change, we must not be preoccupied by an idea that this is the first time people have been afraid of new technology, just ask the luddites – and as the industrial revolution proved, human beings are adaptable.

For example, engineers no longer just wield tools, they’re utilising an increasingly sophisticated arsenal of digital communications devices which should help streamline their service delivery. However, while improving performance is a prerequisite of digital disruption, we must then ask the question, if all work is being pushed upwards to require a higher degree of skill, is enough being done to upskill the workforce?

This is where employers need to explore the concept of ‘blue sky thinking’ which put another way means using more creativity when pondering how to solve an issue. In practical terms this means that when hiring new graduates, don’t concentrate only on those from red brick universities, perhaps those from the lower tier of academia have as much, if not more to offer, especially as they’re likely to be people who’ve had to fight harder to make it into third tiered education?

Hiring qualified women who left work to have families is another obvious solution to the hiring and skills crisis. Employers need to offer these valuable recruits flexible hours and not resort to a nine-to-five pattern which was invented long before computers, let alone digital connectivity.

And what about hiring people with real talent for crunching data, but perhaps who are challenged with sensory issues? Can’t the workplace be managed to accommodate them?

Wherever you find your knowledge workers keep in mind that the workplace of the future will be more diverse – not necessarily for social justice though that’s a bonus – but for necessity.

Designing for digital disruption
All of these demographic changes paint a landscape of fundamental change to the workplace which will not only affect the way we manage our people but also the demands of the places that we work.

This is why some leading organisations are implementing truly agile working environments; designing offices which offer areas to concentrate; areas to collaborate and crucially, even the large corporates are embracing co-working spaces, shared with smaller external organisations.

This trend is driven by the need to cap the costs of real estate but also as a reflection of the fact that digital technology has made it so much easier for people to work just about anywhere – whether they are the CEO or an employee in a start-up.

Co-working is disrupting CRE but real estate itself is also being disrupted as it’s increasingly being seen by the c suite as more than just a space but – when fitted out to encourage productivity and collaboration, an asset which adds value to the organisation by increasing the average lifecycle of its knowledge workers.

Never lose the focus that the purpose of CRE is to make an organisation attractive to its people, as going back to those knowledge worker statistics (above) if you lose your people, you lose their value. This is why employee engagement is such a huge area and why the business health agenda is growing rapidly as organisations increasingly concentrate on improving their wellbeing, whether it’s via a better work/life balance or creating a holistically designed workspace.

So when you scratch the surface of the employee lifecycle – the true task is in creating engaging places to work which are people centric.

The 2017 Smartworking Summit events from Quora Consulting will be on 7th June, and 28th September in London

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