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7 steps to better work

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  • Picture of Paul Devoy
    Paul Devoy
  • Future of Work
  • Employment

We are living through an extraordinary time. Life as we knew it has been shaken like a snow globe, and we’re all in flux.

We’ve seen employers across all sectors of the economy facing not only unprecedented challenges, but also new opportunities to reset and rethink their work and accelerate planned changes. Scrutiny of business leaders is at an all-time high, with decisions being assessed not only for their financial results but also their human impact. 

The big question is: will organisations embrace the opportunities for positive and sustainable change offered now? After the dust has settled, will our workplaces be better for people, or worse?

We’re all in the same storm, but not the same boat

The health crisis we all witnessed has evolved for many of us into a crisis of conscience.

We have seen the role that systemic inequalities have played in the impact of Covid-19 across different communities:

  • The lowest paid and least secure roles were revealed as those most ‘key’
  • People already experiencing mental health challenges have been cut off from support
  • Young people are most likely to have lost work or had a drop in income
  • Black people are 1.9 times as likely to die from Covid-19 than white people according to ONS research

Organisations have a role within national and local recoveries to support the most impacted communities. Together we have an opportunity to make work better and to start building a better normal.

Setting course for ‘better work’

At Investors in People we’ve created seven commitments for organisations to consider as they plot their route to a better normal. They’re based on what we’ve heard from our community, research underpinning our frameworks and the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

1. Make work agile and flexible

Working from home has brought its challenges, but also opportunities; people are feeling trusted and empowered like never before.  There has also often been a simplification of focus, leading to faster results and bold decision making. Leaders can sustain this by ensuring:

  • Trust is a central part of the way people are managed
  • Work is about outputs, not when and where we work
  • People are encouraged to think like ‘owners’ and have an entrepreneurial mindset
  • Mistakes and failures are embraced as learning

2. Make work for people, not resources

We are not resources. We are people. The ‘old’ way of working, with policies that made people into homogenous groups of ‘resources’ is over. To build a better normal, we need to embrace people-first practices, which reflect our individual needs and motivations, treat people as adults and assume trust as a starting point. Make this happen by:

  • Consulting with your people, and understanding what they value for any new initiatives/processes
  • Revisiting all your HR policies and procedures
  • Devolving recognition and awards to teams and managers to make them more meaningful
  • Committing to paying the Real Living Wage

3. Make work diverse and inclusive

Increased globalisation and technological advances started this trend some time ago, but Covid-19 has accelerated it and proved that creating inclusive workplaces with agile, diverse teams, frequently in different countries and timezones, results in higher quality problem-solving and solutions. Here are some ideas:

  • Work is designed to be accessible for as many people/groups as possible
  • Creating space and platforms for everyone to be heard (including affinity networks)
  • Providing training and resources on how people experience life differently
  • Routinely gathering data on D&I – both quantitative and qualitative - and using this to drive improvements. Be transparent with it so your people can see where progress is being made.

4. Make work that ensures business for good

People are looking to businesses and CEO's for support and resources alongside local and national governments as we begin to enter economic and social recovery.  Social responsibility and the role that a business plays in supporting its local community will be an important driver of attracting millennial talent and discerning consumers in the months and years to come.

This begins with:

  • Supporting your supply chains to adhere to the same standards of people management
  • Extending support to small suppliers and social enterprises during the recovery
  • Providing opportunities for people to connect/volunteer in the community
  • Committing a percentage of your supply chain spend to worthy social enterprises in the local community

5. Make work that enhances wellbeing

We’ve seen leaders using wellbeing as the centre point for engaging with their people during this time, in tandem with a people-first approach. People have embraced ‘being kind’ and are opening conversations about mental health and self-care in a way which destigmatises the terminology around mental health. We can keep the momentum by:

  • Collecting data and designing an approach for improving psychological, physical and social wellbeing
  • Designing people practices which enhance and protect wellbeing
  • Putting wellbeing and peer support at the heart of L&D and performance management
  • Supporting movements and causes progressing wellbeing at work, such as the Inside Out and Time to Change charter and charities like Mind and Samaritans

6. Make work that invests in young talent

As well as supporting the heavily impacted younger demographic, investing in young talent also has real business results. We’ve heard from our community that many of the innovative new ideas for adapting businesses have come from younger team members, and their passion and drive has lifted teams during some of the toughest moments. Making work that invests in young talent looks like:

  • Using apprenticeship schemes where possible
  • Leaders mentoring new team members
  • Fostering connections with colleges or educational institutions
  • Commiting to a percentage of your workforce being made up of young talent

7. Make work greener and sustainable

This crisis has accelerated many trends, but it’s unclear whether a real and sustained reduction in carbon emissions will be one of them. Leaders will need to work together to make supply chains ‘cleaner’ and partner with Governments to make this recovery the start of a sustained fall in industrial damage to the environment. Where to start:

  • Understanding and minimising the environmental impact of your workplace
  • Committing to reductions in your environmental footprint
  • Adopting relevant accreditations to ensure best practice
  • Holding your supply chain to the same green standards

Seven steps to a better normal

When people are engaged and supported at work, they go home happier and their wider lives are enriched. Over time, that adds up to a happier and healthier society. Doesn’t that sound good right now?

Small and sustained changes is all it takes to begin the journey.

Plus we’re not doing this alone - we’re in it together, all three billion of us employed around the globe.

So together, let’s start building our better normal today.


Paul Devoy has been heading up Investors in People since 2011. He led the buyout of the organisation from UK Government ownership into it becoming a Community Interest Company in 2017. Follow him @DevoyPaul

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