7 Key Takeaways from the Innovation@Work Economist Impact Conference

Three members of the Emeritus Enterprise team—Anand Chopra-McGowan (GM, Emeritus Enterprise, Europe), Len Patane (Enterprise Director), and Nick Walkley (Enterprise Director)—attended the in-person Innovation@Work Global Week 2022 conference about the future of work. They interacted with colleagues from around the globe about emerging issues affecting companies as they train and retain employees into the future.

A key insight we took away from the Economist Impact conference was how great it felt to be back in person, developing human connections, and enjoying live conversations about the future of work. While our predictions for the future of work may be distinct, we agree that Emeritus is excited to take an integral role in helping companies meet our changing world with skilled, engaged, and productive workforces.

Here are some of our key takeaways from Innovation@Work Global Week in London in late March 2022.

1. Rethink Collaboration as We Intentionally Design Working Together

Who does the work—and how it gets done—has changed forever.

To unlock innovation, companies need to carefully consider how work gets done as well as where work gets done. Many presentations explored the physical location of work, including the return to the office and optimal hybrid arrangements. While these discussions are crucial, we feel that the how of working together is where reflecting on our pandemic experience can be the most impactful.

In the future, companies will need to consider enabling technologies, rituals, rules, and guidelines as well as the preferences of each team. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do we use Zoom/Teams/Google Workspace or other collaboration tools like Trello boards, Miro, and Mural? 
  • Do we have a team charter where we know everybody’s preferences about when they don’t want to be interrupted or what days and hours they’re available?
  • Do individual team members prefer communicating via tools like WhatsApp for urgent questions and Slack for less time-sensitive communications?

2. Use Archetypes, Not Averages, When Managing Talent

Organizations and leaders need to tailor their approach to talent acquisition, development, and management based on archetypes rather than adopting a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There’s no “average” worker, but the model of the six archetypes—operators, givers, artisans, explorers, strivers, and pioneers—can help firms build an effective and tailored talent strategy. 

An essential skill for all archetypes is “learning how to learn”—an evergreen muscle as we live to 100+ years old and work for 70 years. Workers potentially need to reskill multiple times through significant career pivots. To survive and thrive in the future of work, winning organizations will go from talent-taking to talent-making.

3. Hybrid Is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution

Job seekers want flexibility in both their hours and the location of their work. According to a Pew Research Center poll of workers who can do their jobs mainly from home, 60% said they would like to continue working remotely all or most of the time.

In addition, a Gallup poll found that 91% of employees who currently work remotely at least part of the time hope their employers will continue to allow them to do so after the pandemic is over. Three in 10 said they are likely to seek another job if they cannot continue working from home.

For those who cannot work remotely, flexibility to choose their shifts will be a critical factor in keeping work arrangements productive and attractive to employees. Also, more workers will look for training opportunities so they can continue to hone their skills for a changing work world.

4. Diversity Remains a Priority

Companies that value and consciously embrace diversity will experience gains in innovation, creativity, and collaboration. However, attracting diverse talent will require strategic initiatives. For instance, to attract Black Gen Z employees, organizations can engage Black social media influencers and make an effort to understand the Black experience in the workplace, perhaps by reading opinions voiced on social media platforms such as TikTok.

Creating space for people to bring their whole selves to work allows diversity in the workplace to flourish. It fosters community and, in turn, creative collaborations. One way leaders can demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity is by sharing their own experiences. At the conference, one CHRO gave the example of sharing a post during the George Floyd protests of her very personal experience growing up Muslim.

Creating space for people to bring their whole selves to work allows diversity in the workplace to flourish.

5. Lead With Empathy

CHROs should see their role as “channeling human energy toward achieving objectives.” This means understanding people at a deep and emotional level—their needs, motivators, and drivers—and then responding in a tailored way. An example might be an immune-suppressed employee who isn’t comfortable coming back to the office and interacting in a confined space with colleagues. An empathic leader would listen, understand, and work with the individual to agree on a best-fit solution. This could include allowing them to continue remote work or holding team meetings outdoors once a week so they can attend.

6. Employee Wellbeing is Essential

The right culture helps employees thrive, leading to peak performance. One Chief People Officer described consciously designing benefits packages with employees at the center. The CPO uses the steps of Data, Listen, Act, Review, and Evolve to responsively adapt benefits to the needs of the company’s workforce. Prioritizing well-being requires input from employees themselves for maximum effectiveness.

7. Follow Authentic Corporate Values

Decisions and actions need to be guided by and pass the acid test of authentic corporate values. A great example is how Innocent Drinks decided to build a totally off-grid production plant that follows its corporate values of “natural, entrepreneurial, responsible, commercial, and generous.” This sustainable plant changed the company’s previous practice of outsourcing production, demonstrating that living by the company values means reinforcing them through decision-making and action.

We thoroughly enjoyed the chance to peer into a looking glass with our industry associates and hope that these insights gleaned from the conference will prove beneficial to our colleagues who couldn’t attend. As we continue to work toward a shared future–where successful companies incorporate flexibility, values, and skill-building into their workforce planning–we look forward to discussing these ideas with our Enterprise clients.

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