CHROs Need To Lead A Culture Shift

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The post-pandemic flexible workplace turns traditional HR approaches upside down. But it’s critical to attracting and retaining talent.

Jacky Cohen, VP, People and Culture at Topia, a San Francisco-based global talent mobility platform provider, sees a dramatic shift underway for HR leaders today.

Jacky Cohen, VP, People and Culture, Topia

She argues that all the ways CHROs built company culture in the past—based around a centralized workplace—have to be rethought in the wake of today’s flexible approach to space. Cohen spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about the challenge—and how HR leaders can take it on.

There have been a lot of conversations about the future of work, and whether employees will be remote full-time, in-office full-time or a hybrid model of both. Where do you see the future of work heading? 

I believe the future of work is centered around flexibility. While the sudden shift to remote work in 2020 created countless challenges for employees and companies alike, by now many have settled into a new normal. There will still be people who want or need to be in an office regularly, but there is also a large population of people who have thrived in a remote environment and have demonstrated that they can successfully work from anywhere. Employers will need to adapt to this wide range of needs and preferences that exist within a distributed workforce in order to attract and retain talent. 

HR plays a critical role in this culture shift. We need to revisit our tools, processes and programs to start thinking about how to create this flexibility while maintaining a positive employee experience and culture.

Why do you think a flexible workforce model will be in high demand in the future? What are the benefits for companies? Employees?

A recent Topia Adapt survey highlighted that 53 percent of employees—the largest percentage of those who responded—say that growth opportunities through international assignments, job rotations and training are the most important factor to having a great employee experience. Even further, 55 percent of respondents to the survey said that the flexibility to work remotely is something they look for in a new employer. Creating a flexible workforce with distributed teams enables companies to unlock these types of opportunities that employees and candidates are looking for.

Many companies have also increased their investment in diversity, equity and inclusion, and know that there is a direct correlation to positive business results and employee engagement. A distributed workforce opens up a global talent pool and allows for teams to be built based on skill and potential, rather than location. The Adapt survey showed that more than 80 percent of employees agree with this sentiment, which shows that the benefits to a distributed workforce are recognized by both companies and employees. 

What role does the CHRO play in a flexible workforce model?

In many ways, a flexible model flips traditional HR on its head. Policies and structure that we spent years building are now exactly what’s holding us back. It’s our job as HR leaders to rethink both what we do and how we do it.

When developing a new program or strategy, I start with identifying the needs of the business and the needs of the employees. From there, it’s figuring out where the two sets of needs intersect to be able to develop something that works and is hopefully beneficial to everyone. 

A flexible workforce model presents the opportunity for CHROs to significantly impact the business by creating strategies around everything from maintaining company culture, to location tracking, to technology solutions, to engagement and enablement. 

What can HR leaders do to successfully implement a flexible workforce model?

The first step is to communicate the urgency and importance of doing this well. Secure buy-in from other business leaders because this will require a permanent culture shift and everyone needs to be on board. Failure to do so will likely result in decreased engagement and productivity, as well as increased turnover.

It will also be critical to continue listening to employees and what they are looking for. Rather than HR focusing on what we think employees want, we need to ask questions and take the answers into account when setting our priorities. Ensure you have multiple channels to collect feedback and suggestions, in addition to standard surveys.

Lastly, but probably most important, invest in impactful technology. Select tools that automate and reduce the overhead required for compliance and workflows. This will allow you and your teams to focus on high impact work such as engagement, DE&I and company culture.

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