Strategic HR

4 Ways to Empower the Modern Workforce

I’m a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), but my role as a technology executive has a lot to do with many of HR’s priorities as people managers—especially when it comes to supporting workplace flexibility and changes to the modern workforce.modern work

Here’s what I mean. Across all of human history, virtually every technological advancement in better tools and automation has driven toward this one lofty goal: to empower humans to do more, with higher quality, and to do it faster than before.

In other words, while I am a CTO, my passion is about helping people solve challenges and how technology can help people realize their greatest potential.

One of the biggest problems I see facing organizations today is that the modern workforce has changed, but the workforce is not empowered to work in a modern, flexible way. This is a technology and process problem wrapped inside of a culture and HR mindset.

Here are four ways in which you can empower your teams with a modern approach to work and resource management.

1. Create Transparency

The modern workforce requires access to the right information at every level of the organization. To be clear, I am not referring to a monthly departmental meeting where leadership updates the team on what leadership thinks is important. I believe every employee, at any moment, should be able to connect his or her efforts and the efforts of the team to the organization’s goals, with the right supporting content and data just a click away.

This requires investment in systems that provide real-time visibility into all projects and team efforts and also bridges data silos. Aside from the critical business efficiencies that this drives, a real HR benefit is that transparency helps prevent overwork caused by unnecessary status meetings and burdensome requests for work updates.

Changes in organizational structures have heightened demand for this type of transparency, though the infrastructure to support it has been sorely outpaced. Over the past few decades, corporate management has flattened. Layers of middle management have been eliminated, creating a much flatter corporate structure, thereby pushing management and decision-making responsibilities to the individual team member.

The number of direct reports into the CEO has increased significantly, while the number of levels in the management hierarchy between division heads and the CEO has greatly decreased.

No longer does the manager or executive alone hold all the keys to all the data, as was true in the Industrial Age corporation. Modern, agile enterprises require that every employee have access to all the data, thus empowering the individual to become effective managers of themselves.

This is a far-reaching trend present across all sizes of organizations and across all industry verticals. This translates into an urgent, pervasive requirement to support the self-management philosophy with specific infrastructure designed to provide workers with much-needed transparency.

2. Enable Anytime, Anywhere Collaboration

Gone are the days when all work is executed between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. by employees working exclusively at their desks. Work can occur, does occur, at any time and any place. This is both the marvel and the menace of modern work.

Remote work continues to be a growing facet of the modern workforce. According to research by Gallup, the number of remote employees grew from 39% to 43% between 2012 to 2016. Not only that, remote workers are spending a larger amount of time working remotely, with nearly one-third working remotely 4 or 5 days a week. The rate is much higher for knowledge workers —like designers, developers, or marketers—where 79% spend some time working from home.

Adoption of flexible work schedules and remote work practices has shifted from a luxury perk to an expectation of the modern workforce, yet organizations are still surprisingly behind in this expectation. While nearly all organizations recognize agility and collaboration as critical to their success, only 6% say they are highly agile today.

Collaboration, often treated as a catch phrase, actually requires specific, standardized processes and tools that allow for online and offline (asynchronous) communication, from any device, and across all teams in the enterprise. Collaboration cannot be mandated; it must be enabled and supported. HR can advocate for collaboration and content to be unified in a single trusted system. This allows for collaboration to live in the context of the work being performed.

3. Manage Resources People

It is a business fact of life that effective utilization of talent is a winning strategy. After all, top companies—those that are the best at managing the time, talent, and energy of their people—have 30%–50% higher profit margins than industry averages.

However, two-thirds of organizations report that their employees are already overwhelmed. Driving workers to the brink of exhaustion in the quest for productivity is actually counterproductive, resulting in significantly higher rates of absenteeism and accidents, which result in lower profitability and share price.

Striking the right balance is a challenge, but a necessary one. The mindset you must have is that this is not about controlling abstract “resources” or even about controlling people. It is about leveraging their unique talents and skills to achieve the planned results in a timely manner and in such a way that ensures they are not burning out.

HR professionals should advocate for work management tools that allow for planning at scale throughout an enterprise, whether it is a team manager assigning tasks to direct reports or a resource manager assigning work to hundreds or thousands of employees across a department.

At the same time, HR can utilize the capabilities of digital work management tools to protect its people from issues like burnout or uneven work distribution. The best digital work tools are those that consider present and future work allocations, realistic timelines, and view into current priorities to help keep employees motivated and on-task.

4. Establish a Pattern of Automation

The modern workforce wants to work on projects that really matter. Removing less important items from your team’s plate can also drive big productivity boosts by reallocating time to more valuable work. This is where automation comes into play.

To begin, you will first need to document how your teams work today, and why they do what they do. Then, you can identify the low- and minimum-value tasks that can be automated. Some you can probably identify today. These can be as straightforward as automation of e-mail routing, meeting coordination, or digital document reviews.

Once this pattern is established, it will take on a life of its own as your teams catch fire and seek tools that enable them to automate higher-value tasks and entire workflows, such as coordinating the rollout of new corporate policy or managing critical compliance approval workflows. At this point, an enterprise approach to work automation that is endorsed by the C-suite is warranted.

Your Workforce Is a Work in Progress

The workforce has changed and will continue to do so—we found in our latest State of Enterprise Work study that over one-half (52%) of Americans believe most workers will be remote in a few years. Therefore, leadership and organizations need to change, too. Creating a culture that embraces flexible work arrangements and supporting that culture with the right tools will enable you to better leverage your organization’s talent, improve employee morale and retention, and grow the business.

Whether or not you are working in the same place and at the same time as your team, you must work together, because everyone has the same fundamental goal: to do the right work, do your best work, and deliver that work faster than ever.

Steven ZoBellSteven ZoBell is the Chief Product & Technology Officer at Workfront. He has many years of executive management, product development, and software engineering experience that spans various industries, including enterprise software, healthcare IT, and games. Peanut butter with chocolate constitutes Steven’s kryptonite.