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Rethinking work design for a sustainable reset to the world of work

By Vidisha Mehta | August 6, 2020

As Asia Pacific rebounds from the COVID-19 crisis, there is an opportunity to rethink work design, workforce optimisation and reskilling.
Future of Work|Employee Experience
Risque de pandémie

As organisations across Asia Pacific continue their journey to restore stability, they face multiple challenges that impact work redesign strategies. Organisations have now experienced the future of work in action, with many having to accelerate their digital journey. In this period of rapid technological and social change, the world of work has been radically transformed. By April 2020, over one-third (37%) of organisations globally had already taken steps to redeploy (and potentially reskill) workers to support another function, and nearly a quarter (22%) had automated or started to automate certain aspects of work to streamline and/or increase productivity1.

of organisations took steps to redeploy workers to support another function
of organisations automated or started to automate certain aspects of work

In the medium term, work design needs to reflect the new ways of working that have evolved in response to the pandemic. This is critical to ensure that the new normal is both effective and sustainable for organisations while being purpose-driven and meaningful for employees.

Key elements to consider for sustainable work redesign and workforce optimisation 

As organisations consider changes to work design and workforce optimisation, it is important to keep these four key elements in mind.

Four elements when considering changes to work design are rewards and reskilling policies, leadership mindset, technology, and work processes.
Four key elements to keep in mind for sustainable work redesign
  1. 01

    Rewards and reskilling programs

    Workforce Principles for the COVID-19 Pandemic, our whitepaper produced in partnership with the World Economic Forum, underscored the need for innovative solutions that can enable organisations to address the spike in talent requirements for certain functions. While some organisations have addressed this demand by tapping into the gig economy or outsourcing work to freelance workers in other geographies, many organisations have emphasised the need to upskill and reskill their existing talent pool. They also need to think of how to reward talent based on the new skills acquired.

    Many organisations have emphasised the need to upskill and reskill their existing talent pool.

    To help organisations successfully design rewards and reskilling programs to support new ways of working, we suggest that organisations consider these questions:

    • Is there a comprehensive policy or a set of guiding principles for how work is done?
    • How is work changing and how does that change skill requirements?
    • What are the implications of work redesign on our reward programs?
    • Will a skill-based approach to pay and rewards work for our organisation?
    • Do we have programs available for continuous learning?
  1. 02

    Technology enablement

    Technology has proven to be a game changer amidst the crisis. It has enabled various businesses to stay open and introduced new ways to get work done. For instance, some organisations have increased their use of online chat bots and leveraged centralised data centres for automated data collection tasks. A major regional bank moved all of its financial advisory services from face-to-face meetings at branches to tele-advisory services using a virtual communication platform. This platform allowed the advisor to provide consultation over a video call, as well as product information through a file share feature of the tool.

As organisations consider the likely extension or formalisation of remote working arrangements, they need to consider how technology can help support this strategy in a sustainable manner. To efficiently integrate technology into work and ensure it enables a dispersed workforce, organisations should consider the following:

  • How effective are our existing technologies at supporting flexible arrangements and keeping our remote workforce connected?
  • Do we have a technology roadmap to enable business strategy and operations in the ‘new normal’?
  • What are the impacts of these changes on the workforce?
  • How do we measure returns on our investment in technology?
  1. 03

    Leadership mindset

    This crisis has been a defining moment for leadership. It’s more important than ever to stay true to the purpose, values and culture of your organisation, and lead with integrity and empathy.

    It’s more important than ever to stay true to the purpose, values and culture of your organisation, and lead with integrity and empathy.

    Redesigning work can truly be successful when leaders display an agile and continuous learning mindset. This enables them to understand the shifting needs and concerns of their stakeholders; and to integrate these perspectives in the decision-making process. Clear and timely communication is likewise crucial to keep employees informed of decisions and planned changes; as well as to alleviate anxiety that employees feel in an uncertain economic environment.

    As leaders steer the organisation to new ways of doing work, they should consider the following:

    • Have we engaged all relevant stakeholders in decision-making and considered all perspectives?
    • Are we prioritising the intersection of employee and company wellbeing?
    • Are we supportive of managing a diverse/dispersed workforce?
    • Can we successfully integrate flexibility as part of our organisational culture?
    • Are we capable of integrating technology?
  1. 04

    Work processes

    Organisations need to assess the complexity of business processes and layers of management that currently exist. A critical element of redesigning work is to analyse how managers are adding value and reviewing work processes. As flows of communication become more open with the use of virtual platforms, the pandemic presents an opportunity to find more efficient ways to get work done.

    Here are some considerations for organisations as they rethink their existing processes and hierarchies:

    • Do our existing work processes and workflows allow for flexibility and agile working?
    • Which processes lend themselves to flexible work schedules?
    • How are managers adding value to work processes?
    • What activities in a work process or workflow could be automated?

Where to begin? Understand where you stand in the various elements of work design.

Review ad-hoc/informal flexible work arrangements
Review ad hoc/informal flexible work arrangements

Consider discretionary, time-bound agreements that enable employees to better balance work and personal responsibilities.

Formalise flexible work arrangements
Formalise flexible work arrangements

Define ongoing arrangements applicable to selected roles for specific situations, such as long-distance remote working.

Rethink workforce strategy
Rethink workforce strategy

Leverage solutions that highlight areas where automation could enable performance and business continuity, and help to create a more fulfilling work experience for employees.

Consider a cross-industry talent exchange
Consider a cross-industry talent exchange

Temporarily redeploy select talent with comparable skills to functions facing a significant increase in demand. Use this opportunity to open new channels for increased collaboration across functions and geographies.

Prioritise longer-term reskilling and upskilling
Prioritise longer-term reskilling and upskilling

Actively create a culture of learning, help employees to stay relevant and adaptive to continual changes in skills and business requirements.

The pandemic has caused widespread macroeconomic, social and business disruptions, but has also provided a unique opportunity to reinvent how work is designed and rewarded to improve performance, optimise costs and reduce risk in the future.

To help organisations reimagine their workforce, Willis Towers Watson has launched an AI-based platform, WorkVue, that allows organisations to evaluate, model work alternatives and reinvent jobs for targeted business outcomes. To find out more or request a demo, please complete the form on the right to get in touch.


1 Willis Towers Watson 2020 Rewards Readiness Plans for Resetting Business Operations Survey


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