Are tech giants fuelling a new workplace culture?

Jun 03, 2019
Past issues of Accountancy Ireland have examined the transformative effect of technology on how we work, but what about the impact of technology on workplace culture?

Technology is not only transforming the way we work; it is also changing how we work together. As technology companies flocked to Ireland to take advantage of the talent pool, they also introduced many new perks such as on-site gyms, free food and festival-style summer parties to name but a few.

How can small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the start-up community compete with such perks when it comes to attracting and retaining talent? In this article, I examine some of the ‘smart working’ initiatives deployed by companies to win the war on talent.

Flexible working arrangements

Today’s workforce is now more connected than ever. With the promise of 5G on the horizon, this connectivity is only going to improve. As long as we have an internet connection we can, therefore, work from any location on the planet.

Removing the need to be physically present in the office enables employers to introduce flexible working arrangements. Remote working, for example, has increased in popularity over the last few years. There are many benefits for both employees and employers, such as cost savings and increased productivity. Utilising collaborative working tools such as G Suite or One Drive enables individuals in different locations to work together and, should they need to meet as a team, video conferencing makes that possible.

Some business leaders still struggle to get comfortable with the idea of their employees working remotely (i.e. from home). This mindset tells your team that you don’t trust them, and it needs to change. Otherwise, employees are more likely to seek employment with an organisation that offers remote working.

Many organisations also afford their employees the flexibility to set their working schedule provided employees work a minimum of 37.5 hours per week. How those hours are completed is the responsibility of the employee. This flexibility enables employees with a long commute to utilise that time as part of their working day.

Organisational benefits

There are many reasons why organisations should consider flexible working arrangements for their employees. They include:
  • Higher output: organisations that focus on outputs, not inputs or attendance, tend to have a highly engaged and efficient workforce;
  • Attract talent: traditional rules on office hours and attendance serve to limit the talent pool available to organisations. In a fast-changing world that requires a high degree of specialisation, flexible working arrangements can attract more talent;
  • Employee retention: employees who feel more empowered and trusted with their working day will be loyal to the organisation that gives them the flexibility they desire; and
  • Sustainability: organisations can do their bit to help save the planet. If employees who drive to work each can work from home at least one day a week, this will reduce carbon emissions.

Unlimited annual leave

Netflix led the way when it introduced an unlimited annual leave policy, with many organisations now choosing to adopt this policy as a means of attracting and retaining talent. Whenever I mention this to business leaders, the word “unlimited” brings fear to their eyes. It is a bit misleading; it would be more apt to describe it as a ‘take what you need’ annual leave policy.

The overall aim of an unlimited annual leave policy is to create a results-driven culture of trust. The intention is not for employees to take weeks or months off work without proper notice and approval. However, it does remove the need to track annual leave, overtime and time owed in lieu. Employees can benefit from being able to easily take time off for personal needs, such as medical appointments or school visits. They will also be less likely to call in sick because they can take breaks when needed. This flexibility, if set up correctly, can help increase employee engagement and improve efficiency.

The Don Draper clause

The latest talent-attraction trend is to add a provision to employees’ contracts so that employees regularly receive a strange, funny or creative personalised gift paid for by ‘The Don’. The clause, which is negotiated by the employee, can include chocolates or vouchers. It could also include a day off work for the employee’s birthday, spa days or rollercoaster rides. Check out #DonDraperClause on Twitter for some inspiration.

The thinking behind this trend, which has been around since 2014, is to reward employees and make them feel part of an organisation that treats them well and as human beings.

Conclusion

From the trends emerging from the tech and start-up community, one critical thing is the importance of treating employees as individuals, not as a resource.w Organisations need to stop using phrases like “our employees are our greatest assets”. They should instead focus on the individual if they genuinely want to create a workplace culture that is fit for the future.

Michael J. Walls ACA is the Founder and CEO of Dappr and the 2018 Young Chartered Star.


A new world of work

A variety of emerging workplace trends can now be seen in non-tech environments. Here are five of the most notable developments:

  1. Ditch annual appraisals: back in 2014, Deloitte reported that only 8% of companies believe that appraisals are worth the time and effort devoted to them. So why are we still doing them? New approaches under consideration include a move towards employee-led coaching and mentoring, which is less formal and enables real-time feedback on performance.
  2. Bonuses aren’t the only way to reward employees: organisations are beginning to reject traditional bonus schemes in favour of reward practices based on a different set of assumptions. Bonuses now have an element of surprise. They are timely and based on what people value and want, and they are personal and not always about money.
  3. Chill-out area: modern offices are now setting aside space to encourage employees to take micro-breaks from work. The chill-out space is a designated relaxation area where employees can unwind. Usually furnished with soft seating like cushioned chairs, bean bags and sofas, it should be a stress-free zone and not merely a more comfortable seating area for high-powered business meetings.
  4. Digital learning: employees can get additional training from anywhere with the emergence of online learning. Tools such as LinkedIn Learning or the Institute’s online CPD courses enable employees to access courses from anywhere to learn a new skill or keep up-to-date with the latest CPD.
  5. Diversity and inclusion: it isn’t enough for organisations to tick boxes on their diversity checklist, ensuring that they have the desired quota of minorities for reporting. The inclusion part is now more critical than ever. I for one am delighted that employees and society are now ensuring that organisations follow through when making statements regarding diversity and inclusion.

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