Stewart Allanson: Employers must prepare for the workforce revolution

This article is supplied by Zurich.

Workplace revolution
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New technologies and increasing mobility are revolutionising the workplace, with huge implications for employers.

Not since the industrial revolution of the late 18th and early 19th century has there been such far-reaching change and now, just as then, there is tremendous opportunity mixed with unprecedented risk.

Smartphones and devices are the biggest driver of change in society and at work because of the way in which they connect employees in real time. The millennials, aged 18 to 29, have grown up with this technology and so it has become an integral part of their daily lives.

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Older employees have also seen great change, as mobile devices connect them to the workplace at night, at weekends and while sitting by the pool on holiday.

The way in which the line between business and pleasure is blurring is advantageous for employers, as it serves to boost workplace engagement, but the quid pro quo for employees must surely be more flexible working, including working from home.

Risks of real-time communication

There are, however, hidden risks of real-time communication. At a recent event that we hosted on managing risk in the changing world, the audience was asked: “What is the most significant implication for your business, over the next five years, of the trend towards an ‘always-on’ mobile workforce?” — to which 50% cited employee health, wellbeing and security.

A failure by staff to understand where to draw the line between their work and home lives could, for example, negatively affect their family life and increase stress levels, in turn leading to long-term illness and increased health insurance costs for employers.

But 35% of the audience said that managing and measuring employee productivity and engagement was the most significant risk.

This is interesting in light of recent studies that have found that productivity is higher for employees who work from home. For example, one Chinese travel agency reported a 13% increase in productivity during a nine-month experiment with home-based working. The gains inspired the organisation to let all employees choose whether to work from home — an option that was taken up by more than half of employees, resulting in productivity rising by 22%.

Employers increasingly recognise the benefits of flexible working

An increasing number of employers realise the benefits of flexible working, such as talent attraction and retention, and are evolving their benefits packages to optimise its effectiveness. For example, many employers are adopting a bring-your-own-device policy to offer employees the opportunity to buy technological devices, such as laptops, through work.

This raises major security risks for employers’ business networks, not to mention potential legal wrangles over employee data management, both business and personal, that sits on employees’ devices.

But it is an issue that employers will need to address, possibly on a global scale where expatriate staff are involved, in light of the importance that millennials place on technology.

Employers that take a holistic approach to this workforce revolution that considers key employee and business risks, such as global mobility, the challenges of keeping up with technology, cyber security and employee satisfaction, plus the interconnectivity of all of these issues, will maximise their chances of success in the battle for talent. This will be more so the case for employers that also embrace new technologies and adopt new working practices.

Stewart Allanson is international corporate distribution manager at Zurich Corporate Life and Pensions