HR seeks new role in a changing workplace

HR forum meeting

A forum of Human Resources professionals discusses the challenges posed by the way we work now.

The strange story of the Danish Prime Minister's plan to shift the entire country to a four-day work week turned out to be a case of fake news that made headlines worldwide. This story, however - as well as the very true story of Microsoft’s experiment in Japan - certainly reflects the zeitgeist of the modern workplace: employees and organizations feel increasingly uneasy about the way the labor market operates. Big questions place human capital managers at the forefront of this new world. Among these questions are: "Who is an effective employee?", and "How to balance an organization's need to recruit skilled personnel with the employees’ demand to lead a more balanced life?" HR’s traditional role of overseeing recruitment and the welfare of personnel is being put to the test.

A forum of nearly 20 senior Human Resources professionals and Organizational Consultants convened at an event held in conjunction with "Globes", Meet in Place (a global network of meeting rooms for offsites, business meetings, conferences and exclusive meet-ups), and Stoke (a platform for managing on-demand talent). They addressed these questions and unpacked the changes that are taking place in the labor market and the challenges they pose to HR managers.

The remote work challenge

Paul Zucker, founder and CEO of the Nisha Group, which specializes in executive placement, focused on the demands of employees: "When candidates negotiate with us, they first bring up the issue of working from home one or two days a week. The challenge for HR supervisors is to prepare managers to change their perception and provide tools for remote management."

"Ten years ago, it was much harder for candidates to say what they wanted," added Berlis Naftali, CEO of BeConnected. "They feared that if they were to reveal their true preferences, they’d be perceived as less professional. And the minute the hiring managers heard any talk about candidates wanting to work from home or work fewer hours, they would wonder just how professional, serious and dedicated this candidate was. For the past two years, I've been fighting this. I’ve led processes where executives started working part-time, because I think that when you find the value for both sides, it's a win-win situation. Now I feel that there’s an amazing on around this subject, but I’m disturbed by managers’ inability to handle it. They don't really have the tools."

Katie Kushnir-Ventura, a career consultant at Tel Aviv University, recounted the difficulties she experienced in managing remote workers: "I was the HR manager at a start-up company whose culture was that all employees work remotely. It was very difficult to manage talent from all over the world. For example, if an employee in Bangkok broke his leg, I wanted to give him personal attention to show that I care. Supposedly, the whole world is open to you, just find the best talent in a particular field. But how do I do that exactly? It’s like finding a needle in a haystack."

The participants at the forum concurred that remote employment is still a limited trend in Israel, for two reasons: lack of necessity, and a different work culture. "In Israel, not only are local companies unwilling to shift to work-from-home models, but even global start-ups have a hard time with this. It poses a double challenge - overcoming the issues of both remote employment and the cultural gap," said Dr. Hila Halutz Ben-Gal from the Department of Industrial Engineering & Management at the Afeka College of Engineering in Tel Aviv.

So in Israel people still prefer the sense of togetherness and collective brainstorming, and some managers still measure employee dedication by the number of hours they spend at the office. But eventually, the pressure from employees will probably increase, forcing enterprises to adapt.

To prepare for this, managers must undergo proper training, said Hillik Nissani, who advises companies and senior executives "Enterprise culture usually starts with the founders and the CEO, and then spreads to middle management. If the attitude doesn't fit, it won't work."

Meet the "flash organizations"

One of the most noticeable trends of the past decade is the rise in the number of freelance workers. Nearly 36% of Americans, for example, work as freelancers; either as their sole source of income or for additional earnings. In Israel, the numbers are lower, at around 12%, but they are expected to rise as well. The forum's attendees agreed that they come across more and more young people who want to work in this way.

"They want to hear details about the project, gauge the working hours, and decide when to come to the office," says Yogev Goldis, Human Resources Director at a cyber start-up. "I was astonished at how widespread this is. Some of them work on their own ventures at the same time, others are in training, and some simply work on similar projects at other companies. This challenges us as a company - are we going to allow this? We decided to allow it, but it was a difficult choice, for many reasons: competition, conflict of interests, protecting corporate know-how. Start-ups, which increasingly rely on this new generation coming out of the IDF’s technology units will face this more and more".

Halutz Ben-Gal has a name for this trend: Flash Organizations. "I'm taking part in a research project with Stanford University called Digital Living 2030. We expect to see 60% of the workforce following this exact model by 2030."

Are enterprises devising new strategies to prepare for these changes? Most attendees at the forum admitted: they have no formal plans, they’re just responding to what's happening on the ground.

"It’s simply happening and we had to deal with it," says Goldis. "We had to take departments and areas of activity and dismantle them into work packages. Suddenly, you have ten versions of an employment contract: agreements per project, freelance agreements, part-time agreements, full-time agreements, and so on. This begged the question: should we include a framework for feedback and performance evaluation, or try to create some kind of relationship geared towards full employment? Anything new that pops up has to be dealt with."

Blurred lines

The phenomenon of rising numbers of freelancers in enterprises raises another question: how do you keep them engaged? This applies to regular employees too, but is doubly challenging when it comes to freelancers. A Gallup study in 2018 found that only 34% of US employees felt engaged in their workplaces. Although this constituted a 26% increase in the numbers since 2000, it’s still less than half the workforce. On top of that, employees, especially those from the younger generation, become fed up with a job quickly and seek to move on to the next one.

"People want to move on to something else at a very fast pace, but we try to show them that they can develop within their current jobs and that this serves them too," says Vered Atzmon, a Leadership Development manager in Palo Alto. "But that is not necessarily always true."

Rotem Katzir, Head of Human Resources at Pitango Venture Capital, had some reservations. "Workers are not always aware of their development," she says. "This is also caused by the lack of continuous feedback. We have no mechanism that tells us where we were a year ago and where we are today."

Either way, one way to deal with this burnout is to offer employees opportunities to engage in different areas within the organization itself.

"At an Excellence in Human Resources Conference, they presented a Unilever initiative in which company executives create projects, and people in the organization are then assigned to take part in them even if they completely differ from their areas of expertise," says Goldis. "Someone who normally works in HR takes on a marketing and content project, and someone from the finance department takes part in product analytics. In my opinion, this is a shoot that's going to bloom into a big beautiful flower in more companies and organizations."

Efrat Dagan, head of the Talent Department at Lyft, talked about a similar experience. "There's something called "Explorership" or "Bungee Explorership" - when you take six weeks and jump into another position. I, for example, relocated with my family during the summer to the Innovation Department, and then returned to my regular position. Meanwhile, someone in Israel took my job for six weeks and then returned to his position. It benefits everyone. You don’t get any training, you just jump in the deep end and swim."

"This feeds into the 80/20 model. Employees can spend 80% of their time in their regular job and for the remaining 20% they are allowed to work on other projects, which usually produces amazing results for the organization", says Kushnir-Ventura.

HR must take the lead

Towards the end of the meeting, Shachar Erez, co-founder and CEO of Stoke, threw out a loaded question: "We agree that HR managers are responsible for recruitment, welfare and training, but how much are they really motivated by the business’s needs, how involved are they in the conversation on the enterprise's business goals?"

Nissani noted that back in 2007, the Harvard Business Review published an article with an image of a bomb and a headline reading: It's Time to Blow Up HR and Build Something New. "One of the management gurus asked CEOs to share the number one problem they face in the enterprise, and they overwhelmingly answered: 'Recruiting and retaining talent.' Then they were asked to list the people they turn to when they have a problem. The HR manager was number 7 on that list. I think the biggest challenge is to get the message across to CEOs. Those who can speak the language of business are the ones who can create value for CEOs."

"I see companies that practically print money and their HR departments are awful, their corporate culture is awful, and you wonder how this sustains itself," Katzir added. "We must be able to justify our claim that we’re providing value, that we’re learning how to build companies and can be true business partners and help a company grow. We are so far away from that."

Gender cannot be ignored in this regard: most HR managers are female. "To all the men here with strong self-esteem and high business prowess, try being a single woman sitting at a table with executives in a pushy, aggressive male-dominated high-tech industry where time is money, and be the number one business partner of the CEO," said Galit Rabbi, VP of Human Resources at Guesty. "It's not that easy. In my view, there is something very important about this issue of gender that cannot be ignored."

"The focus of companies in 2020 should be the human resource, which so far has been pushed aside in favor of financial resources," concluded Yael Shafrir, Chief Marketing Officer at Meet in Place. "In order for HR managers to be a strong force driving the company towards a productive and sustainable future, they must first empower themselves - especially through intra-organizational discourse, as well as through external discourse, with their peers. When they join an organization as informed, empowered and well-rounded professionals, they can lead to real change."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 10, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

HR forum meeting
HR forum meeting
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