Without question, the past year has transformed how businesses
interconnect with their staff and clients. As the world moves through
the health and economic shocks of the pandemic, it is clear the onset of
Covid19 will leave an indelible mark on the modern workforce.
For the research and insights industry, there is no ‘back’ to pre-pandemic times. There is only ‘forward’ – with most acknowledging the importance of embracing new more flexible ways of working and the opportunities they bring. With no handbook or pre-existing blueprint for a post-pandemic world, many businesses are working in tandem with their staff to map out how best to move forward.
We have spoken to several key employers within the Australian research sector, to better understand how as an industry we are navigating our way through these changes, unpacking what it means for their workforce and what impact this has had on what they are looking for in their employees.
The office – an exciting new future
Have we seen the death of the physical office? No. But there has been a distinct shift in its purpose. Human connection is driving this new work culture and environment. Chantal McCrae, HR Director at DBM comments that “the office will shift to being less of a place that people ‘go to work’ and more a place that people ‘go to connect’.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Holly Brocklehurst, AUNZ Talent Leader at Kantar, whose model for the future does not necessarily include a return to full 5-day weeks in the office. Flexible/home working is now a feature for their workforce at all levels and their office is now about connection and collaboration.
Work flexibility as a fixture
Everyone we spoke to seemed in agreement that a hybrid model was the way forward, with a 3/2 split proving popular (3 days in the office and 2 days remotely). Brocklehurst notes that employees at all levels have shown that they do not need to be in an office to be effective – they are as responsible, productive, and capable off site as on. A key enabler has been technology, and rapid adoption was necessary to thrive.
As Diane Herz, CEO of the SRC comments “the longer we work remotely, the more sophisticated we are becoming with these platforms, using them for whiteboarding, polling, design thinking sessions with digital sticky notes, virtual small groups, even gaming”. Their recent all-staff survey indicated a strong preference to retain home working days, with increased flexibility, lack of commute, access to the comforts of home and a reduced threat of catching Covid19 on public transport—all big wins for their people. A successful transition to remote working has also seen them evolve to be a national organisation with staff in all states and territories. “Accessing a broader talent pool has enabled us to recruit a more diverse workforce in line with our values of equality and inclusion,” says Herz.
The post-pandemic world – closer than before
A perhaps unexpected benefit of the virtual office according to Chantal McCrae at DBM GROUP was “a greater connection of staff between our various offices as the geographical boundaries that used to exist are diminished”. Anna Meiler, Head of Sales and Marketing at Pure Profile agreed; they plan to keep their weekly all-company updates hosted from different offices across the globe lifting staff connectivity and enhancing the sense of ‘one team’.
But this switch to a hybrid model of virtual and physical office has not come without challenges. There was general agreement that retaining a connection to a built office environment was important. Darrell Collins, Founder at Harvest Insights stressed the importance of regaining face time with staff to help retain the fabric of their culture, or ‘work family’, whilst fostering new thinking, innovation and the ability to have in-moment sharing of ideas. Like many, they have placed a strong emphasis on supporting the team’s happiness and mental wellbeing this year and feel that a return to the office will be of benefit here.
Moving forward through new skills
So, have these changes impacted what employers are looking for in their employees? “Yes and no” is the answer. Many agreed that it had lifted the importance of keeping organisational values at the forefront of recruitment decisions in line with company culture. Often the raw research skill set had stayed the same although the ability to use and embrace new technologies from a methodological point of view is valued. Businesses still appreciate consultancy smarts and an ability to think commercially and strategically whilst using storytelling to deliver insights with impact to clients. Chantal McCrae at DBM notes self-management and communication skills are rising to be stronger factors in recruitment; a remote working environment demands employees to be self-directed, and adaptable communication skills across multiple platforms are key, especially as we look to engage with clients in different ways. Resilience also came through as a key theme.
There is also the recognition that this is a two-way street with companies remaining focused on listening to and acting on what employees want in terms of remuneration, culture and career development; we have recently seen a notable uplift in demand for our latest salary and benefits scales. Please do reach out if you’d like to learn more.
Authors: Rowan Haylett, Managing Director, and Emily Moser, Account Director, Resources Group
This article also appears in the April-June 2021 edition of The Research Society publication, Research News – Human Insights. Check out the rest of the articles in this edition here.
Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash