2008 Trend 3: Social Innovation: Working More Intelligently

The tight labor market, in combination with a multitude of technical developments, is leading to possible alternatives to the traditional working day, and is forcing companies to look at work differently. Social innovation is about renewing the labor process, with as goal the increase of productivity and participation . Social innovation revolves around, amongst other things, working more intelligently, and assigning and organizing work differently. The era that all employees come to the office and spend the day together from 9 to 5 in the same place lies behind us, but only a handful of organizations are actively promoting this change.

In the IT-branch it is already common place to work in virtual teams, split up an assignment and contribute to it from all over the world, so that an assignment is being worked on 24/7. Even though this is not a viable option for all sectors, the way work is being assigned is becoming more flexible and more project-based. The company appeals to the knowledge that they need at a particular moment. Because the knowledge is with the employee, and the employee can choose, he or she will be less tempted to opt for a traditional manner of work, and is more likely to associate him or herself with the company only for the duration of a project.


The decreasing mobility and ageing of the population are putting pressure on the availability of talent and ensure that companies are speedily looking for alternative solutions (working from home, flexible work-times, policies that take into account the personal situation of the employee) to commit talent to the company. We can conclude an interesting paradox: on one side, the employees are demanding a better balance between their working and their private life, and on the other, their private and working lives are becoming increasingly entwined, as people are working from home at times that are most convenient for them. Social innovation is also leading towards a flexible attitude towards work: we observe an increase in flexible contracts, temporary contracts, mother/father contracts and flexible employment conditions. More experienced employees are switching to freelance work, or are working on assignments towards a final result, where employees can determine themselves (within reason) the time and place of work, as long as results are produced at a certain time. Organizations are also introducing employment contracts of fixed length (e.g. three years), where the employability of the worker is looked at very closely before an extension of the contract is offered.


Social innovation demands a change in the way both management and the employee work, and emphasizes the need for a new form of guidance of (both permanent and flexible) employees during the process of working towards an end result, instead of daily guidance. HR has to take a leading role in organizing this change and establishing this new way of working. For example, how do you evaluate employees if they are working towards a result? HR has the responsibility of equipping managers with the answers to questions such as these. This is, after all, a new way of working for the managers, too.

More than before, HR must involve itself with the strategy of the company, and will have to turn these choices into a viable policy. HR will have to initiate the discussion on how this changes relationships within the company, and how this affects contractual terms and conditions. Which abilities do you only employ on a project-basis? What is an acceptable relationship between flexible and fixed contracts for the company? To what extent can one individualize the contractual conditions? To avoid conflicts, HR must come to clear statements when determining who belongs to the core of the organization, who belongs to the network, and who is separate. It is the responsibility of HR to not implement social innovation as a reaction to problems, but as a new possibility where both the employee and the employer can be challenged to innovate as part of a mature working relationship in an attempt to increase productivity.