2009 Trend 4: Social innovation drives smart working

The fluctuating labor market, combined with a multitude of technical innovations, forces companies to look at ‘work’ differently. Social innovation is about renewing the labor process, with the goal to increase productivity and participation. Social innovation revolves around working more intelligently and organizing work differently. The days when employees all came to the office to spend their days together are behind us, but only a handful of organizations are actively promoting this change.

In the IT-sector it is more common to work in virtual teams, split up an assignment and contribute to it from all over the world, so that this 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. In doing so, a company accesses the knowledge 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. More often, people will associate themselves with networks, and participate in projects that are offered through these networks.

Flexible Time and Place

The decreasing mobility and ageing of the population put pressure on the availability of talent and ensure that companies must actively pursue 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. Here, we observe an interesting paradox: on one side, employees demand a better balance between work and private life, and on the other, work and private lives are becoming increasingly intertwined, as people are working from home at times that are most convenient for them.

As employees collaborate remotely with each other, from different parts of the world, the usability and reliability of tools and infrastructure becomes very important. Employees are increasingly ready to perform all their transactions via the web. Great adoption however requires a great user interface, and minimal hurdles or clicks to perform HR transactions. Getting a spotless user interface into place is a key requirement, especially with users that are getting used to RIA (rich internet applications), Google-simplicity, and iPhone-like interfaces.

Social innovation also leads towards a flexible attitude in work relationships: we observe an increase in flexible contracts, temporary contracts, mother/father contracts and flexible payment and benefits. 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 evaluated very closely before an extension of the contract is offered.

Responsibility of HR

Social innovation demands a change in the way both management and the employee work, and emphasizes the need for a new form of coaching 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? And how must compensation schedules be adjusted to support this change? 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 managers, too.

More than before, HR must be aligned with the strategy of the company, and turn these choices into viable policies. HR will have to initiate the discussion on how this changes relationships within the company, and how this affects contractual terms and conditions. Which skill sets are only employed on a project base? What is an acceptable ratio between flexible and fixed contracts for the company? To what extent can one individualize the contractual conditions? To avoid conflicts, HR must develop clear statements when determining who belongs to the core of the organization, who belongs to the network, and who does not. It is the responsibility of HR to not implement social innovation as a solution to a problem, but as a new way of working, 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.