In 2008, in collaboration with the CIPD, Capgemini published a research project. We had sensed the world of work changing. We saw a trend toward more agile and flexible jobs,  a step change in the way people engage with organisations, and identified some leading practices in how jobs were crafted and working environments built. We believed technology advances – specifically enhanced collaborative capabilities and reduction in barriers to access – and changing workforce demographics were key drivers to this. We concluded that a new way of working was on the horizon for highly competitive organisations – we called it ”smart working” click here to access the report.
It’s now 6 years on, in a world where knowledge doublement has ramped up at exponential pace. How much of the world we envisioned holds true? What does that mean for smart working?
Let’s start with looking at the drivers – tech 2008 v tech 2014.
In 08 we talked about web 2.0 – a website that enabled the user to collaborate! We were just beginning to understand Software as a Service but most HR functions ran SAP or Oracle as an enterprise wide solution.  I could text and email on my work phone but whilst I could access the internet through it, I rarely bothered. It was too slow and they only websites I could read were news related.  Much better to pick up a newspaper on the tube or wait until I logged on to a computer.
In 2014, “SMACC” capabilities (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud and Creative) are firmly established in our digitised world. They combine to provide access to enhanced collaborative technology anytime, anyplace, anywhere,- at significantly reduced cost. I have a 4G smart phone; using it this morning on my commute into London I read the news headlines, cleared my emails, authorised some team expenses, enrolled my sons for rugby summer camp, read a great article about social recruitment and retweeted it, and sent a message to a friend on facebook – all that on a 30 minute train journey.
 For HR, these capabilities revolutionise the potential for working smarter.  In 2014, technology can enable significantly more value from HR processes; for example:

  • making the EVP come alive, leveraging an employer brand and accessing wider talent pools through social media
  • enabling employees, candidates and alumni to engage with HR process or policy (giving 360 feedback, capturing time, reading a managers checklist for recognition) through mobile devices (anytime anywhere)
  • understanding what employees think of the business at any given time, testing the implementation of change, assessing employer brand impact and predicting employee behaviour through social listening and analytics
  • access at much lower cost to things like real time integrated performance management, talent pooling and succession planning software through the cloud
  • developing video content, infographics and professional looking documentation in house at low cost to enhance the impact of our employee communications through creative software

In 2006 I worked for a FTSE 25 profitable and successful organisation with a well respected HR department – even then our ERP investment precluded us for investing in capabilities like this. 8 years on, digital transformation has made possible what we could only have dreamt of.
The second driver was changing workforce demographics.
I have learned that it is wrong to assume the propensity to digital is a ‘generation thing’. Millennials can be just as digi-phobic as the baby boomers and the most digerati person I know has grey hair and recently celebrated quite a milestone birthday.
But greater digital savvyness (and digi hunger) is very much a continuing trend. The biggest growing user group for social media is the over 50’s, more than half the population have smartphones and you can even report a crime or connect with the NHS for medical advice via an app. Establishment of digital capabilities, more intuitive user interfaces, faster connection speeds, cheaper kit and connection costs for mobiles and tablets, plus developing innovations like wearable tech means a growing number of us want, and indeed expect, to engage with service providers through digital channels.
We now have three “generations” of people in the workforce with very different preferences, styles and engagement needs. What aligns us is our diversity, so HR interventions need to be much more insightful, personalised, agile and creative.
So, the drivers for smart working remain and have intensified. Does this mean we are all working smarter?  What is the reality?
In our 2008 research, we suggested that “smart” organisations were characterised by the following:

  • “Smart” Management ethos : high trust working cultures, outcome based management, high degree of individual freedom to act.
  • High performance work practices: high degree of employee involvement, consultation and empowerment, fostering of high performing teams, investment in building employee engagement
  • Leverage of collaborative tech :opportunities to use technology to drive much greater collaboration in the distribution, management and delivery of work
  • Optimised physical : flexible, effective, enabling work environments which optimise the opportunity for people to work effectively, whether working in groups or individually

I could give you many examples of organisations that are inspiring examples of smart working – from Google, to tech start ups, creative agencies through to more traditional banks reimagining work such as Lloyds Digital. But my experience working with a number of different organisations in my consulting work tells me that most businesses take a more “fashionista” approach, operating pockets of smart practices, and that it’s often the customer aligned functions, rather than HR that drive the new ways of working.
We are at the tipping point – today organisations that remain competitive are leveraging digital for their customer proposition – the people proposition lags behind. Very soon, a digital people proposition based on a smart working philosophy will be the only way to remain competitive.
The smart working challenge remains now as much as it did in 2008 and perhaps has intensified. It’s up to HR to lead the way and help UK competitiveness through getting our workplaces to work digitally smarter. The role of the HR person in this context is to be the instigator, challenger, guardian of working practices. With a “productivity first” mandate, and armed with the triple win test (meets business, employee and customer needs). It’s an exciting time to be in HR.
If you’d like to hear more about how digital can unlock HR’s potential, watch this youtube video: