CHROs weigh in on the remote workforce and the organisational design conundrum

Desereé van den Berg shared her study on organisational design and how WFH affects it.

For her master’s dissertation. Desereé van den Berg, Risk Benefits Solutions’ executive head of human capital, did a study with HR and organisational practitioners to get an understanding of what they did while they implemented hybrid work models during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She shared her findings at the recent CHRO Community Conversation.

“A concern for me during the pandemic is that I found a lot of reading on how remote work impacts on employee wellness and how it impacts on organisational culture and leadership, but I struggled to find readings that gave a holistic perspective about remote work in its entirety and not aspects of it.”

Remote work is here to stay, she said, but two years after the pandemic, companies were still grappling with how to deal with remote work and what it means for organisations.

“I think it’s time for us to rethink how we operate our businesses post the pandemic. Whether we implement remote work or not, it has highlighted the need for us to look at design in its entirety and how we operate and do things in the organisation.”

What practitioners said in her study

Desereé said the majority of the practitioners she spoke to in her research told her that hybrid work and the pandemic have put the strategic capability in organisations at the forefront.

“What came out from most practitioners is that processes, systems and people need to seamlessly integrate in how organisations design themselves,” she said.

The physical infrastructure, including loadshedding, is another aspect that needs to be taken into account when designing an organisation for a hybrid system.

Impact of hybrid work model on talent

Desereé said it was important for organisations to consider that the employee wants and needs have changed.

“We have to start to seriously listen to those. The focus has shifted in terms of understanding the wants and needs of your workforce and how you bring that into your design,” said Desereé.

Reward systems

According to Desereé, some of the practitioners she spoke to told her that they use the hybrid work model as an incentive. “They have not changed the people in roles, but those who have proven that they can work effectively and efficiently in a hybrid environment, are rewarded by being allowed to follow hybrid work models.”

Organisations, Desereé said, need to assess the talent they have and see what skills they need for the hybrid work model“, and that it was important for HR practitioners to elevate HR to a much more strategic role.

Organisational capabilities to consider in organisational design

Desereé emphasised the need for organisations to have a culture of trust and wellness. “Our organisations are becoming fast-paced, and our change management capability needs to become more agile and fast paced,” she said.

There is also a need for revamping of communication tools in the organisation, Desereé added. Hybrid working requires purposeful design to determine who needs to be together, at what time. “You can’t just throw a hybrid model and say pick a day you want to be at the office.”

Organisational design, Desereé said, is there to reduce complexity in a complex environment. It is used to align an organisation to strategy. “Organisational design for me is strategy. Strategy is organisational design. The two parts for me are too connected; you can’t separate the one from the other,” Desereé said.

“We don't scan the environment enough. We don't understand how hybrid work impacts the entire organisation.”

CHROs weigh in

Dolores Mashishi, managing director at DSM Advisory, asked if the culture component featured in Desereé’s research. Desereé said her respondents said unless you have a culture built on trust and wellness, hybrid work will not be sustainable.

Refilwe Ditodi from Tiger Brands asked Desereé if in the absence of trust and enabling culture, she found that organisations come to rely on controls and formalised processes to manage.

Desereé’s response was: “I don’t see them relying on that. I see them saying come back to the office. That’s the initial thing that most practitioners have seen, where there is no culture of trust.

John Skelton, chief people officer at The Capital Hotels and Apartments said they did not have a remote workforce because of the nature of their business, but they have introduced unlimited leave to counter the need for people to be on forced leave.

Makgotso Letsitsi, head of citizenship and transformation at KPMG said leadership has had to evolve in the hybrid work model. “It’s about how you lead and engage with your people. We need to equip our leaders with a new set of skills to lead and manage people.” She said it was important for management to understand why some people prefer to work from home.

ACSA HR director Lungile Langa suggested that CHROs share the tools they have implemented in the respective organisations. “We are all trying to figure this out. A forum like this could be helpful to learn from one another.”