The Future of Work – 2030 is 15 years away…well 15 years ago the future of work arrived (for me at least)….

Interesting piece of research just published regarding predicting the future of work in 2030 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/jobs-and-skills-in-2030 Predicting the future is tricky at anytime, it’s not always about trying to be 100% ‘accurate’ for many business leaders it’s about creating greater agility. The report lays out four scenarios.

1. Forced Flexibility (BAU)

Greater business flexibility and incremental innovation lead to modest growth in the economy, but this flexibility often results in fewer opportunities and weakened job security for the low-skilled.

2. The Great Divide

Despite robust growth driven by strong high-tech industries, a two-tiered, divided society has emerged, reinforcing the divergence in the economic positions of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’

3. Skills Activism

Technological innovation drives the automation of white-collar work and brings large-scale job losses and political pressure, leading to an extensive government-led skills programme.

4. Innovation Adaptation

In a stagnant economy, improved productivity is achieved through rigorous implementation of ICT solutions.

 

Reading this made me stop and think “what was I doing about 15 years ago”………

 

Background

At that time I left Oracle corporation after 12 years, where I’d been pioneering the creation and business development of their global HR/payroll business across 40 countries. Application service provision and hosting had come into vogue – ‘Cloud’ was still a marketing buzz word awaiting.

 

I had taken the plunge to leave Oracle to join an established 40 person HR consultancy. My remit was to build a new HR advisory service targeting SME’s. My early discussions had been based around the leverage of a ‘hosted’ version of Oracle’s HR application. The early research had identified that the vast majority of SME’s when it came to employment best practice ‘didn’t know what they didn’t know’ few had the services of CIPD qualified professional HR staff. In addition, the business plan that the investors had bought into had been set in place. As I was about to join I was told the business had been sold to a major International resourcing company, however it excluded the new business venture. Great, so I joined as MD to run BusinessHR, with a team of two an IT guy and contractor who was an HR professional.

The Organisational model

As I assembled the management team, it was clear that the core value of the proposition would be the quality of the CIPD qualified advisors. The original plan was to create the call centre based out of the offices in Basingstoke. I went into what if ‘mode’ and it became clear to get the best advisors we would need to run the business on an anywhere, any time basis i.e. home based advisors living almost anywhere in the UK, dependent purely on the need of telephony ( Broadband availability was just in its infancy).

We designed and built, in three months, a cloud based call centre operation and a user content management system for clients. Advisors were able to manage cases and support clients with modifications and advise regarding their own company specific documents, letters etc. All of this was built on open standards software i.e. free stuff! The use was, we would literally be able to run the business from any location that had a BT phone line – and we did.

Recruiting the advisor team needed was done at a rapid pace. I set the goal to do this by Christmas Eve, about 7 weeks. The job advert was crafted to attract professionals seeking to work based at home who also would relish using their professional knowledge to advise business leaders and managers in best practice. We utilised a new way at the time of processing candidate applications i.e. via a website for online application submissions. The adverts drove candidates to a new online CV submission process; we were one of the first companies to do this. CVs would end up emailed to one of our email accounts set up for this purpose.

We had decided to outsource the early screening process to a trusted recruiter and she was based in Cornwall ! The whole programme was very structured, competency based assessment including first telephone interviews and then a real world test question call. This included a set of typical questions which the candidates were called and had to respond in and a limited time to craft an email advisory response. Short list regional panel interviews and a final meeting to select the advsiors to be made job offers.

The response was phenomenal, in the first 24 hours we had 180 applications and within two weeks we had 674 HR professionals wishing to join this completely new start-up business. I recall our advert created over 65% of the agencies online CV submissions, i.e. we got more candidates than three other FTSE250 companies using this system. Spoilt for choice, however managing the emails proved a bit of a nightmare. One group email response was sent to over 50 people without BCC the other recipients. Ouch!, a breach of data protection! Humble pie and apologies plus £40 worth of flowers to say sorry to the primary complainant, made amends and reduced the potential damage to our brand reputation.

I recall getting up a 5am on Christmas Eve, signing on to the BHR system and finalising the configuration of our own company employment policy and documentation. This meant I created personalised terms and condition, offer letters and even a company handbook for all six prospective staff. These were emailed by 8am and the responses came back pretty swiftly that day.

So began the journey. I had learnt over my previous international career at Oracle how to work collaboratively and the critical importance with face to face meetings to rapidly build rapport and trust with colleagues. I learnt that it took typically three trips to secure a long term and strong bond of trust with remote colleagues to enable them to feel confident to call me any-time and be open about any issues.

Every six weeks the whole company got together at a UK training centre/hotel where I could present, discuss and workshop ideas regarding the development of the service and proposition. The model was, travel and meet PM on day one, overnight stay with a social meal then finish mid afternoon on day two.

“Dave the Wires”, would arrive early morning and set up a synchronised server which handled all the systems. The telephony server which we managed re routed the inbound call to the telephone line we had in the training centre. So, we could continue to run a support desk from 8am to 6pm as part of our SLA to clients.

Getting the advisors to work as a unit was really crucial, developing trust in each others professionalism and also supporting each other to follow up with clients issues. The service emulated First Directs style of telephone banking service model. Everyone in the business could opt to spend up to £10 per month in a small token of gratitude to say ‘thank you’ to a colleague for going beyond what was expected for just helping them out.

I recall one early board meeting when one the private Investor NED’s (founder of a multi million pound IT company) stated very strongly that the virtual model would not work. A number of his early investments had started this way but were now acquiring formal offices and moving staff to them.

Two of the original six advisors are still with Businesshr today, 14 years later. The business still runs on a virtual home based operation and uses open source software standards.

 

What did we do?

 

  • Created a work anywhere, any-time professional services support service
  • Built using open source software a Virtual call centre and case management system
  • Cloud based collaboration and content systems to handle all manner of HR policy and documentation, configurable and brand able to the end user company
  • Pioneered use of online job application and recruitment outsourcing
  • Created a collaborative and supportive work environment aimed at building a supportive virtual team of professionals

 

Did it work?

 

  • In principle yes, today, BusinessHR still successfully exists in what is in effect the original organisational design and core service operational model
  • Grew too fast, partially due to pressure from the Investors to ‘meet the original business plan’ and also my inexperience at the time of running a start-up business. However, we learnt that the original plan was way too optimistic in the ability to acquire new clients.
  • Making some of the early team redundant within 4-6 months of starting was really painful realising your decisions can have massive implications on other peoples personal lives
  • SME’s do not buy professional advice – ‘Smart Corporates’ do.

 

What would I do different today?

 

  • PILOT the proposition I.e. taking more time to test the proposition and hire staff based on real business – not plans!
  • Use existing cloud service providers for; Messaging, unified communications, video conferencing, collaboration and CRM case management
  • Add extended data security capability to ensure meet ISO security standards whilst operating and enhanced security in the communication and ease of verification for subscriber companies users.
  • Utilise flexible regional shared business office facilities for corporate meetings