Ricoh Workstyle is no longer active. You can keep up to date with the latest thinking from Ricoh UK on our new blog, Ricoh Insights.

Ricoh Europe, London, 23 February 2015 – We often hear how people are a company’s most important asset, but how well does your employer recognise your work-related needs and preferences?

Today, Europe’s business leaders could be facing their broadest range of challenges yet. In addition to longstanding tasks such as ensuring customer retention, identifying new revenue streams and meeting the evolving demands of stakeholders, many face a new batch of obstacles which have the potential to impact on how they do business in the future. The modern workforce expects their employer to offer sophisticated technology, optimised processes and new ways of working, while taking into account their preference to work non-traditional office hours. All of this heightens the pressing need for businesses to adopt a flexible approach.

The good news is that business leaders realise the need to be able to change quickly and to become fully digital. Ricoh sponsored research revealed that the majority of business leaders (71 per cent) are confident they can successfully make the transition from digital transformation to digital maturity within the next five years. Such a shift naturally results in the provision of more advanced systems and tools to help employees do a better job.

The demand for faster customer service and the growing digital appetite of Generation Y have undoubtedly played a part in businesses fast tracking digital to the top of their agenda. Yet it is not only the consumer who is forcing this change. The European Union’s e-government goal for 50 per cent of citizens and 80 per cent of businesses to be interacting with governments digitally this year is both ambitious and welcomed. But as we progress further into the digital age, how will the needs of the workforce change?

In a recent interview with the Economist Intelligence Unit on ‘The Future of Work’, sponsored by Ricoh Europe, academic experts explained why during the next 10-15 years managing a flexible workforce will be more important than ever before. Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University, believes that the biggest trend to affect the future of work will be the role of the manager in handling shifting office demographics and demands for flexible working. Sir Cary predicts the increase of different working patterns, such as part-time and short-time, to suit the interests of older staff continuing to work longer and younger staff wanting to start families.

It’s an interesting perspective and could be used to attract and retain the best people for the job. Packaging the option for flexible working with use of advanced technology, optimised processes and a collaborative working environment is an appealing proposition. After welcoming new employees into the business, the challenge for managers is to ensure the wellbeing of these digital-savvy and highly skilled recruits, which is often seen as a bottom-line issue in attracting and retaining staff. After all, the cost to replace talent is often high.

An Oxford Economics Report from 2014 reveals that staff turnover costs the UK £4bn every year in lost productivity and re-staffing expense, with the cost of replacing one SME staff member estimated at around £30,000 *. Managers will need the skills not only to navigate flexible working patterns but also to create a workplace that keeps people happy.

This environment will contain a broader age group of people than in previous generations. There is the potential for tension, as different age groups with different attitudes expect to work in different ways. The current generation of 40 and 50 year olds, aware that they will need to work for longer, will come up against the arrival of the digitally native Generation Z into the workplace.

Businesses need a different kind of manager to get the most from this disparate workforce. These are managers with the interpersonal skills to navigate employee’s growth and wellbeing, as well ensuring that business processes and technology are sufficiently optimised to attract and retain top talent.

In another interview, Professor James Baron, a management and sociology expert at Yale University, agrees that these changing demographics call for new approaches to motivating staff. He believes there will be a shift from ‘performance management’ towards ‘aspiration management’.

What is apparent, according to Professor Baron, is that Millennials are much more focussed on issues of mission and purpose than other generations. Having been brought up with instant access to masses of data, they are good at coping with bulk information and are generally more able to switch between tasks rapidly. Expecting to blur their personal and work life means they are more likely to demand the flexibility of remote working at all hours.

‘Effective organisations are going to need to look at how to appraise, motivate, reward and manage the performance of these people’, says Professor Baron. ‘At the same time, they will need to manage their most diverse workforce yet.’

Priorities could soon be changing for European businesses, with employee wellbeing and work-related preferences progressing towards the top of the list. However, simply embracing the notion of flexible working is not enough. In order to establish truly collaborative and dynamic working environments which attract top talent, foundations need to be set today. The optimisation of core business processes and adoption of advanced technology are essential building blocks on which the ultimate success of a flexible approach is dependant.

Ricoh Workstyle is no longer active. You can keep up to date with the latest thinking from Ricoh UK on our new blog, Ricoh Insights.