Home News ‘Flexibility Is a Mindset’: Volvo’s VP HR on the Future of Work

‘Flexibility Is a Mindset’: Volvo’s VP HR on the Future of Work

‘Flexibility Is a Mindset’: Volvo’s VP HR on the Future of Work

The first half of 2021 has been a period of experimentation for many HR leaders as organizations grappled with the ramifications of the global pandemic. Border closures have created a unique labor market giving jobseekers the balance of power, while the desire for flexible working options has been quickly cemented as a top priority for employees.

In response, business and HR leaders have had to rethink the employee experience and what it means for workers who are not in the office 9-5, Monday to Friday. So what does the future of work look like? HRD spoke to Kate Thompson, Vice President of Human Resources at Volvo Group, and panelist at the upcoming HR Summit Brisbane, who said the idea of flexible working and officeless workforces had always been a concept of blue-sky thinking. But the reality of the last 15 months has challenged many people’s perceptions of what flexibility really looks like.

“For me, the overarching lesson out of this pandemic has been flexibility actually is just that – it’s flexible and so for leaders, what it means is there’s not a framework and there’s no one-size-fits-all,” she said. “What flexibility looks like for you to be successful will look different to what flexibility looks like for me.”

Thompson said that has been a challenge for HR, a function that has traditionally looked to frameworks as a way of standardizing people practices across a workforce. Instead, she encouraged businesses to focus on their principles.

“I think it’s important for organizations to understand what their principles are around flexibility, but really at the end of the day, it’s a mindset,” she said. “That’s certainly been Volvo’s biggest learning, and I suspect that’s been the same for a lot of other people out there.”

It’s also important to remember that implementing flexible working impacts every facet of the employee experience. From onboarding to performance management, organizations need to apply a lens of flexible working to rethink how they approach the different touchpoints, rather than relying on pre-pandemic processes that may no longer be successful for a hybrid or remote workforce.

“Another big learning as we stepped through the end of last year was that leaders who traditionally had their workers in front of them in a physical environment every day found it more difficult when they were pressed to assess performance for that year,” Thompson said. “I think it highlighted that some of our understanding of performance and how we assess performance needs to be challenged a little bit.”

Opening the first-panel session at HR Summit Brisbane in October, Thompson will join fellow panelists Sarah Bench, Group Head of Organisational Effectiveness at QBE, and Rita Hudson, Senior Director, Organisational Capability at Gold Coast Health, to discuss what is shaping the future of work. They’ll be joined by Colin Murphy, Regional Corporate Manager at SIRVA Worldwide Relocation & Moving, as moderator, to share practical lessons for HR leaders.

Asked about HR’s role in helping organizations move into the future of work, Thompson said the function has a uniquely holistic view of the entire business ecosystem. By making the case for flexibility as a necessity, rather than a ‘nice thing to have’, HR leaders can drive significant commercial outcomes.

She sees three key roles for HR as designers of flexible systems and processes, facilitators of those mechanisms, and the coach or driving force of the flexible working mindset.

“When people can work flexibly in a way that supports them we can’t lose sight of the fact that they are more productive,” Thompson said. “I think at times we’ve got carried away with flexibility being about the wellbeing or being seen as a nice thing to have. The reality is, if our people are more productive, we will have better commercial outcomes and I think HR can’t lose the opportunity to make sure that’s the conversation we’re having.”

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