Work made simple

Written by
Liz Howe

30 Sep 2015

30 Sep 2015 • by Liz Howe

Simplicity is key

The growing trend of simplifying work is a corporate response to employees being overwhelmed by increasing organisational complexity, growing information overload, and a stressful 24/7 work environment.

As everyone is on a mission to simplify their lives, it is up to HR to lead the charge in simplifying work. It comes as no surprise that some of the most innovative, global technology companies are already translating their design thinking principles to their internal business and HR practices. Apple and Google are as well known for their culture and rethinking employee experience as they are for their minimalistic design and innovative products that make our lives easier.

So what lessons can we learn from these forward-thinking HR teams?  

1. Eliminate the unnecessary

Time is precious, make sure it’s not spent reading unnecessary emails or attending hour-long meetings that should have been a five minute call. Some organisations have gone as far as banning emails and voice mails out of hours, others, like Google, have enforced rules on effective e-mailing. 

There are many possible ways of doing this: eliminating emails on weekends, shortening meeting times, reducing frequency of meetings, or even penalising employees for responding to e-mails while they are on vacation.

Your employees will be grateful, and by proving ROI using a smaller focus group within the organisation, you can provide a more compelling argument to expand the initiative to the entire company.

2. Make rules to limit steps in a process

Antiquated HR processes and procedures add complexity to HR work. We should constantly be thinking about ways of reducing our daily tasks, considering which we can eliminate and whether there are better ways of achieving the same end result. Thinking long term about the benefits of simplifying work is critical as HR continues to fight for a seat at the exec table.

I recently read that Walmart founder, Sam Walton, had a philosophy that if a process couldn’t be explained on one piece of paper, it was deemed too complex and you have to go back to the drawing board.

Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo and be the one to offer up a better solution. Most likely, the business (or at least your colleagues) will thank you for it. 

3. Tie simplicity into your company culture

While increasing complexity of work for employees is a growing issue, most businesses have yet to address it. There is an opportunity here for HR to lead the redesign of the work environment.

Start by acknowledging the problem and setting up a team. Get your employees opinion on complex processes and things that waste their time and disrupt their work-life balance. Use that information to create a business case and see if you can persuade the business to tie simplicity into your internal values and culture.

The chances are that if you work for a company that prides itself on innovation, passion, respect and integrity, they’ll agree that allowing employees to drive forward with good ideas faster will only add value to their brand and ultimate profitability. 

4. Go Green! Lose paper processes

If you are on-boarding hundreds or even thousands of people every year around the world, you are most likely using hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper to do so. It’s costly, time consuming, error prone, and quite frankly – boring!  I recently came across a company on the east coast who estimates they spend over $100,000 per year just on paper and postage to enrol their new employees in their benefits plans. 

Eliminating paperwork enables HR to focus more on important employee issues such as training and development, performance management, employee engagement, developing a positive business culture, and better alignment of HR and business goals.

5. Use technology

While technology is partially to blame for the “overwhelmed employees” trend, it is also a solution. Rather than implementing technology for the sake of it, it’s about finding solutions that streamline and simplify processes.

Look for HR software that provides the same user experience we are used to in everyday life, both front and back end. Your employees (like you) want to consume information, such as about their benefits and rewards, via more interesting methods than PDFs and paper.  

The bottom line

Work complexity is quickly becoming the biggest challenge globally, blocking innovation and leading to lower employee engagement and customer satisfaction. It is up to businesses and HR leaders to create a culture of simplicity, eliminate unnecessary steps, remove paper and introduce technology that actually makes life easier for their employees.