Discussions with staff about the Future of Work in the UN

Meet The Team – Let’s talk about the Future of Work in the UN


Yesterday we had two engaging sessions during our monthly “Meet the Team” get togethers.


Many viewpoints were discussed about how staff have been experiencing the work modalities that have been introduced largely due to the pandemic, working remotely while on AWA etc.


While some functions can clearly be carried out remotely and others cannot, some expressed thoughts about how this might work going forward, if for instance certain functions would be permanently performed remotely, outside of the mission area. The risk of creating a cadre of staff that would be supporting a field mission and mission staff without having a real connection to the mission and therefore understanding what it means for staff to be working and living in some of the austere conditions may eventually fade-away and would hamper service delivery. A problem that has existed for a long time between HQ and Field, would be recreated potentially.

It was clear also from the discussions that many managers and leaders still need to adjust to the different ways in which to manage their teams remotely, stepping away from the “attendance” paradigm to a management style where staff have more autonomy to organize their own work day, and focus on outputs and results rather than “presenteeism” is a big shift for many.


Although the Secretary General and his senior most leaders have been repeatedly impressing upon managers in particular to show utmost flexibility towards their personnel, taking into consideration personal circumstances, there still seems to be a “one size fits all” approach by many.


It was pointed out that some of the attitudes may have to do with generational differences, a recent article which did research on “generational perspective” related to the “return to office” doctrine found some interesting conclusions related to those who are part of the “Baby Boomers”, the Generation “X” and the “Millenial” generations. Read more about this here, https://www.thirdwayinteriors.com/news/article/going-back-to…


Staff who were on the call expressed worries related to the “Future of Work in the UN”

But also expressed their positive impressions about the Future of Work.

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It is clear that “Flexibility” does not fit in a box and a one size for all methodology may not work as part of the Future of Work in the UN, flexibility is also not a one-way street, it requires give and take both from the managers and staff, and also from an organizational perspective.


What may work for one person may not work for another, everyone has different challenges, but with challenges also come opportunities. It is important to frame challenges as opportunities to do things different, to forge a culture in this organization where you as a person matter, where you are not just a number on a budgeting spreadsheet. We are Human first, and resources later, and losing focus of that is often what happens at the macro level.

There needs to be a good balance between individual needs and organizational needs as well as client needs.


There is a lot of talk about the need to be more “agile” and by some senior leaders from UN System organizations this is being translated into the need for a so-called “agile” contract. We hold that those who work in the field are already incredibly agile in many ways, you must be in order to survive in the field. Organizationally we can certainly become more agile, if bureaucracy is reduced, layers of decision making is reduced etc. much of that has happened with the implementation of the Delegation of Authority, however what we are witnessing is that oversight and compliance still leaves a lot to be desired.


These issues perceived or real lead to an erosion of trust. Trust is the most precious commodity in a working environment where we move away from co-location to distributed workforce and remote working.


It was clear from the discussions that we should continue them, both on the topic of the future of work, as well as performance management and other topics. We intend to do so, and we may also be reaching out to our staff to get their feedback on these topics via surveys, since this is so crucially important for our work as policies will be developed or amended to facilitate the future of work in the UN.


We look forward to our future talks with all of you on these topics.

Thank you all for your contributions, it was really great.


Best regards,

UNFSU Executive, Mark, Leila & Liliya


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