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Future workplace

Average read time: 5 minutes

We’re breaking the employment mould to create new ways of working that suit our business and our people.

Three Unilever employees round a table at our Leatherhead office, UK

Traditional employer-employee dynamics are no longer fit for either individuals or businesses. People are increasingly looking for more personally and professionally satisfying work. They want to move beyond the traditional 40-hour/40-week/40-year employment contract to something more flexible that’s tailored to their needs and stage of life.

Older and more experienced workers are increasingly choosing to work for longer; and younger people are after meaningful jobs with more flexibility. And Covid-19 forced us all to think differently about how and where we worked.

So we’re pioneering new ways of working to create a flexible environment that values openness and adaptability, builds resilience, and elevates skills and performance. It’s one of our Unilever Compass goals.

Pioneer new models to provide our employees with flexible employment options by 2030.

This is one of our Future of work goals

Our new employment models

Our new ways of working are, ultimately, all about helping people stay employed and making sure we have the resources we need as a business. They’re also making sure we can meet the needs of an increasingly automated workplace, where jobs are broken into tasks and projects. And they’re promoting chances to learn and work differently – so that people can enjoy a rewarding working life, both now and in the future.


U-Work gives employees the freedom and flexibility associated with contract roles with the security and benefits typically linked to permanent roles.

People in U-Work don’t have a fixed role. They work on varying assignments, and between assignments are free to do other things that are important to them. They get a monthly retainer and specially designed suite of benefits whether they’re working on an assignment or not. They can design work patterns that suit them – anything from a few days a week for a few months, to short, concentrated bursts of full-time with breaks in-between. And they get paid for each assignment when they’re working.

This more flexible way of working brings many benefits. It helps people who want to reduce their working hours as they get older. It allows working parents to manage their time more effectively. And it allows people to travel or study without sacrificing their jobs.

U-Work benefits Unilever too. Managers have access to skilled people who are familiar with Unilever and can hit the ground running, avoiding the hidden costs of finding freelance workers and getting them up to speed.

We piloted U-Work in the UK and it’s now live in seven countries including Malaysia, Argentina and South Africa, with more planned for 2022.


Working patterns are shifting; roles are disappearing and reshaping; new skills and ways of working are emerging. Through Future-Fit planning, our people are thinking through what they want their working life to look like in the future, and what skills they need to be able to move in the right direction. Sometimes this means taking things in a completely new direction.

If we see a need to pursue this direction as a business, U-Renew gives people the space and financial support to develop their knowledge and skills and apply their learning in the real world. Much like a paid learning sabbatical, we give people funding, time out to study, work experience opportunities and the security of a role. Employees may contribute to skills funding and give up some of their reward package while they transform themselves to move in a new direction. It’s a mutual investment and a shared risk for a better future.

We developed the model in 2021 and plan to pilot it in the UK in 2022.

Hybrid working arrangements

Even though Covid-19 fast-forwarded the shift to more flexible and remote working, at Unilever we were already examining how to move to more balanced ways of working. We’ve learned from the pandemic-induced changes to how we work to shape new and better arrangements for our people.

We believe that when done right, hybrid working creates an inclusive, flexible environment where people can perform at their best and teams can collaborate, connect, create and celebrate successes together. In 2021, we introduced a set of global principles to guide how we can make best use of our office spaces while giving our people flexibility and choice, which include spending at least 40% of our time in the office to collaborate and connect with each other.

We see a future where we focus primarily on what people produce, not on where or when they work. So we’re designing working options that will help people balance work and home life without completely losing the value that face-to-face contact brings.

Deep link to providing skills for life

Reimagining the future of work

As we evolve our models of work and upskill our people, we’re drawing on wider changes in society.

Our Future of Work Summit

We designed our first Future of Work Summit as an interactive conference for business leaders, policymakers, academics and thought leaders. More than 75 organisations dispatched some of their boldest and most imaginative thinkers to take part in two days of intensive discussion on the world of work in December 2021.

On the first day, presenters and panellists shared their perspectives, trends and cutting-edge examples of practice with 4,000 virtual participants from over 30 countries. They highlighted the irreversible momentum driving the changing practices of work and the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Unilever CEO Alan Jope introduces our Future of Work Summit against a bright blue background

Finding the big ideas for the future

On the second day, experts from the organisations and Summit partner executives took part in discussions and ideation sessions.

The sessions were linked to potential enablers and next steps around six future of work themes: new employment models; inclusion; youth entrepreneurship; reskilling; future-fit youth; and harnessing technology.

We’ve captured the thinking in our Future of Work Summit Report, which ends with the five big ideas we think have the widest implications for the future. Ideas that stretch from democratising education and open-sourcing skills passports to transforming organisations to become truly inclusive.

Read the Future of Work Summit Report
Illustration of four employees brainstorming ideas
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