The Future Workplace: Getting It Right
The world of work was changing well before the pandemic. Technology is significantly affecting work, jobs, wages and society at large — and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is impacting how companies design and manage a diverse talent, workforce and technological ecosystem that includes on-demand resources (contractors, part-time and “gig economy” workers) and “digital labor” (technology performing work in lieu of humans) in addition to permanent employees. Accordingly, organisations across the world face the challenge of upskilling and reskilling countless millions of employees with job functions that are being displaced by widespread adoption of artificial intelligence, automation in all of its forms, natural language processing, visual recognition software, virtual reality simulations and other digital advances.
COVID-19 complicated this picture because companies now have to deal with hybrid work models as they return employees to offices and physical facilities. The pandemic has proven in many industries that employees don’t have to cluster physically in the same place to operate successfully.
These developments have created significant change in the workplace. In this issue of The Bulletin, we suggest four areas that will present important differentiators for success.
Our society has experienced extreme change in a relatively short period. Organisations that incorporate an understanding of how the pandemic experience has reshaped societal norms and behaviors into their interactions with employees, customers and other stakeholders are likely to display a higher level of empathy for their people.
For example, people have a different worldview today than they had before the global health crisis. Employees are more concerned about wellness and mental health. They want a voice and a choice on where they work and when. Diversity, equity and inclusion have emerged as table stakes, and companies must get on with the execution of actionable plans reflecting a meaningful commitment to make a difference. That means focusing more attention on women and underrepresented minorities, who have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic. Employees want meaning, purpose and challenge in their work. They want better work-life balance. They want to grow, be treated fairly and contribute in a work environment where they feel respected, rewarded and safe. Most importantly, they want to face the future with confidence, and that entails receiving the training, coaching and work experiences they need to skill themselves continuously as job functions evolve.
As the world of work evolves, leaders must decide on workplace design and implement creative strategies around managing people and talent in what, for many companies, is likely to be some form of hybrid model of remote and in-person work involving permanent employees, on-demand resources and digital capabilities. While learning from the past, leaders should look forward when formulating their future workplace vision, building the foundation for their communications, strategy-setting, talent management, and metrics, measures and monitoring. These considerations are ultimately a branding play. An engaged workforce with a strong customer focus and culture that attracts and retains talent provides a powerful foundation for delivering on the organisation’s brand promise.
In articulating a compelling future workplace vision, leaders should:
- Define the return on expectation. Address the results that the organisation desires based on the transformation investments it intends to make. Teaming and collaboration efficiencies, decision-making velocity, innovation speed-to-market, and customer-facing empowerment are examples.
- Define the structure of the workplace. Focus on questions around structure will help company leaders provide clarity to employees about the evolving workplace and their role in making it successful.
- Understand and sustain corporate culture. Understand the impact of the redesigned workplace on the organisation’s culture and determine what must be done to sustain the desired attributes of that culture.
- Focus on the customer experience. Evaluate the experience customers have when they interact with the organisation. Understand what customers value most.
- Deliver on shared values. Define the human capital and talent management required to support and ensure the strongest employee experience consistent with the company’s core values.
It’s one thing to lead the evolution of the workplace with authenticity, integrity and empathy as well as craft a vision for the workplace of the future. It’s quite another to deliver strong performance, for that is where success or failure is ultimately determined. Leaders need to be concerned with not only how to get teams back together but also how to create an environment that fosters the greatest strengths of every team member and supports the highest level of collaboration and performance.
As management focuses on the evolving workplace, there are five attributes of strong performance — team formation, alignment, collaboration, innovation and delivery — that should be supported through the change enablement process. Alignment is vital to strong performance. Leaders should focus on aligning their people, processes and supporting technologies with the organisation’s mission, vision, strategy, metrics and underlying brand promise. A customised collaborative environment that engages people and fosters knowledge-sharing internally and externally adds yet another powerful dimension to strong performers. High-performance teams innovate through design thinking; everyone has a mindset to recognise innovation opportunities, formulate creative ideas, and transition ideation to process, product and service improvements. Finally, a focus on delivery drives teams forward to achieve exceptional results.
Effective leaders know that to earn respect, they must give it. If companies are going to come together in the post-pandemic era and be ready for any change that comes their way, their leaders must practice RESPECT each day setting the example.
RESPECT consists of Resilience, Energy, Support, Patience, Ethics, Courage and Trust. The change process is often derailed because one or more of these elements are not given sufficient consideration. Patience is a classic example. Patience is warranted during the change process because it takes time for individuals to gain awareness of and assimilate vision, understand how it impacts them and appreciate how to make a difference given their respective roles. Often, this awareness and understanding — and the resulting buy-in — are only achieved after many iterations of communication and reinforcement efforts.