Reimagining the Future Workplace: Ask the Right Questions to Move Forward

The future of a redesigned workstream looms large on the horizon. Strategic issues around returning remote workers to physical facilities, integrating new technologies into the business, acquiring and retaining the talent needed to execute digital strategies, and transitioning to a more agile workforce abound. As companies sharpen their focus on digital transformation initiatives and reimagine their business models to remain competitive, now is as good a time as any to rethink the future workplace.

The right questions can help steer boardroom discussions in productive directions as markets return to their pre-pandemic state. The following questions offer some guidance on what boards can ask themselves and management, focusing on issues related to operational excellence, strategic alignment, and organisational culture and resiliency:

As organisations compete for stakeholder trust, health and safety are paramount. Focusing on “why we need an office,” employee wellness and alternative approaches to the traditional 9-to-5, pre-pandemic normal is leading to the consideration of various hybrid models mixing in-person and remote working, four-day workweeks, and myriad flexible arrangements.

During the pandemic, many organisations, out of necessity, survived and thrived by embracing a more strongly innovative, empowering and “get it done” company culture. In redesigning the workplace, it’s important to sustain this level of nimbleness and perpetuate the attributes of resiliency and decisiveness into the post-pandemic world. Workflows and office designs should enable the collaboration and teaming so essential to an innovative culture and high-velocity, high-quality decision-making.

Advancing digital maturity is fundamentally about preparing the organisation to compete effectively with digital leaders. That means addressing the ethics, fairness, transparency and accountability around deploying AI and other technologies. But it also means understanding the skills required, where and how to source those skills (hire, onboard, upskill or reskill), and related impacts on compensation and incentives.

The operative question is, “How do we know?” It’s an important question because there is a direct correlation between an engaged workforce and a positive customer experience. Companies that don’t manage evolving employee expectations well are likely to face significant attrition.

A virtual environment creates significant challenges to sustaining corporate culture. Shifting to a hybrid work environment poses similar challenges. The board should be focused primarily on the resiliency of the company’s culture going forward.

Transitioning to a completely virtual workplace last year created fresh stresses on cybersecurity. It follows that transitioning to a hybrid workplace will create additional new vulnerabilities. Boards should inquire how management is adjusting to new threats, particularly in light of recent, high-profile ransomware attacks.

The board should have a line of sight into the metrics, measures and monitoring of DEI. One of the unfortunate effects of the COVID-19 crisis is its disproportionate impact on women and people of color in the job market. It may be necessary to challenge conventional thinking and foster an open environment that encourages tough conversations and feedback.

Winners and losers will likely be defined by how much is known about customers and the agility with which an organisation can align itself with changing expectations and needs. Advanced data analytics around the customer experience can improve decision-making and prove to be a vital differentiator for competing in markets characterised by rapidly changing customer habits and shifting consumer preferences.

Boards should inquire as to the expected mix of permanent employees, contractual fringe and contingent workers once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, given current plans to implement AI and automate processes.

While ERM is typically not directly associated with the workforce, it can contribute to making the organisation and its people more anticipatory of events that could affect the business.

The above questions provide board members with a takeaway they can use to drive focused discussions in the boardroom with company leaders about the evolving workplace. The post-pandemic world of work must emphasise many factors, including safety, innovation, creativity and pandemic resiliency, not to mention reducing the carbon footprint. Now is a good time to assess what the organisation might look like over the next two to five years.

For a discussion on what boards can ask themselves and management about the evolving workplace, read the article here.

(Board Perspectives: Risk Oversight — Issue 140)