The Future of Work – a new frame of reference

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The future of work has been a difficult to define but hot topic for the last few years. At this point in 2020 the changes forced on most of us by the pandemic crisis mean that now many of us are living it – the most significant change in working practices that we’ve all experienced in our working lives, coupled with using technologies that the majority of us haven’t tried before. Everything changed in a matter of days and weeks. To help you prepare for what works and what doesn’t in this new environment, and to explain what you need to plan for next as things change again, we are starting a series of posts and content exploring and discussing every aspect of how work is changing.

Most often the future of work topic is associated with technology adoption, the rise of artificial intelligence and automation taking jobs out of the market. Will there be enough left? Will new jobs be created? The next issue is usually around changing work models and work structure. Organisations thinking financially in terms of on-balance sheet and off-balance sheet talent. The Millennials and Generation Z workers themselves experiencing a shift from a job for life or a career working for several companies serially, to more independent working with many companies at the same time, providing their outsourced expertise – what’s become known as the gig economy. All of these are true, but there is much more to it.

We’ve been thinking about the future in terms of five connected dimensions and three particular viewpoints. The five dimensions are:

  • Financial – From Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for the individual earning a living, to different cost models for the people and talent that companies need, to the concept of universal basic income as the world of work changes.
  • Physical – Where the landscape of the physical workspace has just changed, and working from home has just been tried and tested and proved effective for the many rather than the few. That leads to a complete rethink of the physical office and our work areas in terms of how much space and how we use it. Significantly more of us working from home changes things, but it’s not for everybody, not for every style of work, and the importance of a safe working environment has suddenly been brought into sharp focus.
  • Emotional – Where the working from home “experiment” has highlighted that getting the human factors right is essential. The wellbeing of our teams needs to be addressed, the right support needs to be provided, and the emotional intelligence of our managers and leaders comes to the fore.
  • Social – The workplace has always provided a social dimension, from conversations around the water cooler or the coffee machine, to team dynamics and engagement. In these new distributed environments, we need to recreate new versions of those spaces or add new ways to socialise to enhance the engagement, learning and performance of our teams and workforce.
  • Digital – Digital technologies play a vital role as both an enabler to new ways of working and collaborating for knowledge workers, as well as for the automation they provide to replace manual, repetitive and algorithmic tasks currently done by humans. The aim is to free up time from the complicated and repetitive, so that we can concentrate on the complex issues that need creativity, innovation and human intelligence to solve them.

Work isn’t just one set of things, and the way it flows needs to be considered from three different viewpoints of the:

  • Individual – How do all of these factors change the nature of work for our people, and what human factors and issues do we need to prepare for as the landscape changes?
  • Leader/Manager – Effective leadership (and management) has never been more necessary as our teams become more physically separated and isolated.  Clear communication, purpose, transparency, and engagement are all vital. The companies that are most successful have an open style of management, devolving decision making to where it needs to happen, and empowering their employees to make a difference.
  • Organisation – With the workforce distributed in new ways, and with a complex and rapidly changing environment, the organisation needs to change too. We need a more distributed and networked structure in place of hierarchy and command and control, and a more agile approach, shifting from departmental silos to cross functional teams looking outwards to the products and services our customers need. A mindset based on effectiveness, business outcomes and why we do what we do, rather than efficiency and the detail of what and how.

The landscape has just been changed for every person, team and organisation in every country across the world. The future of work has been accelerated, and demands new thinking, new skills, and a highly diverse and inclusive workforce. We need to be creating a work environment that encourages support, collaboration, innovation, creativity and on-going learning. We’ve all been challenged, but it’s exciting too! The successful companies will adapt, continuously look to change their operating model, and harness the resilience and intelligence of their people.

We aim to challenge your thinking on this topic, and to give you some fresh ideas. We look forward to a debate around our series. Please comment below, tell us what you think, ask us questions about what we see as the priorities that need changing now. We look forward to those conversations or contact us directly to find out more.

This post is part of our Future of Work series. You can read the next post or find them all in our Future of Work section. If you’d like to discuss how we can help get you prepared for the way work and business is changing, then please contact us.