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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

BUILDING BACK BETTER: TOWARDS BETTER WORKPLACES

2020-07-06 19:44

Cathryn Barnard

Blog, HYBRID WORK, HYBRID WORKING, RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION, FUTURE OF WORK CONSULTING,

BUILDING BACK BETTER: TOWARDS BETTER WORKPLACES

Is remote working the future of work? It’s certainly come up in most of our conversations over the past five weeks. Our view? Partly...

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The question that’s seemed to be on everyone’s lips this month is whether remote working IS the future of work? It’s certainly come up in most of our conversations over the past five weeks.

 

Our view? Partly.

 

There’s no doubt COVID-19 has escalated many trends that were already converging under the catch-all banner of the future of work.

 

We fully expect that looming layoffs will lead to a more fragmented work future. Work will likely be far less secure in the months and years ahead, and indeed until the economy stabilises.

 

When hiring resumes, we anticipate it will proceed with caution, leaning more towards contract and temporary work, than the permanent employment that usually accompanies economic stability. Indeed, the 2007 financial crisis led to a trend of less secure work, fuelling both the rise of zero-hours contracts, and an uptick in the number of people registering as self-employed.

 

Several years ago, the World Economic Forum predicted that as many as half of us would be self-employed by 2030. We expect the pandemic will accelerate this – for business to achieve organisational agility, it’ll need to embrace a wider range of work and employment options than previously explored.

 

Remote or distributed working will certainly play far more of a more central role in the ‘how’ of work. Some big commercial names have already announced their plans to embed distributed working as their norm. Its benefits include reduced commuting time, congestion, pollution, and the regular bugbear of the modern executive – endless, unproductive meetings.

 

Early forecasts point to an exodus from cities towards more rural destinations, as workers seek both to minimise exposure to virus hotspots and to achieve improved quality of life – an awakening for many in the age of COVID-19.

 

But the office also brings significant benefits, which shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

Bringing people together under one roof to brainstorm, think critically, and generally bounce ideas around in a facilitated environment is a catalyst for innovation. Harnessing collective creativity has been widely documented as key to success for organisations such as Pixar and Google.

 

While clearly the return to shared workspaces raises health and safety considerations, there’s an energy to the collaborative ideation process that virtual meetings don’t capture. This in-person energy is often described as magnetic, and it’s hard to replicate it across the broadband ether.

 

So, where do we go from here?

 

As daily life seems to become more fragile by the day, we feel there’s no better time to revisit first principles.

 

To fully contemplate the best way forward, task analysis is required. By assessing each task that’s performed on a daily and weekly basis, two important things are achieved.

 

First, by identifying the activities that most benefit from group participation, we can design future workspaces accordingly. Activities that are better suited to autonomous thinking and applied focus can, and should, be performed remotely.

 

Secondly, and perhaps more critically – this analysis enables us to get clearer on routine and repetitive work activities. As a rule of thumb, routine and repetitive tasks will likely be automated by technology. And any progressive employer should already be thinking hard about that.

 

When considering future workspace design, we should also be reflecting on the key drivers of high-performance teams. If successful future organisations are going to be far more agile and ‘on-demand’, we need, as a priority, to double down on our efforts to identify what makes for optimal team dynamics.

 

While various environmental factors feed into optimal team performance, more challenging is the exploration of the psychological factors that make for high performance.

 

We’re sentient human beings, driven by irrational emotions, and what we crave most in times of uncertainty is a connection with one another, and the belief that things will be better in the future than they are right now.

 

If we’re to build back better, we need to redesign work with human connection placed at its heart.

 

Business survival will depend on being entirely client-responsive, and we can only achieve that if we’re listening in the first place. Listening, of course, requires emotional intelligence – and the willingness to prioritise the needs of others above our own.

 

Maybe we’re at the end of humans as ‘resources’. We hope so.

 

It’s time to prioritise the maximisation of our collective potential. If we can do that, #buildingbackbetter will be a celebration of what we can achieve when working together in pursuit of a better, more sustainable, and inclusive, future.

 

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If you’d like to explore how we can help you with workforce task auditing, or high-performing team dynamics, please get in touch.

 

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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Recruitment and Retention, Hybrid Work and Foresight Focus reports and products.

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