What is the future of work?
Over the last few years, the pandemic and other global changes presented fundamental new challenges to our traditional ways of working. To adapt, companies accelerated their adoption of advancements in technology, agility, and other business concepts that experts predicted would emerge in the future of work.
For instance, when the pandemic hit, companies had to embrace remote work almost overnight, with business processes being digitized at the speed of necessity to support a dispersed workforce.
Some companies embraced the change and leaned into the future of work, while others have not. Companies like Microsoft cite their culture as the anchor for their successful long-term hybrid work model, while others like Tesla told employees to either return to the office or resign.
Workforces also became more dispersed with many organizations allowing employees to decide how they want to work whether that be fully remote, fully on-site, or a hybrid model that alternates between the two. For companies like Quantive, employees are globally distributed, working across multiple time zones, cultures, and languages.
But no matter your current structure, no company is immune to necessary decisions about where, how, and what work will be done as the future unfolds. Because let’s face it, we’re not going back to business as usual.
In short? The future of work has arrived, it’s not going anywhere, and it has major implications for organizations.
What will affect work in the future?
According to the Society of Human Research Management, the future of work is a projection of how work, workers, and the workplace will evolve in the years ahead.
It looks at how converging trends are already impacting people, organizations, and society, as well as how they might be impacted in the future. When talking about the future of work, some questions that come up are:
- What's happening now?
- What are the implications for businesses?
- How can organizations meet these emerging challenges successfully?
- What new opportunities are arising?
- How do we plan for what we can’t even conceptualize yet?
The future of work means something different for every company. Just as the pandemic affected every organization differently, the way we each adapt to the future of work will be unique.
Some will eschew advancements or shifts that simply don’t work for them. Others will wholly embrace the mindset of organizational transformation, experimentation, and risk-taking. Some risks will pay off by a landslide and some may not.
What we do know is that being proactive is the best possible defense. Every leader needs to be aware of the possibilities available to them, understand their own organization, and make decisions based on their mission, vision, and values.
What trends are impacting the future of work?
Over the past few years, the rise of remote and hybrid jobs has changed the way people want to work. With this shift, employees are seeing the benefits of not commuting and the positive impact it’s having on their family, their personal life, and their health and well-being.
This change in employee values presents companies with the challenge of enabling remote flexibility, while still providing employees with the resources to unleash their potential.
In addition, the hiring process is changing, too. In the future, it will be innovative people doing the work, not necessarily those with the most specific resumes.
Why? According to a report by Dell Technologies, 85% of jobs that’ll exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. In the future, job descriptions will be changing almost side-by-side with market needs, while also becoming more self-directed.
Plus, as repetitive and routine tasks are automated, teams and employees will be freed to work on transformational projects, using their creativity in unpredictable ways.
All of this will require people who can adapt to constant re-shaping and re-skilling within a shifting economic environment. Companies are beginning to let go of traditional skill-based hiring, working to build interdisciplinary, multi-talented teams with equal parts technical and human skills.
In addition to this, companies are discovering the business value of investing in the employee experience. When employee well-being is prioritized, engagement goes up, and so does profitability. A study by Gallup showed that engaged employees increased profitability by 22%.
With this trend well underway, concepts that sound radical now, such as the 4-day work week, may become more commonplace.
Meanwhile, organizations are investing billions of dollars to advance technological breakthroughs that we can’t even imagine yet. Quantum technologies are being developed out of a science that remains mysterious even to the scientists, while future AIs are expected to understand human emotion and intent. And ambient computing promises a frictionless world of technological ubiquity.
There will soon be new ways to optimize internal organizational functions, especially ones that help to manage resources, support collaboration, and measure execution against strategic goals. This means more decisions will have to be made about which tools are right for your company, and how to streamline them for your needs.
All of this can be daunting. But it also presents exciting opportunities for succeeding — and having a good time doing so — as the future of work unfolds.
7 ways to win in the future of work
If you want to win the future, here are 7 ways to set your sights on success.
1. Organize an aligned, holistic, and agile strategy execution
Do you have a well-thought-out strategy execution model that works for you, while preparing you for transformation and change?
“An organization-wide, unified future of work strategy is the most effective approach to preparing for and shaping the future of work.” — Gartner, 2022
Effective strategy execution is a compass. It’s based on the “why” of your company — how is your company relevant to the now, and how are you planning for it to be relevant to the future?
It’s how you capitalize on opportunities, avoid prevailing threats, and course-correct as you move into the future of work. It shapes how your company will respond when it arrives in unknown territory.
An aligned strategy accounts for agreement between leaders and teammates, getting everyone on the same page before resources are wasted or mistakes are made. When a strategy execution system is not aligned, it results in confusion, silos, and the overall frustration of goals not being achieved.
Holistic strategy takes into consideration the company’s needs, the employees’ needs, the requirements of the present, and the likelihoods of the future. If anything is missed, important milestones can fall through the cracks.
An agile strategy enables a company to adapt to unexpected changes. Ideally, your strategy would not only help you keep up with future challenges, but position you to be proactive rather than reactive in the face of obstacles.
Companies that do this will be in a great place to seize opportunities out of problems that may equal failure for others.
Strategic agility is focused on results, not tasks. It encourages us to be flexible about how we arrive at our desired outcomes, so we do more strategic thinking and begin with the end in mind.
It requires us to continuously sense the environment, making choices about which directions to pursue or avoid, while trying to discover new sources of customer value.
With an agile methodology, you can make room for failure ahead of time, which helps your company get past each obstacle and restabilize with more knowledge and resilience than before. In other words, you can experiment, fail, and still win.
You also need to make sure your strategy can be executed successfully over the long term. It’s easy to put time and effort into a strategy that ends up getting lost in short-term demands. What resources, tools, and approaches are you using to execute each piece of your strategy?
We can’t predict exactly what will happen in the future, but we can strategize and execute in ways that help us surf the waves of change, rather than being drowned by them. Managing this rhythm in a way that works for them will be key for companies who want to succeed in the future of work.
2. Invest time and money in the right systems
Technology is evolving faster than we can imagine. We are all wondering how technology will change the future of work.
No matter how you navigate the tech evolution, keeping your eye on new tools will not only make work easier in the long run but will help you stay competitive, too.
As new communication and data-capturing applications come to market, companies will need to focus on how their internal employee communications are structured—streamlining, centralizing, and integrating all digital information-sharing as much as possible.
According to the Future of Corporate Communications, the role of internal employee communications is shifting from cost center to measurable value creator, helping to both drive and prove ROI. And as teams optimize their hybrid work functions, effective internal communications will continue to emerge as a cornerstone of employee success.
Automated, data-driven business observability will also be a major competitive advantage for those who choose to use it. As data-driven problem-solving tools continue to evolve, successful companies will take advantage of inevitable advancements to identify, prevent, and solve problems fast.
It’s important not to adopt new tools mindlessly. With the surplus of incoming information, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. To stay competitive, you will need to ask: what are the most important technologies that would help my company succeed?
3. Put employee experience first
Companies are currently experiencing a shift in the primary motivations of their employees. Beyond money, employees are looking for opportunities for meaningful growth, appreciation, and connection.
Pivoting to an employee-first culture will help companies succeed in the future of work by advancing retention, productivity, engagement, and profitability to new levels. If you are proactive about building an environment that empowers employees, they will be better prepared to perform in ways that also empower one another while meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
One of the ways to support employee well-being is to focus on culture. In fact, Google research found that the most important overall element of a successful team was their ability to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. According to the study, this element was the underpinning for dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact.
Google’s basic conclusion was that it’s not necessarily the people themselves who create success, but the dynamic between them. As we try to foster connections in a hybrid-first environment, companies will need to focus on the dynamic between teams in order to strengthen employee well-being.
The willingness to ask about, listen to, and understand one another’s needs helps create a culture of vulnerability and risk-taking, where employees can feel connected, and valued for who they are in addition to what they do.
Companies that succeed in the future of work will be developing ways to encourage listening and intentionally designing work with employee well-being at the forefront.
4. Optimize the workplace for flexibility
Adopting a flexible work model has many benefits and competitive advantages for companies that want to succeed in the future.
We are now aware of how surprising the future can be. At this point, the most successful companies will be prepared for unexpected shifts, and this includes flexibility concerning when and from where employees and executives work.
Accenture’s Future of Work study discovered that 83% of workers prefer a hybrid work model over full-time in the office (or full-time remote), and 65% of working parents are looking for ways to better balance their work and family.
They also found that hybrid work, by integrating the best of both worlds, generally meant less burnout, stronger work relationships, and better mental health for employees.
Flexibility also allows employees to be the best judge of their own productivity and processes. This helps create a culture of autonomy and trust, boosting employee engagement over the long term.
With employee engagement emerging as a core component of a company’s value, organizations that want to succeed will need to consider these benefits of a flexible work model and integrate them in a way that works best for their company.
5. Support connection and collaboration with aligned goal setting
In a dispersed workforce, it can be easy for employees to lose their sense of connection to coworkers.
In the future of work, as people are working across time, culture, and language differences, setting a connected foundation will be incredibly important for successful companies. One way to do this is through goal alignment.
Aligned goal setting creates clarity and transparency between employees so they can work together from any physical location, while still feeling connected to each other. It can help foster connections that bring leadership, teams, and employees together under shared goals and values while celebrating everyone's unique abilities.
Alignment also helps create a sense of healthy belonging—the feeling that employees are contributing to a clear, meaningful purpose. According to a survey by Deloitte, 79% of respondents agreed that fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace was going to impact the success of their company in the next 12-18 months.
Here’s what alignment can look like in the future of work: hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people working together in harmony across functional, geographic, and cultural boundaries, with everyone focused on the delivery of the company’s mission, strategy, and goals.
6. Trailblaze DE&I
With the pandemic and other factors accelerating us into the future of work, the civic need for integrating DE&I initiatives (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is falling into place with both the organizational and profit needs of businesses.
Workplaces are already becoming more diverse, hiring employees with different demographic characteristics, identities, and experiences. In the future of work, companies that win will prioritize equity and inclusion as well, addressing the structural and dynamic-driven aspects of fair opportunity and respect.
With an increasingly hybrid, digitalized, and globalized economic environment, diversity in the workplace is inevitable. It's also beneficial. Diverse, inclusive workplaces are not only happier, more productive, more creative, and more agile, they're also more profitable. Companies that prioritize DE&I will be more sustainable in the future of work.
Working effectively across racial and cultural differences will continue to become a core competency in hiring and performance management. Recruitment strategies will be reassessed. Growth and development opportunities will continue to develop, attracting an evolving talent pool that can contribute to the strength and resilience of winning companies.
Learn more about overcoming DE&I challenges.
7. Advocate with ESG
In an increasingly globalized market, ESG initiatives will be crucial for companies that want to succeed in the future of work. ESG (environment, social, and governance) takes into consideration both the internal and external ecosystem that your business operates within, including your global impact.
ESG can be a useful way to advocate for your values and create long-term trust and stability, both within your company and for your brand.
As brand awareness becomes more important, the need for and benefits of ESG will increase in parallel. Investing in the structures and relationships that align with your values can help progress both your enterprise’s future impact and profit achievements.
ESG initiatives are also becoming a core way for companies to increase their talent pool and improve employee retention by establishing trust in the company culture.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: The Belief-Driven Employee, 71% of employees say whether an organization acts on its values is a strong expectation or deal-breaker when considering a job.
In the long term, companies that succeed will have a powerful voice in ESG. As you decide how your organization will navigate the future of work, begin developing your ESG strategy now.
Learn more about why ESG matters to your business.
Why prepare for the future of work now?
We are not the first generation of organizations to experience unprecedented change, and we will not be the last.
Rather than trying to counteract uncertainty, companies that succeed in the future of work are already building a foundation well-prepared for them, striving to create a uniquely sustainable future for their company that works in harmony with inevitable global shifts.
They will be agile, adaptable, and graceful in the face of challenges.
When you focus on these high-impact targets now, you may find that the benefits begin to have a compound effect on your company in the future of work.
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