3 Perspectives on the Future of Work
The sudden onset of the global pandemic forced overnight change in acute and unplanned ways, leaving organizations, teams and managers to figure out how to get work done, maintain productivity and engage employees.
While organizations had been exploring and implementing flexible work policies and practices as a benefit, it became an operational necessity as we embarked on a high-stakes, global workforce experiment due to the unknown nature and rapid spread of the coronavirus.
The pace and scale of the shift to remote work presented issues that were both predictable and unpredictable, including divergent views on workforce productivity, concerns over employee wellness, concerns about how to keep distributed teams connected, debates about the ability to innovate and problem-solve effectively and discussion of hybrid work and why working from home is here to stay.
To clarify thinking and make better decisions about what's next, it's helpful to view the issues brought forth from these changes from three perspectives: employees, managers and organizations.
The Employee PerspectiveRecent survey data overwhelmingly suggests that employees do not see working remotely as a temporary solution in response to the pandemic. Rather, to them it's as an ongoing option that is an important component of the organization’s employee value proposition.
The data paints a challenging picture of what's next:
- 70% of employees, including those in leadership positions, prefer the hybrid work option over returning to the office full time.
- 30% of employees reported their desire to work remotely an average of three days per week, with 30% saying they would switch organizations if forced to return to the office full time.
- 47% of employees report feeling anxious about post-pandemic work plans, with only 32% reporting plans are being clearly communicated.
- Demand for stress management classes in organizations during this time period increased by 4,000%.
The Management PerspectiveManagers and leaders have differing views and experiences from having to manage individuals and teams remotely. Some examples include:
- 70% of managers want their teams back in the office.
- 40% of managers surveyed feel comfortable working and helping their team through virtual means.
- 40% of employees reported feeling well supported by their direct managers.
The relatively low numbers show that managers are feeling the strain, as evidenced by an 11% higher resignation rate than other employee groups.
Traditional command-and-control leaders have found it challenging to shift to remote management due to the trust and empowerment required. But the need is clear: Employees who report feeling supported are 3.5x more satisfied and engaged with their organizations.
The Organizational PerspectiveWhile employees and managers work through the newness of remote work, organizations are both learning and adjusting their practices. Here are some of the changes emerging:
- 20% increase in roles advertised as remote eligible, up to 30% of the total from 9.8% in 2017.
- 66% of organizations are evaluating the redesign of physical space to better accommodate hybrid work.
- 40% increase in meeting time due to having to schedule participants.
- 55,000 roles posted for directors of well-being and comparable positions.
There are patterns as well as contradictions among these three groups, including the view that employees are more productive and thriving while survey data indicates concerns over employee wellness and isolation. And at the same time, employees and leaders are reporting their desire for continued hybrid work arrangements.
The Way Forward for Work
These three viewpoints suggest that while organizations and managers are stating their preference to return to pre-pandemic ways of working, that likely ignores the overwhelming employee preference for flexibility. As the economic recovery continues, organizations will feel increased pressure to attract, retain and engage talent. Early indicators suggest that organizations should strongly consider employee preferences.
To address concerns such as collaboration, innovation and manager comfort levels, existing practices can be augmented and new ones established that build organizational capability for this new way of working.
Evolve Organizational Practices
Organizations have discovered the need for change during the course of the pandemic and will continue to apply the lessons learned to identify and develop the skills that will help them adapt to future crises. As such, forward thinking organizations are planning to address these issues by focusing on talent.
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All aspects of the employee lifecycle, from workforce planning to candidate sourcing and selection as well as new employee onboarding and skill development, need to be examined to ensure hybrid working skills are identified and honed in order to institutionalize these behaviors.
A good example is a competency such as adaptability. Attracting and screening a candidate pool for this essential skill is relevant to the current situation as well as future crises that could force organizations and employees to quickly acclimate to volatile new situations.
Managers who regularly guide and coach employees are the critical link to operationalize new employee norms and build organizational practices.
About Those Management Practices
For managers, it's vital to first tackle a foundational issue: the assumption that if managers cannot see employees that work is not getting done. The underlying issue is management focused on the amount of time that a person is in the office vs. focusing on results and outcomes. The former implies discomfort with autonomy and the latter reinforces trust and empowerment.
This shift in the way that leaders manage is forcing them to simultaneously flex to work with employees in three modes: office-based, hybrid, and fully remote. The key lies in embracing management practices that have been effective in a traditional in-person office environment, augmenting those skills to address the hybrid work environment, and demonstrating empathy for employees based on their individual situations.
Here are some tried-and-true management practices, from traditional version 1.0 to 2.0 for use with a hybrid workforce:
|Workplace Issue||Practice 1.0||Practice 2.0|
Agenda-driven and manager-led
Traditional 9-to-5 hours
Leave work devices at the office
Work until task is complete
100% in-person session
Annual goal setting and reviews
Manager as single source of feedback
Task assignments made by leaders
Health and wellness is separate from work
The integration of employee, manager and organizational perspectives and practices provides the opportunity to migrate from our pre-pandemic ways of working to a future state that puts a greater value on employee preferences, manager acumen and workforce engagement. But to make the most of the opportunity, organizations will need to define the outcomes they want to achieve and the degree of change they are willing to undertake in order to purposefully implement plans and practices.
The good news is the workforce has proven to be adaptable, innovative and productive over the past year, perhaps more than we expected. That bodes well for our post-pandemic new normal.
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About the Author
David DeFilippo is the principal consultant and coach at DeFilippo Leadership, Inc., where he focuses on executive coaching, leadership development and talent management.