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3 Perspectives on the Future of Work

May 20, 2021 Leadership
David DeFilippo Reworked Talent Management Contributor
By David DeFilippo LinkedIn

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 connecteddebates 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 Perspective

Recent 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 Perspective

Managers and leaders have differing views and experiences from having to manage individuals and teams remotely. Some examples include:

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 Perspective

While 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:

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.

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 1.0Practice 2.0

Agenda-driven and manager-led

  • Meeting rituals (wins)
  • Rotating leader
  • Virtual standups
  • Multimodal participation
  • Planned informal meetings
 Time Management

Traditional 9-to-5 hours

  • Organize time around tasks (collaboration, email, thinking time)
  • Build in breaks and wellness times
  • Establish "Do Not Disturb" times
 Device Management

Leave work devices at the office

  • Shut down work devices when done for the day
 Task Management

Work until task is complete

  • Use sprints to focus on tasks (25 minutes of work, 5-minute break)
 Problem Solving

100% in-person session

  • Sessions designed to require contributions from everyone
  • Multimodal participation
 Managing Performance

Annual goal setting and reviews

  • Annual goals with quarterly milestones and check-ins
 Providing Feedback

Manager as single source of feedback

  • Multiple sources and perspectives
  • Employee read-backs

Task assignments made by leaders

  • Situational leadership
 Team Communication

In-person updates

  • Multiple modes of communication
  • Regular listening time with direct reports
  • Less hierarchy in listening (skip seniority levels)

Health and wellness is separate from work

  • Managers' focus on empathy
  • Frequent pulse surveys

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.

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.


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