A shift in employee expectations and a rapid transformation in AI and tech is shaping every aspect of the way businesses work. What can leaders expect and how can they plan for the future?
How are employees changing the way they work?
The future of the workplace is increasingly employee-centric, with hybrid working models putting staff firmly in the driving seat in terms of when and where they work. According to a survey of workers in Canada, Ireland, the US and the UK, almost three quarters of employees intend to make changes to their working lives after the pandemic, with many planning new daily routines, including changing their working hours and locations.1
Technology has transformed the way we meet, share knowledge, access training, and plan tasks and projects. Workers are demanding more freedom and flexibility and are focusing on their work-life balance. Even organizations that can’t offer remote working have a new focus on the wider employee experience, as a legacy of the disruption and challenges of the COVID crisis.
Organizations are looking again at many aspects of their working practices. They want to provide flexibility and maximize the benefits of the new ways of working in terms of employee satisfaction and productivity. Post-crisis, they’re building resilience into the workforce, structuring employment and redundancy packages for potential future disruption. And they’re changing how work itself is planned and distributed, expanding the use of temporary workers, and downsizing or reimagining office space.
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What are the biggest trends shaping the future of the work?
Several key trends are already shaping the future of the workplace:
1. Hybrid working
One of the most significant trends to emerge from the pandemic is hybrid working. Employees are being given the choice of whether they work remotely, entirely in the office, or a flexible mix. According to one report, 40% of employers say they expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic has ended.
There are numerous benefits to employees including:
- Regaining time previously spent commuting
- Being able to structure work around home and family life
- Being able to work when they’re most productive, rather than being tied to a traditional 9-5
But hybrid working means a significant shift in the way organizations operate, as employers focus on maintaining productivity, adapting and evolving company culture, and finding new ways of working together and individually.
According to McKinsey, nearly all occupations will be affected by automation, and the way businesses operate in almost every industry will change as a result. The rapid rise of robot technologies and AI has already led to a reduction in repetitive tasks, boosting operational efficiency and productivity, and saving on costs. As machines adapt to take on more tasks, workers will need to learn new skills, and be ready to work alongside them.
3. The metaverse
Virtual reality, augmented reality and hologram technologies are set to transform the way we work, creating spaces that bring on-site, remote, frontline and hybrid workers together and revolutionizing mentoring and training.
4. Focus on employee experience
With more employee-centered workplaces, the guarantee of a positive employee experience is at the heart of an organization’s success. Delivering it needs to be an integrated process involving the workplace, IT, HR, and leaders and managers.
To maintain focus and purpose, and boost productivity across remote and hybrid teams, employees need a seamless digital experience, with the right combination of equipment and software to keep them productive and engaged. For businesses, this means using insights and data to find and implement the tools which are valuable, and filter out those holding workers back or overloading them.
Managing teams effectively has evolved into an ongoing process of engagement which:
- aligns skills to tasks
- reinforces company identity and culture across the whole workforce
- is tailored and adapted constantly
5. Flexibility in roles and processes
Many employees are now citing flexibility as a key factor in their decisions to take or leave jobs. While hybrid working, or the option to work remotely, is the most high-profile way to offer this, other forms of flexibility include:
- employee-defined working hours
- staggered starting and leaving times
- opportunities for extended time off for career breaks or sabbaticals
- more options for paid time off
For business leaders, this means re-evaluating the organization’s tasks and processes to work out what can be done effectively away from the office, and what’s better done when people are in the same physical space.
6. Focus on healthcare and wellbeing
The new emphasis on employee experience has led organizations to look at ways to boost employee health and workplace wellbeing. This ties in with the new focus on better work-life balance and health concerns brought about by the pandemic. Many organizations are adding health benefits to their employment packages, and are investing across areas including:
- Career and purpose – companies are offering flexible working options, learning and development opportunities, enhanced training and coaching, and clear paths to promotion.
- Social – making sure remote, on-site and frontline workers are treated equally and brought together through strong communication and collaborative projects, shared resources, and social events – virtual and in-person.
- Financial – concern over finances was the top cause of stress among workers during the pandemic, according to PWC. Nearly two-thirds of workers reported that their financial stress had increased since the start of the pandemic. And they also said they were also more likely to find or stay with an employer they believed cared about their financial wellbeing.
- Physical health – health and wellbeing is being integrated into work, with senior managers leading by example, encouraging healthy habits in the workplace, and offering support for remote workers to make sure they have a healthy home office environment.
- Mental wellbeing – Covid restrictions led to a significant rise in depression, and many businesses are now considering offering enhanced mentor schemes or even funded counseling.
- Emotional wellbeing – working from home, and the search for a healthier work-life balance has made managers’ and employees’ lives more visible to the workplace. Business leaders of the future need to show empathy in their leadership, and create environments that cater for the individual, rather than concentrating on teams, roles, or tasks.
7. Recruiting based on skills rather than roles
Employers are realizing that the traditional, pre-pandemic, role-based hierarchy is unsuited to the workplace of the future. They’re recruiting and training skills that open up possibilities for business expansion and career development. And they recognize that people’s capabilities are more significant than the jobs they do or the title they hold.
8. Employee monitoring and analytics
While the possibilities for monitoring employee activity have never been greater, it can be seen as negative, especially in organizations developing a hybrid working model where trust has to be at the heart. So leaders need to be ready to listen to concerns, and show the benefits of collecting data – like better planning, logistics and evaluation – and use positive results from monitoring to reward progress.
9. Increased transparency
The pandemic put leaders, managers and employees in the same boat, with everyone grappling with how to adjust to working in a completely changed landscape. This unprecedented health emergency made business leaders and managers more visible, and clear, transparent communication became a priority.
With the lifting of restrictions, many of the benefits of this transparency may be lost unless employers continue to invest in ways to share plans and goals, look at rewards and benefits and prioritize communication.
10. More complex organizations
In the struggle to survive, organizations maximized their potential by scaling up, opening doors to cross-company co-operation. Mergers and acquisitions and geographical diversification increased, and business leaders invested in new markets to mitigate and manage risk.
These increasingly complex relationships present a challenge for the future in terms of performance management, recruiting the skills needed for new operations, and connecting different parts of the organization.
11. Focus on values and mission
In the future, successful organizations will be those with a clear focus on their mission, balancing the health and wellbeing of their employees with the interests of stakeholders and better productivity. Many employees also want to work for businesses that show a sense of social and corporate responsibility. Business leaders need to make sure their sense of purpose is clear, and reinforce behaviors that push their mission forward.
How can employers plan for the future?
Change is happening. As the world starts to recover from the effects of COVID, it’s clear that there’s more to come. Successful employers are learning to:
- embrace agility
- offer flexibility
- prioritize people rather than traditionally defined roles or organizational hierarchies
- engage with the rapidly expanding technology landscape
- create new goals
- talk to employees at all levels about the future
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