The future of work is now… and it’s about to look very messy for a while

At an entrepreneur network event last night, (and it was so good to be back meeting people in person)  a lot of the chat was around how CEO’s and their leadership teams are approaching their planned returns to the workplace.  

There were so many different models, approaches and combinations under consideration.  Lots of use of terms like “pilot”, “test run” and “experiment” abounded.  Even those who have a positive,  flexible,  future-focused mindset and are open to new ideas about how work will be done from now on, were still unsure of how it would all work.  It certainly feels like a giant, real-time experiment right now. That’s quite exciting.

So what are some of the current challenges on these Leaders’ minds?  

The fundamentals around new employment law, contracts, vaccine-related questions and keeping the workplace safe as people return in 2021 and beyond, were certainly being run to ground. Even the timing is still a moving target. Will it be September? Will it be January? Will it be some teams but not others?  What about our Customers and what are they doing?

Then came the expensive topic of “how much office space will be needed? 

What absolutely has to be done in an office and what can be done digitally. (I have come to dislike the term “remote” as it implies the person is located a great distance from the core).  With technology, this really is no longer the case so I now prefer the term “digital working”.  What is the role of the office in a business from now on?  

I heard two great quotes that gave me great food for thought on the workspaces we need moving forward:

“The office is the new offsite”

 In other words, we’ll go to the office to do our best creative, collaborative thinking and team-building, but we’ll do our “solo”  or day-to-day work away from the office.  In the past, we used to hire the offsite venues a couple of times a year and come back armed with flip charts and post-its full of great intentions. Then we got back to the day job and execution of those great away day outputs was a constant challenge.  Maybe we flip that on its head now? Maybe now we can have frequent, shorter, continuous ”away-days” in our offices?  We won’t need banks of individual desks...we’ll need different spaces for different work. 

“The office needs to be a magnet, not a mandate”. 

What a great line! (sadly not mine :) that speaks to empowerment and building a flexible, employee-centric culture. It invokes a culture of recognising that talented employees have options.  They can find employment where they can work in a way that suits their life stage. It says, this employer is willing to work hard to make the office an attractive option and I don’t think they just meant free food and beanbags - I think it was more about intelligent use of the working week, intelligent use of resources and importantly, intelligent use of employees energies to work where the best work can get done.  This screams Trust.  I like it.   I can hear some readers screaming at the screen reading this and of course, all this empowerment and flexibility won’t work for every Leader nor every business type.  But I have to say, it makes those businesses considerably less attractive to talent and I’m seeing some resignation decisions being posted on LinkedIn where people are being mandated back to offices. Time will tell what pans out. 

Finally, given that Leaders will now be managing new, more flexible ways of working, another theme on people's minds was how they can ensure that performance and growth happens in this changed, dynamic environment.  

We’re now firmly in the era where e-leadership has become a mainstream skill requirement and it’s in short supply right now.  There is no doubt that technology can play a huge part to help automate a lot of what used to be face-to-face, manual (or non-existent) management processes, but for me, the biggest thing we will now experience is a change in the skills and processes required for effective leadership and management.  

That’s something I’ll explore next. In the meantime, what are you piloting or changing in how your organisation will work? We’d love to hear more.


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