In 2014 when I co-launched my book, The Smarter Working Manifesto, I presented a slide during a conference that showed a picture of a human brain.
I told the audience that this was my workplace, not an office building, shared workspace, or home setup. That 2014 audience thought I was kidding. A lot of people are still trying to figure out how to properly wield technology in the “modern workplace.” Think about those first few months during the pandemic, those awkward Zoom calls replete with unflattering camera angles, spotty connectivity, meandering agendas… We’ve grown up so much in a short time.
And yet, there’s still a collective anxiety that permeates throughout most companies. Fully-remote, hybrid, onsite-only—in what direction will your company go in the coming months? Whichever path you take, you’ll have to consider the following points below.
Future work will likely continue w/ a remote-first preference
One doesn’t have to look very far to see how companies feel about remote work.
This spring, Ford Motor Co. told 30,000 employees that they could continue to work from home post-pandemic and commute in only for select projects and meetings. Popular employment site, Indeed, reports that job posts featuring “remote work” have doubled since the pandemic began. And outsourcing giant Capita is also encouraging flexible working, a move interpreted by many including the Guardian as a cost saving measure.
It’s seems that many of these companies have left the topic of remote work to staff to decide. And they have clearly spoken.
This doesn’t mean your company should abandon its hybrid work plans. I’m only suggesting they simply approach hybrid with a “remote-first” mentality to appease the will of their employees.
Hybrid can function well, but only w/ the right tweaks
There are a number of techniques that will make hybrid work well for employees and the C-Suite.
First, flexible timelines should be implemented, but not so flexible everyone feels they can turn up all at once. If you put in a hot-desking policy in a branch with ten workstations between 15 colleagues, you know at least 12 are going to arrive expecting to be accommodated. Don’t do this.
I’d opt for flexibility with some ground rules. Technologically speaking this is going to mean putting even more of your IT environment into the cloud; reserving fixed desktops doesn’t work if someone has their work on their laptop and nowhere else.
IT, then, needs to be proactive and calibrated so staff can feel involved whether they’re in the same space or not.
Promotions have to be handed out equally and no, just because someone isn’t visible doesn’t mean that should hamper their career path. Likewise, employees, both remote and in-office, will need a team that looks out for their well-being and guarantees they’re subject to the same health and safety laws, and employment rights as everyone else—an area that requires more and more overlap between HR and IT teams.
There’s also the issue of how you measure someone’s job effectiveness if they’re not being paid per hour. One simple measure is to look at outcomes; which might sound straightforward until someone works at a different pace from a colleague, or someone else has strengths other than sheer speed, or yet another staff member cuts corners in the interests of super quick results that last for the shorter-term only.
My advice: focus more on the quality and impact of the work being produced by an employee, less on their speed or total output.
The future workforce brings with it a new set of traits and opinions – be ready
The great thing about returning to the office, which is going to start anytime now, is that your staff are so much better informed about what makes them productive and what doesn’t.
You want everyone to turn up at the same time and leave at 5 PM? Good luck with that, they’ve just spent 12 months or so starting when they want and finishing when they please.
You want them to connect only under one type of VPN, or use only one set of applications? Well, they’ve managed just fine leveraging a full suite of the latest apps and internet services; they’ve ‘cut corners’ to become more efficient and work smarter.
Our old opinions about the future of work seem silly now considering what we’ve all lived through.
We were all headed for extended remote working, smarter working and an increased dependence on technology, but we assumed that wasn’t going to arrive so soon. It’s like most companies had been flirting with the idea of jumping into the deep-end of the pool, and for better or worse, the pandemic pushed us all in.
The silver lining though is that now our careers depend much more on what we’re working on and less on where we’re working from.
And this is a rather wonderful discovery. If you hold a leadership role in your company, know that you have a workforce that’s motivated and happy to be measured by what they produce rather than by presenteeism. You should give them the benefit of the doubt, and you should establish work policies that free employees to be their best, most productive selves.
Guy Clapperton is a technology and business writer, and the founder of Clapperton Media Associates. He has appeared in the Guardian, Times, Sunday Telegraph, Observer, Independent and the New Statesman.