Over the past year or so, there have been more discussions about the future of work than I can count. This is not a new topic for me — my company makes productivity software, after all — but when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the conversations took on an added urgency.
As the world opens up, businesses have been coming to grips with how to navigate the “everyone working from home all the time” paradigm that the pandemic imposed upon them. As it turns out, organizations are not all on the same page.
For example, the Associated Press noted that Ford Motor Company has told its office workers they can keep working from home “indefinitely” and will have “flexible hours approved by their managers.”
Google, on the other hand, is keen on getting everyone back to the office by Sept. 1. As Forbes notes, the company told employees that if they “want to work remotely after Sept. 1, for more than 14 days per year, they’ll have to apply for it formally.”
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Google is likely to be an outlier on this issue. In March, Microsoft issued the results of a survey of 30,000 people in 31 countries. Among the findings are that “73% of workers surveyed want flexible remote work options to continue, while at the same time, 67% are craving more in-person time with their teams.”
Striking The Right Balance
Some sort of hybrid model is almost certainly the way forward for most businesses, whether they are industry titans, startups or somewhere in between. The key will be striking the right balance between real-life face time and allowing workers the flexibility to make their jobs work better for their life.
As the pandemic has shown us, the technology already exists to support a variety of flexible modes of working. As our ideas about the future of work evolve, new innovations will continue to emerge. That’s exciting.
However, the fact is that the future of work is not really about technology at all; it is about people.
Accelerate Into Human-First
After more than a year of Zoom meetings and endless Slack threads, many workers are experiencing burnout and digital fatigue. The last thing they want is yet another channel or set of notifications to keep track of.
While I am a huge fan of any new technology to help solve this, I believe nothing is more important than working and leading with a human-first approach. The importance of vulnerability and empathy has never been more crucial, and while there are many great tools to help nurture this, there is no substitute for a thoughtful, open-minded approach to each and every interaction — be it in person or on Zoom. Whether you are an employer or a team member, we cannot afford to lose sight of this and stay accountable to one another.
Lean Into What Works
As some people will begin to return to the office soon, now is a good time to assess what has worked — what allowed us to unlock the human element virtually — and what has not. Let’s lean into the things that have made teams more cohesive and learn from the things that have not.
Chances are, we will still be using videoconferencing apps to facilitate meetings, with some attendees in the boardroom and some in their home offices. This will not be the “new normal” anymore; it will just be the norm. Many companies have realized that tools like Zoom can be used for more than strictly business. Virtual coffee breaks and happy hours exist because we need the sense of connection with our colleagues that they build.
Even in this new world, the principles of effective teamwork and good management remain unchanged. It is still crucial to celebrate our accomplishments and build a culture of trust and respect at every opportunity. The pandemic has taught us that we are all in this together, and it is on all of us — from the CEO to the new hire — to prioritize the human element of work.
Take Time To Listen
As for what has not worked so well, one thing that many remote workers have cited as a serious downside is the “always-on” phenomenon. A recent survey by research firm Gartner, Inc. (via TechRepublic) found that “40% of hybrid or remote employees [are] reporting an increase in the length of their workday in the past 12 months.” Employers and managers need to set and reinforce clear boundaries between work and life. We need to take the time to listen empathetically and help find solutions when coworkers are struggling and feeling overwhelmed, as well as learn to pick up on nonverbal queues virtually.
We also need to respect that, for some, getting dressed up and commuting to an office is what they need to feel happy and productive, while others find that their best work gets accomplished at their kitchen table. There is no right or wrong way, and each type of worker is just as valuable as the other.
Deep Work Works
Whether they are working from home or corporate HQ, one thing that everyone can benefit from is the opportunity for deep, distraction-free work. An afternoon with no meetings or calls, no constant notifications or deadline reminders — just the opportunity to focus your whole mind and apply all of your creativity to your work.
We built this practice into a regularly scheduled part of our remote-working life at my company, and it is something we will carry over when the office reopens. Some people get their best deep work done while surrounded by the ambient hum of office life, whereas others prefer complete silence. We will continue to support every possible combination and permutation to ensure our team is happy, healthy and productive.
That is the kind of hybrid model I want to see as we build the future of work. After all, it is not a single destination; it is ongoing, and we have this incredible opportunity to shape it together. As long as we keep the human element at the top of our collective agenda, as the pendulum swings back toward office work, we can make the journey that much more fun and inclusive.
Courtesy : Forbes May 20, 2021