FUTURE HYBRID WORKPLACES
Although the Delta variant has delayed many company moves to future hybrid work places, we can predict that the lessons learned and questions raised during the pandemic will greatly influence the outcomes.
Research conducted for the Advanced Practices Council (APC) in late 2020 identified early trends: many non-essential workers found working remotely an attractive option for reducing the costs and hassles of commuting to the office; executives who thought that people had to be in the office to be productive were proven incorrect; coordination and communication could happen virtually; and virtual innovation and community building were not equal to in-person experiences. In addition to suggesting opportunities to rethink pre-pandemic work arrangements, the APC report (“Leading in a Remote Working Culture”) recommends that leaders pay even more attention than previously to promulgating values that support remote or hybrid working cultures such as: experimentation and learning; addressing the whole person; flexibility and autonomy; collaboration; focusing on results; and transparency.
Eighteen months later, CNN Business asked 15 CEOs of major U.S. companies to share their vision of the future workplace. The trends reported in “Leading in a Remote Working Culture” continued to be key themes in the CEOs’ predictions. Three of those themes are worth noting: more holistic thinking, greater flexibility, and greater use of remote talent.
More Holistic Thinking
According to one CEO, “There’s no harder working employee than a happy employee.” Another expressed the same sentiment in more detail: “When people are empowered to follow a work style that suits their holistic needs, they are more engaged, higher performing, and better connected to the organization’s purpose.” Although these statements were true before the pandemic, executives have become more aware, sometimes through their own experiences, of the importance of addressing the whole person – and not just workers whose behavior draws attention to their needs. Most everyone has experienced some extra anxiety and stress during the last 18 months. One CEO now allows staff to spend two to four weeks working for a charitable institution while collecting a paycheck from his company. One CEO encourages company leaders to have frequent, empathetic conversations with team members as a way to stay connected to their ongoing needs and concerns. No-Zoom Fridays have become popular approaches to reducing stress.
CEOs are exploring ways to bring greater flexibility to work and their workplaces. Many plan to let workers and teams decide on work locations (remote, headquarters, satellite offices). It’s not unusual for these CEOs to bring more innovative thinking to office space, in some cases reimagining offices as collaboration space for planned in-person gathering so that time in the office is focused around collaboration, coaching and development. We will see fewer enclosed cubicles and traditional closed-door offices, even for executives.
Greater Use of Remote Talent
The pandemic has increased possibilities for engaging people with hard-to-find skills located almost anywhere with reliable internet connections. The specialized data analyst or AI expert who wants to enjoy the Hawaii surf in the afternoons can work for your company during her morning hours.
Nobel Laureate Paul Romer stated that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” No one wanted this COVID-19 crisis and most of us didn’t predict it (Bill Gates and several others excepted). But innovation will result, including in work design and how organizations operate in the future.
Note: For an electronic copy of “Leading in a Remote Working Culture,” contact Madeline Weiss, Director of the Advanced Practices Council (www.advancedpracticescouncil.org), at firstname.lastname@example.org.