When the pandemic-caused lockdown hit in March 2020 without warning, office workers were forced to work remotely from home. Most companies were not ready for this “new normal” – either culturally or technologically.
After companies recovered from the shock and built a functioning work-from-home scenario for their employees, many business leaders began to question the definition of the workplace. This led business leaders to ask themselves: Is it necessary for the well-being of the company that all employees work daily in the same physical location?
There was a lot of discussion about the future of work and our shared assumptions about how we work. What does the future of work look like? Are we ready to embrace it?
The short answer is, “no,” We aren’t quite there yet.
We need to understand the visceral benefits of employees working together in the same location. Then we need to develop and leverage tools that will let us capture those benefits and apply them to remote working.
Without a physical location, there’s a loss of serendipity in the work environment.
Employees aren’t “bumping” into each other. They aren’t able to have a casual chat by the coffee machine, or go out for meals or a drink.
The biggest fallout from working remotely is the absence of those easy connections between people, which helps foster a sense of belonging among your employees.
When your relationships are digital-only, your brain works overtime to try to pick up the subtleties that we experience in face-to-face communication. This can be stressful for the employee, and ultimately be dangerous to your company culture.
The Technology Conundrum
Technology made remote work models possible. But it has also made connectivity in real time pervasive by making us available 24/7 and creating a feeling of urgency about our response times.
Because work is happening constantly, we are afraid we will miss out if we aren’t “on” all the time. We feel we have to show that we are always working, because we think we are – or we actually are – being measured by how quickly we respond to emails or how quickly we engage on a channel.
A worker may think: “If I don’t respond quickly, is my manager then going to think that I’m not available, perhaps because I am doing something else?
Technology has made us hyper present, but also never fully present.
Our challenge with technology now is not only how to use it to be less distracting or intrusive, but how to leverage it to be the right level of intrusive. For example, we need a system that can help us organize our daily intake of information based on the priority and needs from our colleagues or clients.
Communication is still not highly contextualized and is very fragmented. Every project task requires a different tool. We jump back and forth between channels and tools to accomplish our daily tasks. It has become harder and harder to manage all the information we are accumulating, and to know where it lives.
This creates a major barrier to productivity.
Imagine instead having integrated channels, so that every task that the team is working on automatically becomes integrated within that channel, and communication and collaboration flows as easily as if you were physically sitting next to each other.
Here are a few practices to help prepare you for the future of work:
Reimagine the Office
Begin with rethinking the office. It’s no longer a place where employees go to “work,” but instead a place where your employees will meet, collaborate, even socialize. Successful companies will invest less on office space for the entire staff and more on the experience of working within that organization, on the connections and even friendships that are developed.
Strengthen Company Culture
Younger professionals have higher expectations of alignment with their employer and its values. To attract these professionals, you’ll need to invest time and money to foster alignment between your values, company mission, and internal and external policies.
As part of this alignment, we need to shift how we measure productivity. It shouldn’t be about measuring time spent on the computer, but instead on the outcomes delivered.
Remote work requires a lot more trust and engagement between leadership and employees. Without that trust, managers resort to measuring online activity to check whether employees are working. The unfortunate result is that many employees won’t thrive with this level of micromanagement. It’s one of the reasons employee burnout is becoming more prevalent.
Broaden Your Search for Job Candidates
Technology and the ability to work remotely are dissolving geographic barriers. This is leveling the playing field – allowing even the smallest of companies in remote areas to compete with the Googles and Amazons for employees. Don’t be afraid to extend beyond your traditional comfort zone.
Virtual work also opens up the field to workers with physical disabilities or that have limited transportation resources, creating a new pool of potential employees who are often left out of the job market.
Take Control of Your Technology Stack’s Security
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to ensure the security of your technology stack. Some companies want a software-as-a-service solution, giving control of their data to their cloud provider. Others want a self-managed, self-deployed, self-controlled product that gives their company ultimate privacy and complete control of their security. We believe in giving companies the ability to choose which level of security and trust they are most comfortable with.
For all the heartache the pandemic has caused, it has also given us the opportunity to reimagine our work environment. Let’s discard activities that are unnecessary and waste time – such as the daily commute to the office – and harness our energies to build company cultures that celebrate innovation, diversity and relationships, and that allow our employers to align their passions, talents and skills with our business objectives.
That is the future of work we are looking to build.