In this episode of “LDS On,” CEO Mimi Brooks discusses the reasons why our COVID-19 recovery is going well beyond facilitating hybrid home and office working arrangements and is clearing the way for far-reaching and extraordinary changes in human work while changing old social contracts with workers as this second wave of the 4th Industrial Revolution continues to shape the future of work.
Welcome to the 11th video in a series of LDS thought-leadership dedicated to the discussion of transformation management. In each bi-weekly video, we’ll address a topic of strategic interest to business leaders who are guiding their organizations through transformative change.
In this video, I will focus on the reasons why our COVID-19 recovery is going well beyond facilitating hybrid home and office working arrangements and is clearing the way for far-reaching and extraordinary changes in human work while changing old social contracts with workers as this second wave of the 4th Industrial Revolution continues to shape the future of work. So, this is LDS On: The Future of Work is Beyond Hybrid. Let’s get started.
While organizations are finalizing their return-to-work strategies, many are likely to support a “hybrid” or Work Flexibility & Remote Work policy that will allow some of the regular work week to accommodate virtual working arrangements. In some organizations, full-time remote work is an option, and in others, the likely dominant work model. All of this, while still others are signaling a return to work at scale approach, affording some period of transition from here-to-there, but expecting most work to resume to its prior cadence.
Regardless of the return-to-work strategy, it is unlikely that this re-entry will be defined by location policy alone. To the contrary, the pandemic was an unexpected and dramatic accelerator of business considerations in other key areas, a glimpse really, into the future of work in the developing digital age. Well beyond “hybrid” work arrangements, our institutions and their employment policies, strategies, and practices are often out of step with the realities of todays and tomorrow’s economies and workforces.
Closing this gap will be essential to building an economy and a world of work where everyone can prosper.
In truth, we have been building up to this moment for decades. Worker issues and concerns from rising income inequality, flat wages, and the loss of good jobs to globalization and digitalization have exposed deep-seated frustrations as the middle class has missed most of the benefits of increased productivity in the last 30 years.
The return to work post-COVID, then, provides the unique and timely opportunity to reshape work and our relationship with workers. We can leverage advances in technology to build competitive enterprises that drive economic performance to the benefit of all stakeholders. We can create high-quality jobs in the new digital economy that enable and benefit a ready workforce. And we can rewrite our worker contracts to provide flexibility in how, when and where work is done to allow people to be productive while also affording the time to attend to personal and family matters.
As shown here, at the highest level we believe that the post-pandemic internal business model will need to embrace not only a new normal in terms of work flexibility and remote work, but also worker well-being, technological adaptation, and new social contracts with the workforce. Let us look at each of these in more detail.
Work flexibility is probably a better way to think about the sustainable idea of post-COVID remote work arrangements. Here, we’ll need a longer-term strategy aligned to strategic workforce management that includes things like productivity metrics and practices, organizational redesign and teaming strategies, virtual onboarding and scenario planning. Talent strategies need to adapt in areas such as rewards and recognition, mobility and development, and, critically, manager and leader capabilities in terms of remote employee engagement and retention of top talent.
While the days of working nine-to-five, five days a week in the office are likely behind us, the new work environment must also be viewed as a transformational initiative that raises important strategic questions. For example, how do business leaders maintain parity in the workplace by ensuring those who are working remotely feel as included as those in the office? How are managers trained to oversee a combination of in-office and remote workers? How does the company protect intellectual property in places where it does not control physical security? And how are the organization’s technological value streams revised to fit a hybrid work environment?
The important considerations of Worker well-being going forward will mean a greater organizational focus on human wellbeing and resilience. Leaders will need to be equipped with research-based strategies and programs designed to strengthen social support systems, promote development of life skills, and change policies and norms to eliminate mental health stigma, while encouraging effective help-seeking behaviors.
Employers will ultimately shift from managing the employee experience to supporting the overall life experience of their employees. According to Gartner’s 2020 Reimagine HR Employee Survey, employers that support employees with their life experience see a 23% increase in the number of employees reporting better mental health. Gartner research also revealed that 45% of well-being budget increases were being allocated to mental and emotional well-being programs.
Employee wellbeing used to be a question of health and safety at work, but these days it is a much broader issue. It’s now about optimizing and prioritizing the human potential in the workplace – and holistic human wellbeing becomes a basic building block in the human capital era.
In our third dimension, the future organization will require a new Social Contract with workers — one in which no one is left behind and one which ensures that emerging technologies are used in socially constructive ways. This calls for good-faith efforts on the part of management as well as employees to fully engage with this concept.
For their part, corporate leaders need to prioritize the long-term benefits of such a contract with all stakeholders and the environment. They need to ensure high quality job creation and readying the workforce for the technological changes to come. We also need to witness business doing its part to update employment policies and provide favorable benefits, including flexible working arrangements. The concept of lifelong learning comes into this equation, along with reskilling and support for worker mobility.
Business leaders also need to take the reins when it comes to developing process that integrate technology and work design, as well as providing opportunities for workers to not only collaborate with management, but also to have a real voice in the evolution of work, especially regarding human-machine partnerships.
As Rafael Reif, the President of MIT, states “getting this right is among the most important and inspiring challenges of our time – a priority for everyone who hopes to enjoy the benefits of a society that’s healthy and stable.”
Finally, Technological Adaptation will enhance and augment human capabilities by providing a workplace that will enable employees to think and do through improvements in digital assistants, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and virtual and augmented reality applications that are designed to blend physical and digital experiences in meaningful ways.
While machines will increasingly resolve many routine business problems with speed, accuracy and rationality…the intuition, emotional intelligence, ability to reframe, and cultural sensitivity of their human counterparts will provide the perfect foil as technology proliferates over the coming years.
Thomas Kochan of MIT, in his book ‘Shaping the Future of Work’ makes the point that: “We need to ensure that we embrace advances in technology while also working diligently to ensure that these function to augment and complement, rather than eviscerate work. Our challenge is to win the race with, not against, new technologies by inventing new ways to use them and by training workers and modifying work systems to enhance the likelihood that technological investments will realize their full potential.”
In summary, when we examine the future of work beyond hybrid, we need to look closely at a new work flexibility roadmap that considers productivity metrics, organizational redesign, and a host of other related tasks. We also need to shift from managing the employee experience to supporting the overall life experience of employees. We need to engage in a new social contract with workers — one in which no one is left behind, and we need to enhance and augment human capabilities through new technologies.
To do this, we will need to create models of working that facilitate multiple life choices through flexibility and connectivity. We will need to deliver a digitally augmented experience for workers, which will require reassessing our people development, performance management and oversight frameworks. We will need to be creative and accommodating with people’s work schedules to afford time for personal commitments and family priorities.
The future of work is well beyond hybrid, and those companies who transition this ‘new’ world of work to normality in short order will be ahead of the curve as the 4IR accelerates.