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Every person's potential could elevate the future of work

5-minute read

June 18, 2021

”The future of work” looks different for every company. Our clients span the spectrum, from those who made a full return to the office, to those fully remote to those that are exploring a blend of both. Our new study found that 83% of employees prefer a hybrid work model (working remotely between 25% and 75% of the time). But more importantly, we learned that the future of work is not so much about place—“onsite vs. remote”—as it is about helping people to reach their full potential. And each individual employee needs certain resources to be successful.

As we step into this new future, it’s time to think about how we can improve work for all people.

Help every person to be productive anywhere

How can we level the playing field and support all workers in reaching their full potential? The answer is to give them the resources they need.

Our survey of more than 9,000 people around the world showed that 40% of workers feel they could be healthy and effective, whether they were onsite or remote. People who feel they can be productive anywhere work for organizations that provide personal and professional resources. Delivering these resources is not only essential to supporting people’s potential, but it also has impact on an organization’s performance: 63% of high-growth companies have already adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce model.

People need many resources to feel supported at work every day, but let’s start with three critical areas:

1. Safety

Organizations should acknowledge and respond to the needs of all types of workers. Psychological and physical safety are critically important. And when you support both among workers, it will foster trust. We learned through our research that women show a stronger preference for working remotely due to safety (36% vs 32% for men), quality of life (35% vs 30%) and freedom for productive breaks from work (34% vs 29%).

2. Support

People want to be held to realistic performance expectations and they want the freedom to manage their own time. Personal supports, such as autonomy, separate women who are most productive from those who are not.

We did find several differences in terms of the level of support various ethnicities need. Hispanic women are much more productive when they have support from organizational resources. Black women are less reliant on both personal and organizational supports, which may explain why Black and Hispanic women are 1.5x more productive everywhere, compared to their White (49%) counterparts and 1.3x more productive than their Asian counterparts (57%). The Asian women we surveyed are experiencing high levels of work stressors. They also lack the organizational resources needed (such as proper health and sick leave policies) and find working from home difficult due to limited space and less access to technology.

One of our biotech clients was seeing higher burnout due to the company’s shift to remote work. We helped them to shape a program that uses external and client data, analytics and artificial intelligence to help transform the culture to be more collaborative, flexible and innovative, personalizing worker experiences and helping them to take control over their work choices and actions. As a result, the client is seeing improved agility, productivity, worker well-being and team effectiveness.

3. Skills

People feel they can be productive anywhere when they have the opportunity to increase their skill levels across emerging technologies such as cloud computing, cyber security, robotics, virtual reality and digital collaboration tools. Digitally fluent organizations have higher revenue growth and are more likely to be considered great places to work.

But are all workers getting access to the right opportunities to build these skills? And does everyone want to? Only 71% of women are willing to upskill in digital technology, compared to 75% of men. People with high “will to skill” and high digital skills report higher levels of leadership support and higher positive mental health. Women are underrepresented in this group. This could be a result of disparities in access to opportunities to develop the necessary skills that will drive future growth. Businesses can and should do more to design tailored skilling and learning paths that serve the needs of all workforce segments.

Play your part in reinventing the future of work

We’ll figure out the “place” part—but what about human potential? How will you support workers, giving them the resources they need to reach their full potential, no matter where they are working?

Here are four ideas for where to begin:

1. Access

All workers need access to opportunities to learn, feel safe and grow in their careers. Our research showed that only 30% of people are completely confident that they have the right technology and tools to be able to perform their jobs remotely. Tools, digital technologies and supports that help people to reach their potential should be in employees’ hands every day. Our clients are exploring policies and procedures that make every worker feel safe, whether they want to be vaccinated or not; whether they want to go into the office or not.

In this emerging era of work, there is a new social contract between employer and employee. The aim is for leadership to adopt policies that provide an expanded set of benefits and resources to employees—whether they want access to cloud technology, or mental health support or flexible hours to accommodate family constraints. These resources allow people to not just achieve work/life balance, but have a healthy integration of work and life.

2. Agency

People haven’t felt “in charge” of their lives for a long time. We have lived in a year of near chaos. This has an effect on people’s sense of purpose and well-being. Leaders can respond by allowing every worker the chance to define, design and participate in their career in a way that they haven’t before. Let them manage their own time and decisions. Allow them to be autonomous. And think about what “autonomy” means for each employee. Is it about making their own schedule? Identifying which skills they want to learn next? Is it about picking which projects they work on? Work should be structured differently to allow greater flexibility and the opportunity to work on a project basis.

These benefits are more important than ever as we embark on the future. There is a premium on talent—but the power is with the people. They will decide for whom, where and how they will work. Support them in the right ways, and they will choose you.

3. Opportunity

Are we truly creating a state of fairness in which all individuals are treated similarly and given the same opportunities? Today’s skills-based economy allows us to provide opportunities in a more fair and equitable fashion than ever before. Individuals will thrive when they are placed in jobs based on their skills, not the job responsibilities. Think about how your business can identify skills among workers and then design and distribute work around those skills. Also take a second look at inclusion and diversity programs to ensure these models support fairness and equity.

With the help of the World Economic Forum and SkyHive, we partnered with Walmart and Unilever on a pilot program that identified the unique skills of individuals, then built reskilling pathways with learning content and experience design components to prepare people for readiness in new roles. On average, the pilot showed that people could be reskilled for new roles in completely different functions in just six months’ time.1

4. Purpose

We are entering a free talent market in which people have the power to choose where they want to work based on a company’s purpose and its values related to inclusion and diversity and sustainability. They can decide which brands they want to associate with based on responsible business practices.

Let the important work you are doing shine. Incorporate your purpose and core values into onboarding processes, ensure leaders embody the company’s purpose and demonstrate it to workers. Give workers opportunities to support the purpose in their own career and self-fulfillment goals, for instance, by offering cultural competency training.

The future is exciting—but it’s not about getting back to the office, it’s about getting back to the basics of supporting people. If we give every individual the right resources and support, the future of work will look brighter than ever.

1 Future Skills Pilot Report: Thinking outside the box to reimagine talent mobility


David Shaw

Senior Managing Director – Talent & Organization, UKG Lead