So many times, you’ve probably said “I’m going to work”—whether you are two months or 20 years into your career. But only half of that phrase is true nowadays. As our recent report, The Future of Work, shows, “going”—location—is no longer as well defined as it was before the pandemic. “I’m working” is much more accurate. Christie Smith, Accenture’s Talent & Organization Global Lead agrees in her recent blog on elevating the future of work: “We learned [that] the future of work isn’t so much about a place—‘onsite vs. remote’—as it is about helping people to reach their full potential.”
Over the last year, I have found that, in my conversations with colleagues and clients, we have shared more and talked about non-work-related activities. This increased transparency and it made all of us more present and trusting. Our overall conversations have also centered far more on outcomes than activities.
I believe that my colleagues, clients and myself have joined the overall trend of defining work success in a new way, based on results. This trend has accelerated during the pandemic and is here to stay. As long as people are accountable for delivering transparent client/customer-focused, outcome-based results, they deserve the opportunity to thrive and choose a lifestyle in which they control how, when and where they work.
Companies own results—not calendars or time—and that means leaders need to be clear about what those results should be. This is the conversation that my team and I are having with current clients, as they are thinking about and planning for the future of work.
New paths, new ways of working
We found that four key considerations are guiding leaders’ thinking about new ways of working and have an effect on their related success. Here’s what leaders do:
- Emphasize social contracts and a culture of trust. In this model, teams have trust-based working relationships that enable flexibility and autonomy. They collectively determine what events and collaboration sessions are to be done in person. As one executive told us: “When you work from home, you sometimes feel judged. So, it’s important to get to a trust culture, which allows you to say that it's OK to work from home and that you don’t have to feel guilty. This is going to be the biggest shift needed.”
- Are mindful of proximity bias. Moving to a remote or hybrid workforce has its challenges because a culture of visibility and presence is entrenched in our collective work expectations. In a remote or hybrid environment, a visibility culture has the potential to unequally distribute opportunities to those who are more physically present, to the disadvantage of those who are remote. In turn, this fact will reduce the amount of flexibility and autonomy employees feel they can exercise. Thus, leaders have to be aware and adjust for proximity bias.
- Evolve their leadership and management styles. Leaders know that their management style cannot be static in the current changing environment. They constantly ask themselves in what ways they need to change as part of the shifting ways of performing work. For example, leading and managing virtual teams places emphasis on different ways of engaging, motivating, directing, and measuring the outcomes of individuals and teams.
- Make “human moments” happen in a hybrid environment. What is the human dimension of hybrid models? Working from home shouldn’t mean being anchored to the computer. How can people use time effectively? How can they avoid meeting burnout? What are the mechanisms to facilitate virtually those creative or serendipitous collisions that used to happen in an office around the proverbial water cooler? Our clients don’t know yet, but they are constantly looking to identify those events and rituals that enable people to “come together” virtually and physically. “Human moments” of connection can happen virtually too, and in such moments people thrive because they feel empowered and supported. This in turn leaves people net better off, which—as our research report Better to Belong has shown—multiplies by five times performance towards desired business outcomes.
Change for good
We are thrilled to be at the forefront of the movement that will revolutionize work at the individual, organizational, and societal levels. As we move ahead together, let there be change, lasting change for all of us.