The “return to work” and the “future of work” are two very different ideas. Leaders have already figured out the return to work. Our recent research report—The future of work: A hybrid work model—showed that 63% of high-growth companies have already adopted a “productive anywhere” workforce model in which they are optimizing the resources that ensure a healthy and productive workforce, regardless of physical location. But what does the future look like?
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of workers prefer a hybrid work model. 1
of high-growth companies have already adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce model.
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Human ingenuity and technology are coming together to change how work is done. Artificial intelligence, automation and other technologies are augmenting the work of humans and, in many ways, raising the bar for what businesses can accomplish. This powerful blend of people + technology has helped to solve many workforce challenges, but we cannot forego meeting the needs of workers as individuals. People have families, commutes and benefits that they rely on.
Workers need to know that leaders are aware of the requirements of a fast-evolving human + technology workforce that will require new interaction models, roles, support systems and career paths. This may sound difficult to achieve as the future of work develops every day. Based on my recent conversations with clients, I feel that focusing on the following three areas can put every business on the right track:
1. Job design
In today’s hybrid work environment, we must take a second look at jobs—e.g., how we design them, how we use technology to track skills and find the right people to fill roles, and how we create rewards. Leaders now must account for factors such as scheduling flexibility, or remote versus in-person. Also, they need to be aware of the skills required to perform each role. They must address how the blend of humans and technology has dramatically changed certain roles and will continue to do so in the future. For instance, today, a business might have a chief human resources officer. In the future, that job might evolve to include a “chief resources officer,” who will manage humans plus bots. This may require some HR transformations, but the long-term payoff will be worth it.
Jobs are already changing. Consider retail associates. These workers traditionally focused on providing customer service to people in brick-and-mortar stores, telling shoppers about product features and benefits, and perhaps assisting with mobile checkout. Now, retail associates must straddle online and offline responsibilities as the store has become a hub for click-and-collect or curbside pickup. Responsibilities have changed, required skills have evolved and business leaders must think about the implications of this new role. How do these retail associates get a commission? On what basis? What are the implications about rewards?
Another recent example I have witnessed is that of a telecom leader who is transforming the future of work at his company through a program that has three working models (worksite-based, home-based and hybrid). The model used is determined by the function of each job. Not every employee will be 9-5, and in-person workers might now be hybrid, so jobs must be redesigned to accommodate this new future.
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2. Worker preferences
Just as leaders can be more deliberate in how they design jobs, they can be more deliberate in how they understand people’s preferences and provide services and opportunities in alignment with those preferences. When we use technology to help customize job experiences, individuals can be more effective and productive at work.
People want their needs to be acknowledged, understood and satisfied. The majority of people believe they can work smart anywhere. Workforce analytics can help with understanding people’s preferences, their career aspirations, and underlying behaviors and practices that take place because of the company’s culture and policies. When leaders understand worker preferences, they can also create more value through dynamic teaming and flexible work models that allow people to thrive.
For instance, retailers and health providers are taking worker preferences into account when it comes to scheduling. Perhaps the busy mom wants an overnight shift. The person caring for an elderly parent wants a hybrid schedule. Some businesses are exploring options for employees who prefer to not be vaccinated—working from home or at night when there is less chance for interaction with other workers.
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3. Workforce management
Once jobs are re-examined and redesigned and worker preferences are understood, it’s time to optimize the work that is being done. The best ways to optimize will look different across industries. For instance, some industries have safety protocols or compliance issues that must be addressed. Also, across industries, there are diverse operating restrictions as businesses return to the office, varying by state and municipality.
In addition, organizations today must look at how optimized scheduling can help boost efficiency and productivity. In a hybrid model, when some people are at home and some are working in the office, how can processes be reinvented to enable better and faster collaboration? One answer is that the pandemic has introduced new technology-based solutions that can help teams to work more closely together—no matter where they are working.
Begin your future
No business will solve the technology + human ingenuity equation overnight, but leaders can begin to shape the future of work by looking at the critical components under a new lens. How should jobs evolve to take advantage of the powerful combination of humans and technology? How can worker preferences inform decisions about skills, schedules, rewards, performance management and policies? How can businesses use technology to find the right people for the right roles, and ultimately manage teams in innovative ways that unlock value for the organization? The questions are many, but one answer is clear: the future of work is full of opportunity.
Find out how to encourage workers to be productive anywhere.
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1The Future of Work Research