As businesses look for new ways to remain competitive, we’ll see more of them looking for ways to help employees become more efficient, healthy and focused.
Employees won’t see flexibility as an optional extra anymore – they’re already starting to see it as a standard benefit. If your work’s great and you complete it on time, does it matter where, when or how it’s done?
With that in mind, what will the workplace of the future look like? What measures will employers put in place to create healthy, happy and productive teams?
1.The normalisation of the distributed workforce
Seventy per cent of the global workforce works remotely at least once per week. Fifty-three per cent work remotely for at least half of the week.
As remote working becomes more common, we’ll start to see the language we use to describe it evolve. Many already use the term distributed workforce instead.
Remote working provides the image of one or more members of the team who are set at a distance from the main team. They’re rarely seen in the office and so, tend to get left out of everything from watercooler moments and grabbing a quick coffee, to larger meetings and events.
A distributed workforce is different. It refers to a business that’s founded on a distributed model, or that shifts its entire way of operating to online communication so that working outside the office no longer means that you’re out of the loop.
2.Flexibility as a tool to increase diversity
In 2018, McDonalds UK and YouGov surveyed 4000 UK adults and 1000 McDonald’s employees aged 16 and above.
Fifty-eight per cent of full-time employees said that they wanted to start work earlier than 9am and finish before 5pm (and 58% of these people wanted to start work at 7 or 8am and finish at 3 or 4pm).
Forty-eight per cent said that they would prefer to work longer days in exchange for a shorter working week.
Flexible working had a rocky start. Presenteeism often creates an expectation that people be at their desks, typing away, late into the evening, or that they come to the office when they’re sick. It’s about the time spent being seen, not what’s being achieved. It’s an attitude that seeps into office culture.
In my first office job, one woman on our floor came back from maternity leave on a flexible working schedule. Every day, when it came time for her to leave, a few guys would jokingly call out: “part-timer!”, “must be nice” or “it’s okay for some!”.
Now, flexible working is moving from an option requested by employees with special circumstances to a benefit equivalent to a generous annual leave allowance. Given a few more years, it’ll probably be an expectation.
By allowing people to work flexible hours, businesses can help create and maintain a diverse workforce – whether it’s mothers returning to the office, people with caring responsibilities, mature students or people with health issues.
Flexible working shouldn’t be something that people have to justify needing, and businesses that continue to restrict it will find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to recruitment and performance.
3.Focusing on building resilience in the business, teams and individuals
We’ll start to see a greater focus on building resilience.
Resilience can be anything from an employee receiving constructive feedback well and improving what they do as a result, to the business losing accounts but maintaining optimism and looking for ways to not just find new clients, but be better than before.
You can’t just tell people to be resilient. Businesses need to support their employees and provide environments where resilience can thrive. By, for example:
- Focusing on attention management – we can be physically well and happy, but mentally exhausted. One way to increase resilience in people is to have them pay attention to how their levels of focus changes throughout the day and to structure their workload around this. Businesses may also start to look at device management in place of work/life balance. Quartz quotes Mark Curtis (the founder of design consultancy, Fjord) as arguing: “The work/life thing is gone. We should be focusing on device/non-device balance.” Through our devices, work is always there. How will we manage this?
- Not assuming perfection – build the business to assume that people will have days when they aren’t performing to the best of their abilities.
- Remembering to praise as well as criticise – sometimes people can feel like they only get recognition when they screw up. Other times, coworkers may say that the boss sings their praises, but the individual doesn’t hear this message directly. Without direct positive feedback, people can start to wonder what they are actually achieving.
- Have a clear purpose – while it’s not a business’s role to provide people with their personal purpose, people do need to know what the point of it all is. What’s the business trying to achieve? How do they contribute to this? When you know that you’re working towards a shared destination, it becomes easier to navigate the bumps in the road.
The path to increased flexibility
While there are businesses that already offer some form of the above, there are also many business leaders who are yet to be convinced of the merits of offering greater flexibility and support for their employees.
There’ll need to be a cultural shift if employers want to continue to attract and retain the best employees (some of whom need to work in a flexible workplace).
A recent report by Timewise and Deloitte found that 73% of workers wanted a workplace culture that judged them on the work they did, rather than the hours they put in. But, how can a business get started on adapting its workplace for the future?
The Timewise report outlines five steps:
- Business leaders have to advocate for cultural change. Tacit approval isn’t enough; they have to champion it by challenging tired stereotypes; no flexible working doesn’t mean you aren’t committed to your career. Leaders also need to explain the strategy behind the move to flexible working and commit to challenging cultural norms (like managers who see the last one in the office as the most committed, or the need for in-office mandatory breakfast meetings).
- Make flexible working gender-neutral. Business leaders and managers of all genders need to embrace flexible working themselves and show that it’s not a benefit for leadership alone or an accommodation for specific groups. It needs to be available to everyone.
- Create roles as flexible-first. Make it part of the recruitment and review process. Ask what the employee’s ideal work day would look like and see how you can work together to accommodate it.
- Create management standards that support managers. Things will go wrong occasionally – this doesn’t mean that flexible working has failed. Managers need to set standards that they expect flexible workers to follow and enforce these standards when someone slips up.
- Chart the impact of flexible working. Find a way to measure productivity (and any other metric important to the business). Not only does this help to demonstrate the effectiveness of flexible working, but it helps spot when someone is struggling to maintain their usual quality of work and lets managers offer support early on.
The workplaces of the future will focus more on powering personal productivity and achievement. Individuals don’t thrive in a one-size fits all environment. Businesses that work with their employees to find a way of working that benefits both the business and the individual will find themselves at a distinct competitive advantage.