For nearly four years, the pandemic and economic upheaval have dealt employers a one-two punch. But the worst is behind us now. This is an ideal time for bold moves that improve the future of work. A few employers are leading the way with new hybrid work variations. Others seem intent on returning to pre-pandemic office norms. And many more aren’t sure what to do. I think we should start with a more strategic question: What will it take to create better workplaces? Let’s talk about it.
What Do “Better Workplaces” Look Like?
The answer depends on where you look for insight. Terms and metrics differ by source. And the context of work keeps changing all the time. When we’re drinking from a firehose of confusing information, how can anyone define the goal, much less develop a useful roadmap?
First, let me clarify my own terms. When I say “better workplaces,” I’m not necessarily talking about a physical office or a classic 5-day workweek. It is wherever and whenever employees show up to fulfill their shared mission, vision, and goals.
What matters most isn’t the location or time of day. It’s about knowing what’s expected of you and being empowered to work productively with other team members. At least that’s what employees say.
What Leaders Want
On the other hand, if you read the headlines, you might think the only thing that matters to executives is bringing people back onsite at any cost.
- Even in 2021, over 75% of top executives told McKinsey they expected employees to return to the office for most of the work week — despite the fact that most people said they wanted to work from home most of the time.
- Then in a 2022 Microsoft survey, 82% of decision-makers said getting employees back to the office was a major concern. But why was this so important? Apparently, trust was a key issue. In fact, only 12% of leaders told Microsoft they were fully confident in their team’s productivity, even though 87% of employees said they were productive.
But here’s a news flash: Despite employers’ return-to-office push, recent research reveals that executives don’t expect remote or hybrid work to decline. In fact, senior leaders predict in-person work to drop from 76% this year to 73% by 2028, while total virtual and hybrid employees are expected to grow from 24% to 27% during the same timeframe.
Better Workplaces Are Flexible
I’ve said it before, but apparently, some people need a reminder. Flexibility is the future of work. And a majority of employees agree.
In other words, when given a choice between in-person and remote work, many people say they want the best of both worlds. For example, Microsoft found that 73% of employees want remote work to remain an option, while 67% want more in-person time with their teams. Other studies show similar interest in hybrid solutions. And increasingly employers are responding with creative flexible options.
How Can Modern Technology Help Build Better Workplaces?
So, knowing flexibility is essential, what does it take to ensure a seamless, productive employee experience, no matter where people are located on any given day? I’m reminded of a #WorkTrends podcast conversation I had several years ago with two work tech visionaries — technology strategist, Christian Reilly, and industry analyst, Maribel Lopez.
Both emphasized the need to support a sense of connection and community, wherever people may be working. Modern technology helps employers accomplish this while reducing the uncertainty managers often feel when team members are working remotely…
We explored a variety of questions about digital transformation and the future of work. And as I look back, the answers still resonate today:
Modern Organizations Rethink Their Toolkit
How can employers embrace innovative technology to keep up with disruptive changes in work practices and organizational culture? Christian says the ideal strategy should realistically consider existing business and technology limitations and realities:
For hybrid or full-time remote work support, it’s extremely cumbersome to pretend that the platform you’ve historically used in an office environment is sufficient for work that reaches beyond office boundaries.”
When workplace tools are more intuitive and easy to use, employees see value in them. If technology makes their job easier, they’re much more willing to embrace it. The biggest mistake an employer can make is to hang on to legacy tools that aren’t modern.”
The Right Tech Sparks Inclusive Innovation
Strategies that modernize IT include migration to the cloud, adoption of software as a service (SaaS) solutions, and digital workplaces. Citing a Citrix research research report, “The Era of Hyper- Innovation,” Christian noted the impact that modern technology can have on employees. For instance:
93% of survey respondents said increased digital collaboration has led to more diverse voices from across the organization being heard. Also, a greater range of ideas for innovation have surfaced.”
Powerful Tech Empowers Organization to Adapt
During the pandemic era, many organizations have quickly pivoted to embrace change. Others have been a bit slower to act. Maribel says that if your organization isn’t agile, your competitors will eat your lunch. But technology provides a powerful way to level the playing field for organizations of all sizes:
Now, every organization on the planet has access to amazing technology at a fairly affordable price. If you’re willing to adopt technology, then it becomes more about your product, your services, and your ability to understand customer needs.”
Modern Technology Makes Work Accessible to More People
Technology is also removing barriers to work. Now, a much more diverse workforce can participate in the workplace with fewer constraints. And more employees are able to develop skills and engage directly in workflows of all kinds.
In the past, employees relied on skilled colleagues to help them do their job. (For example, think of typing pools, for those old enough to remember them). Now, technology empowers many more employees to accomplish more, themselves.
Every individual can take control of how they work because they have the tools to do so. This is a tremendous opportunity to use technology for good in the future of work.”
Related Notes From Other Work Tech Leaders
Over the past few years, many more leaders have shared their perspectives in #WorkTrends conversations, as well. For instance:
The future of work will be hybrid. This “mixed mode” reality will be harder to manage than when everyone worked in the office because there’s more opportunity for people to feel left out. But hybrid work also lets people of all types feel like they have a level playing field.”
The key to hybrid work productivity is providing transparency into what’s going on at the office. That way, before people make that commute…they understand what type of experience they’ll have when they get there.”
Employers have to change their talent mindset and methodology. That includes not only the flexibility of a work environment, but also the technologies we use to enable employee experience. Tech that supports and secures all environments an employee wants to work in will no longer be a differentiating factor, but the norm.”
Also, for more timeless work tech insights from Maribel and Christian, check out this related #WorkTrends podcast episode from several years ago.