Establishing The Future Of Work In A Post Covid-19 Era

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Takeaway: We know that the pandemic has changed the way we work tenfold-- but, how will these changes affect the ways that we work in the future? For one, you must consider all of the social and technological components of your company so that you can seamlessly implement redesign.

Back in 2019, without the great gift of foresight telling me what was about to come, I wrote a blog that looked at how organisations can use organisation design approaches and methods to envision the Future of Work in their operating model. I have revisited what I wrote through the lens of an organisation designer who has seen the potential impact that the past two years will have on The Future of Work, and the way different organisations have planned for changes to their operating model. 

Below, I have updated the original article.  However, the conclusion remains the same.


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Integrate your Future of Work requirements into your strategic intent before you begin to redesign your Operating Model.  Cover both the Social and the Technical aspects of the Future of Work and involve all stakeholders in both the strategy setting and the design and implementation processes. Social milestones drive Technical milestones, never vice versa. 

The Six Steps to Establishing the Future of Work is still your roadmap. 

With the gift of hindsight, I would now argue that the force majeure responses that many organisations across the Globe have had to make to remain in business have led to: 

  • A step change in the use of collaborative technology, this will digitally enable a transformation of the way work is done.  
  • A step change in the social system, where people’s expectations about how and where they work have been changed forever. 

Looking back, we can see a certain amount of constancy in our working environment in the last fifty or so years. Of course, it never feels that way for the people living through such an era. Yet, up until recently, the prevailing mindset was for people to have separate work and personal lives. Of course they overlapped, but in general people were happy to keep them separate. 

Working provided the resource that enabled a fulfilling personal and family life – people worked to live. Enlightened employers did what they could to ensure employees felt happy and fulfilled within their working life. Employers were designing ways of working in environments that were initially satisfying, and more recently, engaging as well. 


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The Evolution of The Future of Work

We are now a society in transformation. The phrase, The Future of Work, often has often been used to allude to the alignment of people’s work and personal lives, in addition to hypothesizing on various technology and workplace design scenarios.  Prior to 2020, The Future of Work was being shaped, in the main, by two forces: 

bullet points about technology and the redefinition of the workforce

We can now add the real pressure to NOT return to the pre-pandemic ways of working.  Many people are referring to The Future of Work as ‘The Hybrid Office’, where employees split their time between virtual work and physical in-person work. The danger of this is that it is seen as the ‘silver bullet’ solution. In reality, we are beginning to see organisations dictate the solution from the top down with a limited menu of solutions, including: 

  • Never coming back into the office again 
  • Coming back into the office five days a week 
  • Lack of a decision entirely 

What none are really articulating is how their solution is a response to the step changes we have seen in the use of technology and the expectation of the social system. 

What I said in 2019 is increasingly critical today: It is important to establish the drivers of the required transformation so that we can understand our start point and context. Drivers divide into the two categories of Technology and Social.

Drivers of The Future of Work

Technology

Technology is a driver that we are all aware of, but we are not always clear about how it will affect the way that work is done. The past 18 months have shown us that when the environment changes, office technology can be quickly adapted and implemented to ensure that work still flows. It has also shown us that changing the technical systems in isolation from the social system can have unintended consequences. 

We know that we live in a world where virtual working on collaborative platforms is now a given – a world where we can be ‘always connected through the internet of things.’ Yet, the increase in the need for automation and collaborative software add to the shift in work culture, job descriptions and management styles. Because of the large emphasis on the need for newer and better technology in the workplace, we now live in a world in which where and when the work gets done is less important than how the work gets done.  

Within the last 18 months we have seen that technology has had an increasingly large role in the culture of work. Throughout the pandemic, the lines between work life and home life have significantly shifted. As a direct consequence of the last 18 months, some virtual employees report the difficulties of switching into and out of work mode when the environment is the same in both scenarios. Additionally, those working from home also report an increasing sense of isolation as they become less socially connected to their co-workers. As for management, superiors tend to comment on the challenges of fully understanding their role in the new working environment. 

The mantra of the work that creates value for customers in the organization's end-to-end value stream being done by ‘frontline employees’, and the role of management being to ‘glue’ the work together, set direction and make decisions will no longer hold true as more and more management work is digitized and completed by AI systems. Through an organization designer’s lens, management will continue to be essential in any operating model. Increased digitization of work and the introduction of AI does not change what needs to be done, it changes where and how it is done. 

Social

People's expectations of the work world in the future are difficult to assess in a completely objective way. Yet, we do know that there has been a step-change in expectations over the last 18 months.  Alongside this, we must not forget that many of the future managers and leaders from Millennials and Gen Z are already working in organizations today. Much has been written about the Millennial generation, some judgmental, some praising, some based on facts, and some based on supposition-- all of which makes it hard to distill the important factors to consider when designing work. 

We know that today, 50% of the working American population are Millennials and that by 2025 this will be 75% globally—a demographic change that can't be ignored. Many researchers and commentators have pointed out the attitudinal change of the Millennial generation in many developed countries, noting a strong desire to balance working lives ever more carefully with their personal lives.  

In a world where manual skills are being replaced by cognitive skills, a world where the interpersonal and creative rules, uniquely human skills like creativity, customer service, care for others and collaboration are increasing. Therefore, it is probably no surprise what Millennials’ expectations are in work environments that provide: 

bullet points about millennial expectations at work

It is easy to argue that there is little new here. The challenge is to design a future-proof operating model, with roles and jobs that continue to meet these expectations as the how, when and where of the work changes to integrate emerging technology and social system changes. 

The Six Steps to Establishing the Future of Work is still your roadmap.


Peter Turgoose is a Senior Consultant at ON THE MARK.

OTM has been in business since 1987 and is a leading organization design firm. Over our 33 years in business, OTM has completed close to 450 redesigns around the globe across most industries. Our experience and passion for collaborative business transformation is supported by pragmatism, systems thinking, and a belief in people that's unparalleled.

Tagged: workplace culture, operating model, Consultancy, Culture, organization design

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