The future of working - considerations for leaders.
Author: Dr. Julia Corkindale, Head of Learning and Development at Taizen.
Covid-accelerated forces are re-shaping the three major axes of work: the work we do, who does the work, and where work is done.
The Taizen research team have reviewed reports from the likes of
Deloitte and McKinsey, and additionally have carried out specific
in-depth focus group research amongst our clients to explore the
talent management considerations these changes may bring.1, 2
This paper is a short summary of these insights on one of these
topics: ‘Where Work Is Done’.
Where work is done
Before the pandemic, remote working remained the domain of knowledge workers -- IT,
consultants and the like as companies worried about its impact on productivity and corporate culture.
Forced to work from home, the use of remote technologies has not proven as disruptive as people predicted and many have enjoyed the benefits it brings.
The significant advance in the function and features of digital collaboration, teaming and resource management tools, and changing attitudes towards work, are facilitating an expected permanent change on where work is actually carried out.
Leaders are critically reviewing where it can best be located, e.g. where it is most productive
(e.g. home, office), or lowest cost (e.g. nearshoring, offshoring), or where the location is
more motivational to critical staff (e.g. local hubs, office, home, balance).
It is worth remembering that more than 60 percent of workers in the US economy cannot
work remotely.3 Their jobs require at least some physical presence such as standing on a production line, helping customers in retail, working in transport or providing healthcare services. In less economically developed countries, the share of workers unable to work remotely is even higher.
However, for people that can work remotely, it is clear that in the future they will use the office less and work from home more.
Our research shows that the expectation is for people to work 2 or 3 days in the office and 2 or 3 days at home. Workers will not be expected to commute to the office to sit at a PC all day and then go home.
When in the office, they will work in a different way, where the time they spend in the physical
presence of others is used most productively.
People will organise their schedules to use the time and space for face-to-face team
meetings, onboarding new employees, networking, group activities (e.g. planning, team
building; sales calling), client meetings and ‘complex collaboration’ tasks. The office will be
an iconic centre piece to working life, designed to give a sense of belonging and purpose
with spaces to collaborate and interact.
Therefore, there will be different expectations for office space and people working at home
will need to be supported with the appropriate technology, equipment, services as well
virtual learning and wellbeing support.
In our focus groups, every organisation recognised that they need to stay closer to their
virtual-working employees and be sensitive to their challenges on childcare, background
noise on calls, pet interruptions, home deliveries, shared space challenges as well as
communication technology limitations.
They have recognised the need to celebrate that by working this way we can see each other as individuals, as real people living real lives!
More significantly though, in a survey of what organisations think they require in terms of coaching and development associated with flexible working, each of the topics in the table were marked with priority of 4 or 5 out of 5, where 5 is the highest priority.
It is clear that all organisations in our focus groups appreciate that the move to flexible
working is a significant change to culture, and culture does not change instantly, but it does
A quote from an HR Leader at a Media Services company sums it up well; “we need to harness the benefits of flexible working by supporting and coaching employees to adjust the way they work, rather than operating in the same old way from a different location”
The work we do
With increasing use of automation, robotics, cognitive and AI technologies, more work is being done by smart machines.
Introducing automation has been shown to cause distrust and resistance in workforces
where it is introduced.
Interestingly one authoritative report predicts that smart machines will result in an increase of jobs, not a decrease, although the skillsets move from manual and administration to
knowledge and specialist.
What is certain though is that people will increasingly work in collaboration with smart machines.
The machines do the laborious routine work, freeing up the humans to produce the magic and the sizzle: one intervention was at a UK call centre who frequently criticised chatbots to customers and required their teams to be coached to work more collaboratively with them!
With the rising 3rd party digital talent platforms, firm-to-flex contract types and increasingly strict employee regulatory frameworks (being a demotivator to employ), who should do the work?
How do we optimise the continuum of talent from full time, to part time contracted, to freelancers and contractors?
How can we flex the workforce to be more agile in the face of competitive challenges, digital
transformation, market demand or changing consumer behaviours?
Organisations expect workforce planning to focus on fixed overhead full-time employment of people with core strategic ‘mission critical’ competencies and functionally critical roles and more variable cost flexible contractual relationships with others.
The McKinsey survey states that in 2-3 years, 70% of organisations expect to use workers and contractors than they did before the pandemic.4
Those with core strategic competencies, because of their inherent value and stronger
‘emotional contract’ with the organisation, will naturally receive the lion’s share of the coaching and development budget.
However, with an increasing focus on customer experience, for brands and organisations to deliver a seamless and authentic experience, there is expected to be an increase in
demand for targeted training and coaching of Task Essential and even Task Support personnel, with the goal of improving workforce effectiveness and ‘on-brand’ behaviour.
(1) Smit, S. Tacke, T., Lund, S., Manyika, J and Thiel, L. ‘The future of work in Europe’, June 10 2020. [Available online at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/the-future-of-work-in-europe] and:
(2) Moueddene, K., Coppola, M., Wauters, P., Ansaloni, V., Ivanova, M and Paquette, J. ‘Expected skills needed for the future of work’, Deloitte. 2020. [Available online at: https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/insights/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/upskilling-the-workforce-in-european-union-for-the-future-of-work.html]
(3) Brenan, M. ‘U.S. Workers Discovering Affinity for Remote Work’, Gallup. April 3 2020.
(4) Lund, S., Cheng, W., Dua, A., De Smet, A., Robinson, O., and Sanghvi, S. 'What 800 executives envision for the post-pandemic workforce', McKinsey. September 23, 2020.