What’s the future of work in the New Abnormal?

Last year I did a couple of conference keynotes on the future of work. I’ve been working with intranets and digital workplaces for about 15 years; over the past 18 months or so I’ve come to realise that for digital tools to work for people – and for them to truly add value to organisations – they need to be designed not for work as it is today, but for what will be tomorrow.

My talks looked at the trends that make up Future of Work discussions. The decline of the employer-employee relationship; the rise of portfolio careers, gig working and transactional working relationships; changing demographics; and the mainstreaming of AI at work. And the end of the office as we know it as ubiquitous high speed broadband means talent can be tapped into regardless of location.

My rallying cry was: “but these aren’t trends for 10 or even 5 years time. They’re already a lived reality for millions, and they will be for you too soon, so you’d best get ready.”

Little did I realise quite how soon that would happen.

In March COVID-19 forced a sudden shift in how we work, with social distancing closing offices and schools worldwide.

Those organisations who adapted best to being ‘suddenly remote’ were those who already had the tools, culture and practices to make that shift quickly and seamlessly. Smaller organisations, and particularly startups, found this easiest. Those reliant on legacy tech – predominantly larger organisations in regulated industries – faced teething problems such as limited VPN capacity and employees shifting to shadow IT (in particular Zoom) to get things done.

But several weeks on organisations of all sizes have settled into this new way of working… and realised that it works. Assumptions about who can and can’t work remotely have been crushed in this great homeworking experiment.

While lockdowns will eventually lift, the remote work genie isn’t going back in the bottle. This briefing note from WeWork unwittingly highlights the unsuitability of office environments in an era of social distancing. It’s clear the world of work will look very different for a long while, and perhaps forever. Barclays, for example, has already announced a review of how they use office space in the future.

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Organisations are moving on from ‘recovery mode’ and beginning to look at what their own future of work looks like. What can they learn from this period of mass, enforced home working? What do people value? What are the challenges? And, critically, what are the opportunities?

Last week Matt Bannatyne kicked off a discussion online on what the world of work could look like. We kicked around some ideas with some interested folk in a collaborative document.

Tools for remote working are standard these days, but we know from our work that the strategy, culture, and practices to make the most of them often lag some way behind.

We asked: what does work look like today? And what does it look like for organisations who are truly remote-first?

First, we identified the characteristics of work in three stages of remote working maturity:

  • Pre-lockdown: the old BAU
  • Recovery mode: building immediate capacity
  • Growing through remote: using the benefits of remote for competitive advantage

Next, we grouped these into themes, borrowing a little from McKinsey’s Seven Ss model.

  • Strategy: How the organisation plans to deliver its strategic goals
  • Systems: The platforms and tools used by the organisation and its people
  • Structure: The operating model and organisational structure
  • Shared values: The values and culture of an organisation, and how these are embodied/expressed
  • Skills: How the organisation ensures people have the skills to get work done
  • Roles: Who supports current ways of working
  • Spaces: The role physical spaces play for the organisation
  • Support: How the organisation supports people to use tools and get work done
  • Corporate communication: How the organisation communicates its goals, values and progress to its people
  • Organisational communication: How people within the organisation communicate with one another

The result is the makings of a Maturity Model for remote working and enterprise resilience.

Maturity model table - full text available in link following

Here it is as an easier-to-read spreadsheet.

We’d like to evolve this further so it can be a useful model for organisations to understand their current capacity for remote and understand what they need to do to become truly remote-first. What questions do we need to ask to assess current capacity? Are there themes we have missed?

This is a work in progress and we’re keen to get your feedback. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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