The future workplace - what we’ve learned so far and what challenges remain

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez April 26, 2021
We take a look at how the future workplace is taking shape, how companies are thinking about managing employees and what challenges remain.

Future of work

With the Vaccine Economy beginning to take shape, companies are thinking seriously about what their future workplaces will look like. The conversation is shifting from the reactionary ‘put what we need now in place to make this work' towards longer-term policies that aim to take into account the impact of how COVID-19 has changed the working environment. 

As we all know, many organizations have adopted sustained working from home practices, put in place new collaboration platforms, distributed hardware, and most importantly, attitudes have changed about the effectiveness of distributed work. Whilst once there was a view that productivity wouldn't be as high when left to your own devices, now there is a general consensus that it's entirely possible to get things done at home. 

That's not to be said that there aren't still concerns, particularly around support for new entrants to the workplace, maintaining company culture, and training opportunities - but the stigma around distributed work has been forcefully removed. 

With this in mind, diginomica has been speaking to buyers, vendors, and researchers about how the future of work is taking shape and we've been monitoring the situation closely. As such, I thought it may be useful to collate a selection of recent relevant pieces that provide some food for thought for those working through this challenging balancing act. 

It's thought that the medium term outcome will likely be hybrid - with most companies adopting a mix of work from home and in-office work for specific needs. Some organizations are adamant about getting workers back to the office full-time (such as Goldman Sachs), but these are outliers and aren't really in tune with where future looking businesses are headed. 

Returning to work - a challenging set of decisions 

Brian Sommer takes a look at the actions that employers should be taking, when thinking about bringing employees back into the office. Protections need to be put in place for the foreseeable and as Brian notes, employers need to be doing more than the bare minimum. Documentation is needed, best practices need to be identified, policies put in place, training given and employers should also be prepared for potential lawsuits. He adds that nuance, flexibility and the willingness to change plans are key - and I couldn't agree more. 

People need to be at the center of your post-COVID-19 digital strategy 

One thing that has become clear during the COVID-19 pandemic is that organizations are nothing without their people. And for the first time in a long time, when we talk to companies, it is their people that are being put front and center of their future strategies. But with that comes the need to put people at the center of your future digital strategy. We take a look at what that will mean in the future workplace, with the right tools, engagement, learning and development, and values at the forefront of considerations. 

An inside look at Salesforce's return to the office and ‘success from anywhere' strategy 

Salesforce has been at the forefront of vendors offering solutions for companies adapting their workplace environments during COVID, through the release of its platform. However, it has also released one of the most comprehensive back to workplace strategies that we've seen, with the main focus being ‘success from anywhere'. It has also released a playbook to help guide other companies that are struggling to prioritise what needs doing and has placed flexibility, choice and collaboration at the center of what it is doing. Well worth a look. 

COVID-19 and distributed work - leaders out of touch, workforce exhausted and Gen-Z at risk 

When putting together a new strategy it helps to understand what challenges exist and what outcomes you're hoping to achieve. This can help guide where you need to find success. This piece takes an important look at how distributed work is impacting some employees and how it is affecting those further down the corporate ladder than those in charge. A follow up analysis takes a look at how companies should be thinking about bringing the gap between the needs of employees and leaders in the future hybrid workplace, which should also be a priority. 

Is the traditional office dead? Experts predict major change ahead in the workplace 

Cath Everett does an excellent job in this piece outlining some of the top priorities for companies that are thinking about the future role of the office and how to make the most of our ‘new reality' going forward. It's not simply about the office as a physical space, organizations need to think about reworking both business processes and cultural practices, deciding which roles work where, as well as redesigning the workplace to support organisational priorities. 

HR in a COVID-19 world - the myth of the ‘great place to work' 

We've all seen those ‘great place to work' awards doing the rounds regularly, but how will they be decided in a world where a big chunk of the workforce works from home? It's a smart way of thinking about how to prioritise your investments and think about your strategy. Brian Sommer highlights that in the past there has been a huge disparity between those that work from home and those that work from an office, in terms of the benefits and perks that they receive. If companies want to attract the best talent, and be perceived as a ‘great place to work' in the future, they should be thinking cleverly about how to bridge that gap. 

How Coupa is thinking about the future of work in a COVID-19 world 

Another vendor that has been willing to offer some interesting insights into how they're thinking about their future workplace strategy is Coupa. And Coupa's Chief People Ray Martinelli notes that whilst things have changed, they also really haven't. And what he means by that is that companies forming their future strategies need to understand their value system before putting in place new plans, which will guide the necessary decisions. Equally, he points to the need for new organizational structures and strong accountability. 

A maturity model for enterprise digital teamwork and the collaborative canvas 

I couldn't compile this list without referencing my colleague Phil Wainewright's excellent work on digital teamwork. This is central to so much of what companies should be thinking about when they implement their future workplace strategies. With digital teamwork becoming mainstream overnight, Phil has put together a well thought through maturity model that helps guide organizations to adopting ‘digitally augmented teamwork'. Well worth a read. 

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