The Future of Work is Whatever You Want it to Be
June 8, 2022
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
If you asked Thomas, our Head of Product to describe the future of work in one word, he would say it’s promising. Numerous benefits have resulted from the changes brought about by many companies in the last two years including higher engagement from remote employees. However, there are still challenges – the likeliness of working 24/7 instead of a set 9-5 while being remote. The future of work is still evolving, and the most successful organizations will embrace co-creating and designing a future of work with their employees to solve such challenges. Find out how we should contribute to creating and shaping the future rather than just entering it!
“The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create.”
– Leonard I. Sweet
Imagine a future where you can go for a run every morning, free from your long morning commute into the office. Or one where you can take a lunchtime nap after an intensive morning of back-to-back meetings before you return to your tasks for the afternoon. Better yet, what about a future where you not only can – but are encouraged to go for an afternoon stroll, disconnecting from work but reconnecting with yourself, leading to a balance between professional and personal commitments/well-being.
Thinking about the future can be exciting, if not at times overwhelming, with its seemingly limitless possibilities, prospects, and potential. To mitigate that, I’ve always been a firm believer in working towards creating the future you want, playing an active role in the outcome of the event rather than being a bystander. That is a likely reason why I was so excited to write this article on the future of work. Because while it’s thrilling to think about the future and what it may have in store, at this present time in history, I’d argue it’s even more exciting to narrow down the lens.
Why? Well, you know that “future” I described above? It’s not so future.
The way we work has dramatically changed over the last couple of years, with no industry or vertical left unscathed. However, all that change, the cry for more equitable and enabling employers, and the rise of the empowered employee have all led to a unique moment in time. One where the future of work, while by no means set in stone or explicitly defined, is instead being realized every day, with a general consensus that things will never look the same way again.
What does the future of work look like? In a word – promising. But like reaching any ideal state or traversing any journey, it’s not without its challenges.
Fortunately, if you found the top of the article appealing, you’ll likely agree that the benefits far outweigh the journey to get to them.
Working different but working better
As everyone, everywhere, and everything entered the first of many lockdowns, we turned to remote work like so many others. However, unlike many others, we didn’t just adopt it; we embraced it wholeheartedly, which has made all the difference in the resounding improvements and efficiencies we’ve achieved while improving the employee experience proportionally.
One of the first things I noticed was the concept of work/life balance had shifted, at least on my team. Work/life integration was decidedly a more accurate description, further blurring the lines between the two while inversely presenting several unique advantages.
The traditional constraints of being physically present from 9-5 in a brick and mortar office were, I believe, creating a competitive dynamic between making progress at work and rushing home or out somewhere in hopes of cultivating a “life” outside work. And I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. But much like I described in that utopian workday description, the outcomes can be markedly more beneficial when you focus on integrating over balancing. Now our teams can work when and where they feel they do their best work and live their best life.
Remote work was and still is, in many ways, experimental. We’re constantly learning, adapting, augmenting, and evolving to best serve teams. And as an experiment, some of the results, like the greater autonomy afforded by remote work resulted in a higher level of engagement and a measurable improvement in the quality of output and outcomes.
Another counterintuitive finding was virtual meetings led to an increase in rapport and camaraderie. I had to read that twice too, but when you think about it, how often are you zooming in and witnessing a more intimate and personal side of your coworkers? In bedrooms, living rooms, dinner prep, toddler tantrums, amazon delivery interruptions, spouses, and more. And more than just exposure, the dissolving of public/private lives has been replaced with mutual respect, deeper empathy, and strong connections.
Making the future of work, work
Despite the appeal and benefits of work/life integration as loosely touched upon above, getting to that point (and maintaining it) is not without challenges, the most obvious fear of going from 9-5 to 24/7, losing all separation of the proverbial “church and state.”
Without physical cues to separate time designated for work from the time for everything else, in combination with the unbounded nature of roles in Product, there’s a real risk of creeping workaholism and resulting burnout. The once idolized and glorified culture of always-on, always available, is not only undesirable, it’s unsustainable.
In the services consulting space, our practitioners rely heavily on their soft skills – cultivating team, client, and stakeholder relationships, facilitating collaborative activities within constraints or solving for an escalation between competing perspectives. And not to contradict my above point of virtual meetings and their ability to humanize and build rapport, it too isn’t without consequence.
Floating heads in neatly-stacked digital boxes omit all but the most salient bits of non-verbal language, impeding the ability of team members to leverage the rich, latent information that we exchange through in-person interactions. Accepting the unpredictable access to information, we turned to over-communicating to forestall misunderstandings, ensure alignment in motivation and drive progress toward shared goals.
Never losing focus of what matters
It would be a lie to say that nothing has changed at Connected over the last few years, be it in what we do and how we do it. However, what matters most, what makes us who we are, and what has guided us through these unchartered waters has remained unchanged.
Smart, kind, reliable, teachers, and learners are equally how you could describe not only every Connector but how we approach everything we do. And adherence to these values is how we’ve been able to not only maintain adding value for our partners but more importantly, the Connectors who make it all possible.
We find it hard not to take a product lens in just about everything, and as such, we have deep experience with experimentation, iterations, and constantly learning. Much like we believe a digital product is never finished, we know that new possibilities to define what the future of work can be are constantly presenting themselves. With a knack for iterative improvement and under the guidance of our partners, teams, and the work we do, we will continue to adapt and change in hopes of enabling and empowering all parties to do their best work while living their best life.
I mentioned earlier that at present, the future of work hasn’t been clearly defined, at least, in anything close to a satisfactory way.
And I’d like to suggest that perhaps that’s the point.
The future of work won’t be manufactured and mass distributed; rather, it will be personalized and designed to integrate into our lives in a way that’s optimal for both the employee and employer. And if I had to guess, the most successful organizations in the future will be the ones who not only accept that, but embrace it; organizations should take the initiative and be proactive in co-creating and designing a future of work with their employees rather than thrusting one upon them.
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