Kevin Delaney is the co-founder and CEO of Charter, a media and services firm that studies how employment will change in the future. “A lot of people believed they’d be going back to work, thinking their kids would be going back to school, and we’re seeing that’s not the case.” With the latest spike, childcare has not returned, 1400 schools have shuttered, and businesses have postponed returns. Microsoft has stated that they have “given up setting a date for returning to work.”
People are dissatisfied. They had anticipated what it would be like to return to work and see their coworkers, to have their children settled in daycare and school with predictable schedules, but that isn’t going to happen. Things that were fundamentally damaged prior to the epidemic have not miraculously healed during the last year and a half. Leaders must use this moment to reshape old methods to be more fair and dynamic and to better represent the type of work we do now rather than how it was done 75 years ago.
The Female Quotient held a one-day summit, The Great Returnship: Creating the New Workplace, to hear from executives and leaders across industries to gain a pulse on the current return/pause/return tempo. Here are some key points to remember about the future of work.
The Modern Workplace Isn’t a Modern Workplace
The overall picture was created by Joanne Lipman, a Yale University lecturer and former editor-in-chief of USA Today. “After WWII, the modern workplace was born. It’s a military model, with a hierarchical, 9-to-5 organization. The way we work has altered completely. We were an industrial economy at the time, with a five-day workweek averaging 40 hours or more. Covid offered us the chance to make a big deal out of it.”
On a manufacturing line, Delaney explained, you’re evaluated based on how long you’ve been there and how quickly you’ve worked. We’ve learned that our most productive periods aren’t always when we’re at work. As many businesses transition to hybrid models, interacting with coworkers is the most productive thing you can do in the office. Coffee with coworkers and chit-chatting in the kitchen by the watercooler are both productive ways to spend time. Workplace ties are sown through small conversations. “The last thing you want is for a worker to sit down at their computer and accomplish nothing.”
On many levels, the 40-hour workweek is insufficient since work spills over and it does not correspond to people’s lifestyles. It has kept a lot of great talent out of the industry since they are unable to adhere to this schedule owing to caregiving, living arrangements, and other obligations.
“Covid brought to light significant systemic concerns that had never been addressed previously.” We require adaptability. “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘quits’ are at an all-time high,” Lipman said. “People aren’t just wanting to leave their employment; they’re also considering changing careers.” The way the office is set up causes a lot of dissatisfaction.”
Benefits Have Changed Over Time
“Employees have more leverage in a tight labor market.” How many positions are currently available? ‘Help Wanted’ signs can be found all over the place. “Workers are searching for a variety of advantages,” Lipman explained.
Free meals, dry cleaning, arcades, and ice cream parlors on campus used to be the norm, but all of those perks kept employees at the workplace for longer hours. Employees nowadays demand perks that help them balance their life, such as mental health benefits. We must normalize child and elder care, but not at the expense of those who do not have children. It must be translated into personal life benefits for all employees on a holistic level.
Proximity Bias and Hybrid Work
Because it introduces prejudice hurdles, remote work should not be an option. Every employee has the same equity opportunity if they work a hybrid schedule with two days at home and three days at the office. My partner Eve Rodsky coined the phrase “predictable flexibility” to describe it. Those who work remotely will otherwise be denied the same opportunities as those who work on-site.
“People who are closer to us and things that are more known to us are more favorable to us,” Delaney explained the concept of proximity bias. “As individuals return to work, the employees who managers see more frequently because they’re on the same schedule…those are the folks who are more likely to get raises or plum assignments that matter in the long run.”
Inclusion is already a major issue in many organizations. Hybrid work is beneficial to productivity and well-being, but how can we overcome proximity bias? “It’s something that organizations need to wrap their heads around.” It’s important to talk about it and to educate people about it. Employees should report to work on the same days each week. Measure the rates of promotion, retention, and raises for distinct groups of workers overtime,” Delaney advised.
Workplace of the Future
Karen Hardy, vice president of global partnerships at Avaya, a business that specializes in cloud communications and workstream collaboration solutions, said, “Technologies that were on our road map significantly accelerated when Covid hit.” Before Covid, who would have guessed that noise-canceling technology for video calls would be a necessity?
Today it is, with dogs barking, lawnmowers buzzing, and individuals typing/texting while on the phone. Avaya is solving for this, as well as bringing facial and voice recognition to the forefront for front-line personnel to ensure client data remains secure, by leveraging AI (artificial intelligence) technologies.
Collaboration is crucial, according to Loretta Li-Sevilla, HP’s head of future of work collaboration and business incubation. “Previously, when you joined an in-person meeting remotely, you felt like you weren’t contributing as much as everyone else.” We’ll never be in a circumstance where everyone can be in the same room at the same time if we move forward to hybrid work. Wherever you are, the office is being rebuilt to foster a sense of community.”
According to Stacy Janiak, Deloitte US’s chief growth officer, upskilling and reskilling are the next natural stages. “By 2030, the World Economic Forum wants a billion people to be reskilled, and the epidemic has just accelerated the demand for digital transformation.” Many workers at Deloitte who help Janiak and her colleagues run a virtual environment have roles that didn’t exist before the epidemic, according to Janiak.
When asked if AI will replace occupations, Li-Sevilla responded that while monotonous work may be automated, knowledge-based roles that emphasize soft skills and problem-solving will continue to expand and grow.
There is a silver lining: automation will allow us to replace essential job needs, and we will be able to hire people based on their emotional intelligence (emotional intelligence). That is the kind of human nature upskilling we require. It will be balanced. It will provide us with an opportunity to flourish. In the short term, we’re committed to becoming a more resilient, dynamic, and equitable workplace.