Before the pandemic, the future of work seemed pretty clear. Most companies were charging ahead with digital transformation — investing in new ways to collaborate, using AI to improve sales and marketing, and determining which channels were most effective for reaching their customers. Jump ahead just a couple years, and the future of work looks totally different. Offices are living rooms. Conference rooms are largely empty. Office hours vary. The entire concept of work turned itself upside down, and it seems unlikely to go back to pre-pandemic structure anytime soon — if ever.
Couple these changes with today’s economy and you’ve got a recipe for an uncertain future. Recently on an earnings call with investors Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that they’re prepared to do more with less. And this is a reality that will likely be seen at several companies as they are poised to deal with this new world of work. But the good news? Most are turning to technology to help.
How Employees Factor into the Future of Work
The last few years have been turbulent in the workplace and as a result employees are reprioritizing their focus. According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Index 53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work. 47% are more likely to put family and their personal lives first. The Great Resignation is a clear indication that employees are ready to find workplaces that match their priorities with how and where they want to work.
In mid-2022, Futurum Research and Microsoft collaborated on a global study to better understand the current state of the workplace. The soon-to-publish study focused on 500 global business leaders, technologists, marketers, and IT decision makers responsible for helping their organizations shape their collaboration strategies. What we found is that the future of work is one led by employee input. The more often businesses take their employee experience into account, the better off they’ll be.
For instance, clearly there were fits and starts with collaboration and efficiency at the start of the pandemic. Most companies weren’t used to having their entire staff work remotely. There was a lot of last-minute re-shuffling to get remote collaboration tools onboard. Still, two years later, more than 70 percent of those surveyed said their workplace culture has changed—for the better. Employees have more say than they did in the past. Some 85 percent felt like decision-making processes has become more distributed. And, almost 80 percent feel like they collaborate as well now as they did previously.
Collaboration in a Hybrid Workplace
Still, what does “collaboration” really mean in a hybrid/remote work world? More than 40 percent of those surveyed said real-time collaboration has been replaced with asynchronous or disjointed collaboration tools. At the same time, more than 85 percent of respondents reported they are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the effectiveness of their employee collaboration. For employees, the changes are working.
What does that mean for the traditional “office?” Honestly, it means many companies may be able to downsize quite a bit should they continue to support the hybrid and remote workspace. Research shows nearly 80 percent of those surveyed were able to physically restructure their offices to better utilize unused conference space, and 75 percent said they were able to restructure their lease or space costs. In essence: the future of work means less overhead and more productivity. That’s a win for all involved.
Perhaps this shift to the hybrid workplace was best summed up in a recent exchange I had with Mitel CEO, Tarun Loomba. When discussing the very important trends around hybrid work, he succinctly replid. “More organizations will make a conscious and tangible commitment to building a hybrid work culture that fosters human connection and will do so by deeply integrating their various modes of communication into organizational processes and workflows. Communications modernization is central to enhancing employee connection, productivity and wellness.”
Where Technology Can Help
While collaboration platforms can make employees lives easier, that’s only one side of the conversation. According to a survey from Asana, employees report 42% of employees report feeling burnt out. Which makes sense, since most employees are jumping from platform to platform, communicating about work, searching for information, and hunting down updates. Employees report spending about 33% of their day on the job they were actually hired to do. But there’s a solution.
According to the Automation Now & Next Report, done in collaboration with Automation Anywhere, 61% of organizations are turning to automation to help alleviate the burden that staffing issues have caused. But it’s not stopping there. Over the next year, 94% of respondents say shifting employees to higher value work is a strategic priority. And 70 percent of our respondents estimate at least 30 percent of regular work activities in customer service, sales, marketing, finance, human resources, and IT could potentially be automated. That’s 30% of an employee’s day that could be spent on work that is more meaningful, strategic, or important to the success of the business.
And we can be sure that automation will be accompanied by greater use of AI, immersive tech like AR, VR, and the Metaverse, and of course this will ratchet up the needs for greater cybersecurity investments. We will see these trends take shape immediately and continue to gain momentum as companies turn to technology pervasively to fuel continuous transformation.
Getting Strategic for the Future
Finding success in the future of work is going to require strategy. The one spot where we see businesses pushing back a bit on employees: the issue of app sprawl. At the start of the pandemic, organizations adopted technologies at rapid pace, often allowing employees to use whatever tool(s) that worked for them to get the needed work done. This led to a large app sprawl in the workplace. With app sprawl comes fragmented and disjointed data, as well as huge potential for security breach. Those are issues no company wants to deal with moving forward. What we’re seeing now is that organizations want to limit the number of devices and apps employees using to making monitoring and securing those devices easier. According to our report with Microsoft, more than 75 percent of respondents shared that they strongly or somewhat prefer to use a holistic solution for cross-team or cross-app collaboration.
Recognizing what works and what doesn’t is called learning, and it’s clear that many companies are still doing that hard work to try to find the right balance for companies and employees both. A shift to hybrid and remote work allowed employees to have greater work/life flexibility — something they have no intention of giving up in the future. According to the State of Remote Work report, 25 percent of employees would quit their jobs if they couldn’t work remotely, and almost half would take a pay cut to continue to work remotely at least part-time. This trend is not going away. In fact, our research showed that more than half of those surveyed expected up to 50 percent of their workers to continue working from home full time for the next year. The number slightly dipped to 49 percent when asked about the next three to five years.
Point being: the future of work is hybrid. The future of work is employee-led. To succeed at work in the future, businesses must follow suit. This means finding technologies that make their lives easier and finding better ways for employees to work. Doing so will require strategy and listening to the unique needs of your employees. But if done right, your business will find success easily in the future of work.