The Future of Work

user John Galvin

Return-to-office versus remote is becoming this generation’s defining debate about the future of work. The pandemic proved remote working was possible — and established not only the precedent but preference for many. But where work gets done should never really be the primary question of concern. It’s how work gets done and for whom that matters. How well and how much drives productivity and for whom is all about reaching the right market at the right time. So, what are the themes that are emerging among forward-thinking companies engaged in this debate about how work gets done? We looked to some of our clients and a few other companies for an answer.

Be clear on goals and operating principles

As companies look to the future, they need to be clear on their goals and their operating principles. Dropbox was one of the first companies to go virtual, announcing its policy on October 13, 2020. They established five goals for their policy: support the company mission, give employees freedom and flexibility, preserve human connection and company culture, sustain the long-term health of the company, and retain a learning mindset. “Instead of going back to the way things were or choosing an alternative we had reservations about, we created a new option that we think will help us live our mission of designing a more enlightened way of working and delivering products that make distributed work easier.”

Be deliberate about meeting in person

Few if any companies are saying they won’t get together in person again, they are being more deliberate about when to get together, where they get together and, in some cases, making it completely optional to get together. Calendly has given up its office space, embracing a fully virtual workforce but bringing them together for team meetings throughout the year. Other companies like Dropbox, are redesigning their workspaces for in-person collaboration. They call the new workspaces Dropbox Studios. And Instacart is reimagining its offices to meet their ”evolving teams’ needs with more creative collaboration spaces…building lounges, areas for cooking classes, auditorium spaces, brainstorm areas with digitally connected whiteboards for remote collaboration, and more.”

Be flexible, really flexible

Flexibility is becoming more of a rule than a guideline. Adobe has recognized that a one size fits all approach won’t work. Individuals and teams need to be able to decide what works best for them. And Brian Chesky recently announced that Airbnb employees can work from anywhere. They can work from the office or from home, whatever is best for them. They can live anywhere in the country and their compensation won’t change. And they have the flexibility to work from one of 170 countries up to 90 days per year. This level of flexibility allows them to expand their talent pool. In many respects, this is setting a new bar for flexibility.

Build a virtual model or toolset

It isn’t enough to adapt employees’ resources to a fully virtual model. What does virtual first look like? Dropbox has fully embraced a virtual workforce, including non-linear workdays, encouraging employees to design their own schedules, and providing an ecosystem of resources to support a virtual workforce and a Virtual First Toolkit. Adobe believes their “sweet spot is the intersection of technology and creativity” so they leaned in to design the workplace of the future and in support of that, they created a digital campus app, Adobe Life, to power the new hybrid workforce.

Look forward, not back

Companies that distinguish themselves are those that look forward, not back. They are talking to their employees about the future of work. Zoom is working to establish a level of trust with their employees; they are inquiring about what has worked over the past couple of years when they have been working remotely and working with them to determine the best approach for the future. And they are being candid about the complexities of these decisions and the need to experiment and learn.

What’s clear from these five themes is that the intention of these forward-thinking organizations is that their culture needs to extend beyond the bricks and mortar of a corporate headquarters into the experience of wherever their teams are working. Trust, engagement, collaboration, and creativity don’t inhabit a workplace any more than strategy, goals, results and performance do. Now is the time to look forward to the future of work to reimagine how people work and how they live, embracing what we have learned and being intentional and principled on what we design.

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