2020 has been quite the roller-coaster ride. Unsurprisingly, the events that unfolded left us with much uncertainty about the future. Here at Open Sourced Workplace, we answer your questions by interviewing thought leaders and workplace experts.
What are some questions we have about work, and what developments do we need to look out for in the future? Our uncertainties generally stem from the pandemic and our eagerness for it to end. We are also concerned about how it could affect our jobs in the long-term. Lastly, we’re curious about which paradigm shifts we’ll witness.
It’s common to feel isolated during a global pandemic. After all, we’re forced to stay at home and keep our distance from others. Nonetheless, there is comfort in knowing that we are still in this together. We have similar fears and questions. With this in mind, here are 50 questions asked in 2020:
The only constant in life is change. Nothing is ever static. The paradox of change is that we want it to happen, but we simultaneously resist it. In a discussion with Neil Usher about change, we review the importance of accepting change. Neil sees it as an overriding discipline and an inevitable part of organizations.
Our collective thoughts and the whole world as we know it is changing. We start to gear towards concepts that will stand the test of time. These include constructing buildings that last hundreds of years and software that can adapt to the future. The key to progress is having an effective feedback loop and open dialogue for improvement.
Iterative change is the way to surviving and thriving in uncertain times. As Neil emphasizes, “We have to regard every workplace as a perpetual experiment. We have to make sure that it lives and grows with us.”
The following are questions about shifts in the workplace we’re all curious about:
The key driver of change in 2020 was technology. The pandemic only accelerated our reliance on it, and it is now fully integrated into our daily lives. It has also changed our perspectives on our work environments. With this in mind, Neil emphasizes that our response to organizational changes should be no different from our response to personal changes. We need to be open to opportunities while keeping in mind the risks.
First, you have to determine what success is for you. You’ll be able to do this by clearly mapping out your company’s goals, objectives, and metrics. In an interview with Luc Kamperman, we find out that there are different metrics for success. It all depends on your organization’s priorities. It can be based on employee’s well-being, managers’ effectiveness, productivity, team management, and the like. Overall, high people engagement and client satisfaction are a few indicators that you are on the right track.
Asynchronous communication means people are interacting at different times. Ryan Anderson shares that there should be a better balance between asynchronous and synchronous communication, saying that relying purely on synchronous communication is too taxing. Therefore, it’s important to identify the areas where a team can opt for asynchronous communication. For one, it’s much more practical and respectful of timezones. Through various communication platforms, people from different countries can work on the same project. Asynchronous communication also takes the pressure off having to deliver feedback on the spot. Instead, it allows people the time to mull on ideas and be creative. Team members are then able to provide better quality outputs.
The pandemic compelled companies to think of creative solutions to deliver their services. It provided industries new opportunities to explore. For example, the real estate industry had to shift to providing virtual tours to prospective clients. They also had to ensure that their properties had proper air ventilation and social distancing measures in place.
Jonathan Schultz shares that the real estate industry is currently examining how they can provide better services. They are in the process of digitizing the real estate business to expedite processes soon. They do this in the hopes of addressing their customers’ new needs.
The majority of the industries most affected by the pandemic include oil, transportation, the real estate, and corporate. Airlines are the most negatively impacted in the transportation industry.
Balancing work and life has been a big challenge even before the pandemic. Now, the biggest challenge is being productive at work while still maintaining a healthy work-life boundary. Productivity fell for some remote workers, especially millennials and new hires. Phil Kirschner attributes this to them still finding their footing in the professional setting. Furthermore, younger hires are less likely to have the resources to have a designated work area at home. They may be sharing an apartment with three other roommates or are perhaps forced to work on the kitchen table. Beyond this, onboarding and mentoring for new hires is more challenging online.
Change management is a systematic approach to changing something in an organization. Cristina Herrera says that a common misconception about change management is that it is arbitrary. However, effective change management is deeply rooted in science and statistics. The process shouldn’t be taken lightly. Change management can significantly impact entire organizations, up to the last individual. Essentially, change management is providing your employees a home advantage through your strategy. Through this, you make sure that they achieve success.
Change is something humans resist, even if it’s something that will positively impact them. Hindrances can come from either the employees or the management. So Cristina believes it’s important to see if a certain change applies to your organization’s needs. You should do this by using reliable data and science. Next, share the advantages of the initiative to better convince the people of the organization.
Neil says that the best way to approach change is through iteration. In his experience, everything should flow, and nothing is ever really started or finished. Have a flexible plan. Let it evolve naturally. By doing this, you ensure better outcomes for stakeholders. Furthermore, you allow for a better feedback loop.
The shift towards remote work has exposed flaws and opportunities to the way organizations operate. As we start from scratch, we now realize which processes are necessary and which are needless bells and whistles. Neil suggests that we should focus on the essentials of an effective workplace first. He likens it to how a software constantly updates itself from a minimum viable product.
Employees are the ones who are directly impacted when there are changes in an organization. As such, it’s important to obtain their feedback and suggestions. When employees feel as if they are active participants, they tend to be more motivated to work. Consulting employees on future changes also ensures that plans will be more inclusive and concrete.
All the changes we are going through today were not borne from an instant. Instead, they have been a result of actions and events in the past. In the same way, our future outcomes are going to depend on what we do today. We have to remind employees that, as the law of conservation of energy states, nothing is ever added or destroyed. Changes occur only as a result of a flow of actions. Whatever we do never really vanishes but only becomes something else.
As much as the pandemic crippled some businesses, there are silver linings to advance workplace strategy. As Mike points out, we found out that working remotely is possible. Employees enjoyed much more freedom and control. They are better able to manage their time and their commitments. Through this, some have reported an increase in productivity. Nonetheless, implementing rigorous guidelines while not being too overbearing is key to cultivating a culture of trust in the digital workplace.
To Ryan, you first need to identify the experiences the workforce is missing. From there, companies can create prototypes to change work settings. Note that this is a trial and error process. Companies need to look for the set-up that works best for their organization and people. As companies begin to implement enterprise work-from-home programs and hybrid models, some concerns may arise. These include employee well-being and ergonomics, real estate, tax, accounting fees, and legal implications such as jurisdiction and governance.
Short-term strategies may have worked in the past, but not anymore. If we stick to the same old approaches, we waste resources. This is why we have to get back to basics. The pandemic is the perfect opportunity to be in our purest state. We can rethink what we need from our workplace. With this, Neil introduced the concept of the “Minimum Viable Workplace.” This approach entails building what you need at present and then maneuvering from there.
Organizations are often fixated on the certainty of the outcome. They should instead be open to alternative solutions. Whichever workplace strategy you believe works best for the organization; it’s important to be open to change. Doing this allows you to adapt well to the future.
Before the pandemic entered the global scene, workplace operations were fairly straightforward. Businesses and individuals operate under a fairly linear process. They go to the office, perform their assigned tasks, and return home to rest in preparation for the next day. However, COVID-19 forced organizations everywhere to adapt to a virtual workplace. If anything, the pandemic catalyzed the future integration of technology and remote work systems.
In our discussion with Chris Dimming, he talks about anthropology in workplace strategy. We also touch upon what to expect in the future in terms of work trends. Understanding human behavior has always been at the forefront of improving businesses. But the future of work entails much more emphasis on analyzing relationships.
For organizations to grow and thrive in the future, they have to observe employee behavior. Organizations can do this through surveys, interviews, or specialized software. Knowing which collaboration tools to use, how to stimulate interaction, and how to gather information systems are important to the future of work.
With these in mind, here are some questions asked about the future of work:
There is still uncertainty whether the future of work will be remote, back at the office, or a mix of both. We know for sure that we can’t simply revert to a time where we don’t make use of technology. The digital world has brought us asynchronous communication, video conferencing, and work management software. Furthermore, Chris Herd mentions some notable statistics about where employees want to work. 90% don’t want to work in the office full-time, while 50% don’t want to work in the office at all. And so, companies need to make some necessary adjustments to address these trends. However, keep in mind that where employees work is also dependent on the nature of their work. For example, those who handle sensitive information, such as lawyers and accountants, may need a dedicated office to work in. On the other hand, those in marketing and advertising can take advantage of the work-from-anywhere set-up. Doing so also gives the company a bigger pool to hire from.
With anthropology, we can see trends in workplace behavior that help us determine the best path forward. A major strategy in assessing the behavior of employers and employees is through the qualitative method. Surveys and interviews are used to search for patterns of interactions and offer thematic explanations to the subjects’ actions. The results can ultimately help organizations craft more effective policies.
Neil Usher identifies the triple bottom line as people, planet and organization. These factors affect each other. And so these three must be addressed when we make decisions concerning the workplace. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to satisfy all three equally. There are trade-offs to every decision. The challenge for companies is to strike a balance that works for them as they emerge post-pandemic.
Both concepts are concerned with understanding how organizational culture emerges in a professional setting. Collaboration is a relational process with great emphasis on networks. This should be the primary goal of the workplace. On the other hand, culture can be shaped by both external and internal forces. It can come from the top-down or the bottom-up. Nonetheless, leadership plays a huge role in how culture is cultivated. This is an important point to ponder on the future of the workplace.
Luc Kamperman tells us that we are now in a unique position to slow down, rethink, evaluate, and learn. It was necessary to adapt quickly during the early stages of the pandemic. But we should reexamine where we stand as we venture forward into the future. Rather than immediately thinking about where to conduct work, we should take an activity-based approach. We must focus on our desired outcomes and the activities that will lead us to this outcome.
A common misconception about the hybrid model is that it is uniform. However, hybrid offices all differ. You can find different locations and proportions depending on your needs. However, Chris Diming notes that hybrid offices may pit employees against each other. This is why organizations need to see if the hybrid model applies to their needs. It’s all a matter of seeing if the benefits outweigh the possible drawbacks.
Luc Kamperman notes that pre-pandemic, we primarily progressed linearly. The uncertainties and chaotic nature of the pandemic challenged this idea. We are now learning how to react to scenarios as they come. There is now a premium placed on being flexible. The adaptive change loop is an idea of constant observation, reflection, and sense-making. Moving forward, we have to learn to apply this agile and iterative process to the industry we belong to.
One of the exciting developments in technology is the invention of netnography. This is essentially a digital version of ethnography. It mostly uses online marketing research techniques to provide information on behavior. It discovers how people organize, collaborate, and use remote platforms to adapt to new working conditions. To know more about new tech, read our article entitled How Will Emerging Tech Shape Post-Pandemic Offices.
Ethnography is the study of the people in a close environment. It focuses on learning how culture emerges in a particular space. And so it will help us understand the behavior dynamics of people in different working conditions. Through this, organizations can know if working from home is the best avenue going forward.
Cristina Herrera says that the term “workplace of the future” feels detached and singular. It’s as if everything boils down to a mere location. This is why she prefers using "workplace of the futures". This term refers to the collective intelligence and experiences the new generation brings. In the “futures of work,” there is a greater emphasis on the core of the workplace- the people and there will be many iterations.
Discussions about the future of work tend to revolve around where the actual work will be done. However, we miss an essential component of a workplace––the human element. We need to focus more on how our decisions affect the employees. We can set our sights on the impact they will bring and the expectations and priorities that come with it through this.
Chris Diming explains that in social network analysis, we look at workers' conversations through digital platforms. These platforms include SNS, email, messaging apps, and other media used in remote conditions. Through quantifying these interactions, we can determine the relationship between people.
Neil discusses how balance is a feature of the elemental workplace. Not everyone is optimistic about the productivity we have in our homes. As such, we must be open to other proposed changes in the workplace. One thing’s for sure; it’s going to be iterative and emerging.
Chris Diming explains that data from social network analysis shows social capital emerging within the space. We first find how people use this space and collaborate in the environment. Then, we can develop strategies to improve remote working conditions.
Alexandra Romero talks about some health regulations that can impact our work. A balance between confidentiality and safety is an ethical dilemma that companies face daily. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) enforces anti-discrimination laws. But they excluded COVID-19 as it is a clear risk of substantial harm to other employees.
The pandemic has significantly affected employment opportunities. And the vaccine is set to be a game-changer. As vaccines roll out, employers will have to decide if there should be full disclosure about the state of vaccination in their organization. Ultimately, there is a long way to go before a robust vaccination policy can be implemented. Here are several questions you might have about trends and opportunities during this time:
Personality can often measure job performance. Therefore, hiring managers make sure that the people that they’re employing measure up to their company’s standards. However, this can be quite challenging. Barbara Hyman explains that a company can address this problem through a formula predicting personality traits. This formula comes from data from thousands of job applicants who completed interviews and personality tests. Using technology, an algorithm to infer a prospective hire’s personality is created. Through this, companies can recruit talent into their organizations.
Aside from its convenience, it can eliminate bias. Some subjective biases include age, gender, marital status, and race. Human Resources can access the technology for predicting personality traits through mobile phones and desktops. Barbara likens this to going to a blind interview. It’s more equitable across the board and ensures that the best candidate for the position is chosen.
Tech companies as a whole can’t retain talent while reducing salaries. At least to the extent of what exactly they want. If tech employees can work anywhere, then tech employers can recruit anywhere. Local employees have to compete with hundreds of other talents from around the world. And so, it’s unsurprising that salaries must be competitive as well.
If employers do not have competitive pay, they can improve their workforce culture. For example, they can provide extended time off, no work on Fridays, or even mental health breaks as compensation.
In some ways, it will be. Chris Herd mentions the analysis of Wework IPO Prospectus. It says there are around 255 million jobs globally that will shift from office-based settings to remote labor. And this number is quickly accelerating due to COVID-19. In 10 to 15 years, around 80 to 130 million people will be working remotely.
The use of virtual working platforms is the most notable technological trend. Most companies use platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and other video messaging apps for meetings. These apps also ensure that there is a continuous flow of information. Furthermore, there are also productivity platforms such as Slack. Some applications offer virtual spaces for employees to use during their productivity time.
It gives employees more flexibility of choice. They do not want to be home full-time, and at the same time, they do not want to spend extra hours in the office. Having a virtual space motivates the employees to work in an environment of their liking. Using applications like these can also foster better collaboration among team members.
Elisa Konik explains that there will always be migration in areas where there are significant housing shortages. However, during the pandemic, suburban housing markets experienced an incredible surge in demand. This demand was brought about by people needing more space to work at home. This is further facilitated by the fact that tech employees can work from anywhere.
Ken Van Someren emphasizes that focusing on results will create highly stressful environments. He said this is especially true for people working in remote areas. When hiring, we must not view employees as commodities and instead prioritize their well-being.
Andrew Mawson shares that organizations that inhibit conditions for social cohesion also restrict innovation and creativity. In this type of working environment, colleagues cannot challenge each other constructively. As such, it’s important to build a company culture wherein colleagues are comfortable with each other. They should be able to share and challenge each other’s opinions without being hurt.
Happy employees are 13% more productive employees. It’s important to engage with your employees. Ask after their well-being or their day-to-day. Create bonds with them. Research indicates that unengaged employees potentially underperform compared to highly engaged ones. To read more about productivity, check out our article Should We Redefine What It Means To Be Productive?
Karen Gill believes that there is a need for empathy, kidness, and thoughtfulness. In doing so, employers can motivate employees. Continually check on their physical and mental well-being. Furthermore, Karen strongly urges people to find ways to be social, even virtually. After all, happy employees are productive employees. To read more about productivity, check out our article Should We Redefine What It Means To Be Productive?
Andrew shares that there are six factors. These are social cohesion, trust, information sharing, perceived supervisory support, vision and goal clarity, and external communication. In particular, social cohesion and trust are important in creating a productive workforce. Leaders must proactively create opportunities for social cohesion and trust to grow in their teams.
Jonathan Schultz sees safety, health and wellness as important amenities in any place people go. And this will certainly remain the case as we move on post-pandemic.
Jonathan Hensley identifies four opportunities for employers in the COVID-19 era. First, they must make sure to protect their employees and customers. Next, they should think about how they can improve workflows. Employers need to examine the relevance of their current workflow. They must also see if they need to adopt new tools and technologies to streamline processes. Through this, companies will be able to streamline communications. Employers need to know how to mitigate risks and respond to changes.
Jonathan discusses that communication with your employees is essential in crafting labor policies. For example, protective policies for nurses, specifically regarding their protective equipment, were changing weekly. Dialogues with hospitals and their employees created up-to-date and relevant policies. Leadership should make their employees part of the change process. When employees are engaged in the process, it’s easier to adopt proposed changes.
Alexandra Romero says it will depend on the specific facts of an individual situation. Employers have to provide religious and disability-related accommodations. However, applying these may result in undue hardship to the organization. So it’s possible that instead of employers mandating their workers to get a vaccine, they will strongly encourage them to do so.
The news about the existing vaccine suggests that there is now some clarity to the future of work. Businesses and the other industries can now prepare and execute delayed plans. Mark Gilbreath hopes that the arrival of the vaccine can now allow people to think long-term. They should start creating a system of vaccine distribution in their companies.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, you have a right to refuse to engage in work that’s unduly dangerous without the fear of retaliation. However, this act is quite challenging for employees to use. Employees first have to show that there is an imminent risk of serious injury and death. They also have to prove that they have told their employers about the situation, and the employers didn’t do anything. Only then can they refuse work. It is, therefore, the responsibility of management to create a safe workplace.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and various state agencies indicate that the best immediate practice for companies is to start contract tracing efforts. This is necessary to determine the extent of exposure. Employers must identify who the employee in question came into contact with. Afterward, keep them away from the workplace and ensure that they have not contracted the illness themselves.
Liability shield for businesses is still a topic being discussed on Capitol Hill. This is so that businesses don’t have to fear the threat of lawsuits. It’s challenging for potential plaintiffs to establish liability. It can be difficult to figure out and determine where an individual contracted the virus.
The importance of vaccines cannot be emphasized enough. Vaccines will particularly be helpful to employees who live with immunocompromised persons. However, not everyone may want to take the vaccine.
Some hurdles in vaccination policies are accommodating those who have religious or medical objections. Each employee is a unique case. Employers must address the needs of these cases competently.
Businesses have to strike a balance between the needs of the organization and the employees. They have to analyze whether mandatory vaccination is truly important in their line of work. They can also see if there are possible workarounds to strict vaccine measures.
Shifting to remote set-ups and the virtual workplace may be a more inclusive approach. To illustrate the need to adapt to remote work eventually, here are 50 Reasons Why the Future of Work is Work from Anywhere. Alexandra emphasized that “one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic has been this lack of certainty.” Hopefully, the vaccine can move us to a place where we have a handle on our timeline for returning to normalcy.
If you would like to support Open Sourced Workplace:
Absolutely. Despite 2020 being a struggle for most, the new year provides plenty of opportunities to recover. You just have to prioritize:
• Employee safety
• Adapting to the environment
• Focusing on productivity
• Compliance with regulations
• Being cost-effective
Organizations have to balance employee accommodation and occupational health and safety. As an employer, keep in mind that your employees are humans that need compassion and empathy. As an employee, ensure productivity and positive contribution while still prioritizing your overall well-being.
Many thanks to all the thought leaders and industry experts who contributed to Open Sourced Workplace in 2020. Here is a list of all those who contributed in 2020.
Alexander Romero - Associate at Arent Fox
Andrew Mawson - Owner, Advanced Workplace Associates Ltd.
Andrew Segal - Boxer Property
Barbara Hyman - CEO PredictiveHire.com
Chris Herd - Founder & CEO @ Firstbase
Chris Diming - Workplace Anthropologist / Design Researcher
Cristina Herrera - Innovator, Strategist & People-Centered Change Enablement Partner
Eduardo Gomez - Co-Founder at Emitwise
Elisa Konik - Americas Chair at Cushman & Wakefield Tech Practice Group
Greg Lipper - Global Operational Excellence & Client Success Consultant
Ira Wolfe - Terrified and fascinated by VUCA-level change | Millennial in a Baby Boomer Body | Future of Work Global Thought Leader
Jonathan Schultz - Co Founder and Managing Principal at Onyx Equities
Jonathon Hensley - Author, Speaker, Co-Founder & CEO at EMERGE, Digital Transformation & Product Leader
Karen Gill - Program Manager | Change Management | Workplace Strategy | Employee & Client Experience | Future of Work Transformation
Katherine Huh - Digitizing Real Estate at PwC & Leading Innovation for Workforce of the Future
Ken Van Someren - Wellbeing & Performance - KvS Performance Ltd
Kimberly Wachen - Arent Fox Partner
Kyle Tooke - Global Director of Sales at ThoughtWire
Luc Kamperman - Managing Partner at Veldhoen + Company Inc.
Mark Bloom - Partner at Arent Fox, and Co-Leader of the Construction Group
Mark Gilbreath - CEO/Founder LiquidSpace
Michael P Davidson - Managing Director - Head of Global Corporate Real Estate, JPMorgan Chase & Co
Mike Petresky - Workplace Innovator | Asset Champion | Podcaster | Speaker | FM Innovator
Neil Usher - Chief Workplace & Change Strategist @ GoSpace AI | Author of 'The Elemental Workplace' (2018) and 'Elemental Change' (2020) | Blogger
Nellie Hayat - Head of Workplace Transformation // Future of work advocate // Thought leader & Public Speaker // Community builder
Nora Fenlon - EVP Sales & Marketing at VIA Inc.
Paul McVeigh - Premier League footballer and Expert in Elite Performance
Phil Kirschner - Workplace Strategy, Change Management and Employee Experience Leader @ WeWork, JLL and Credit Suisse [philkirschner.com]
Rich Berliner - In-Building Wireless Expert and Influencer. Connecting CRE Professionals to Wireless and Tech Solutions.
Ryan Anderson - VP of Global Research & Insights at Herman Miller
Stuart Commins - Director, Colliers International
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