The Future Workplace Experience is all about empowering business owners and human resources departments to take advantage of disruptive new technologies, the gig economy, data-driven recruiting, personalized learning and more. New technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and more are coming to completely change the way that we work.
At the same time, though, they also offer unprecedented new opportunities for us to create a true experience in the workplace. Meister and Mulcahy point to companies like Airbnb, Cisco, GE Digital, Google, IBM and Microsoft, which are reinventing the future of work despite the business landscape that the authors say is “rocked by constant change and turmoil”.
The two authors clearly have a high pedigree, which is why you can have confidence going in that they’ve got something worthwhile to say. Jeanne C. Meister is a founding partner of HR executive network Future Workplace, as well as the bestselling author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop and Keep Tomorrow’s Leaders Today. Mulcahy, meanwhile, is a partner at Future Workplace and a coach on leadership effectiveness at Harvard Business School.
“The future is not built on one trend alone,” the authors say. “It is the simultaneous convergence of numerous trends, moving at various rates of change and impacting us and our organizations differently depending on our circumstances. Forward-looking organizations tend to have a formal and disciplined process for tracking trends to help them win in the marketplace. When we anticipate the future, we are essentially making assumptions about what will happen. The assumptions we make are our expectations of the trends we expect to see. We need to anticipate both expected and unexpected possible future states and be comfortable not having all the answers along our journey.”
The aim of this book is essentially to give people as many insights as possible into the trends that are coming and the rules that we can apply to ourselves to make sure that we’re taking advantage of them for our business. It’s good at what it does, and it should act as a timely call-to-action for all of us to remind us that the future is coming whether we’re ready for it or not. The only question is whether you’ll be taking action or whether you’re going to be left behind. And the answer to that is up to you.
Together, they say, “If you want to compete in the years to come, you have to meet the future now. The Future Workplace Experience is your playbook for taking your organization to the top of your industry.” Here’s how to go about doing just that.
The Future Workplace Experience has a simple layout that makes it a pleasure to read and a genuinely useful resource when it comes to transforming your company. That’s because it’s split predominantly into ten chapters highlighting the ten main rules that will help any company to prepare themselves for the inevitable disruption that’s coming their way. The majority of these rules also include models that you can use to roll out and measure initiatives across your company.
Ultimately, the advice from Meister and Mulcahy is so powerful because of the way in which it’s presented. They throw in a couple of extra chapters on top of the ten core rules, but it’s the rules themselves that make the book worth reading, as well as the models that they include within those chapters so you can take them away and apply them to your own business.
Let’s dive on in and take a closer look at each of those ten rules and what they mean to forward-thinking business owners. Be sure to read this list with a pen and paper so you can take notes on how to apply what you learn to your company.
The idea here is that we all want to do work that feels like it’s more than just a job. This is particularly true for millennials and even Generation Z, which will be entering the workforce in record numbers over the next 5-10 years. The authors suggest that five main factors go into creating a true experience in the workplace:
1. Cultural: Transparency, responsiveness, etc.
2. Technological: Smart technology, collaborative tools, etc.
3. Physical: Space, community, etc.
4. Intellectual: Learning, career development, etc.
5. Emotional: Flexibility, purpose-driven, etc.
The authors explain that workplaces manifest culture by design or default. In other words, to help to improve the physical aspects of the workplace experience, you have a responsibility to employees to design spaces that foster creativity and camaraderie. They suggest that there are four main categories of spaces in the workplace:
Engagement Spaces: Where employees go to do their best work
Production Spaces: Where employees go to get the job done
Toleration Spaces: Where employees avoid meeting or working
Restoration Spaces: Where employees go to recharge
As our workforces become more and more diverse and we face new challenges from remote working and the gig economy, the ability to be agile as a leader has never been more important. A big part of this comes down to flexibility, but the authors have also highlighted seven overall attributes that will be required for the leaders of the future. These include the ability to:
- Be transparent
- Be accountable
- Be intrapreneurial
- Be future focussed
- Be team intelligent
- Be inclusive
- Be a people developer
It’s never been more difficult to stay ahead of the curve of technological progress, and yet companies are expected to do this by default if they want to beat their competition. The idea behind this rule is that technology is a double-edged sword that can have both positive and negative effects on our businesses. They say that technology has four main transformative effects on the workplace experience:
1. Enabler: How do we enable our workflow?
2. Enhancer: How do we enhance our capabilities?
3. Advisor: How do we make better decisions?
4. Disruptor: What roles will be disrupted and automated?
Data is arguably the most powerful asset that we have in our marketing toolkits. The chances are that you’re already using data points from across your company to base your decisions on, whether we’re talking about the supply chain or we’re talking about the KPIs that sales and marketing teams measure their performance by. As always, they provide a model to help to guide us, which in this case is on the recruiting ecosystem:
- Manage Your Employer Brand: Intentionally build the employer brand
- Train Before Hiring: Gain early insights to vet candidates
- Use Smart Sourcing: Use analytics for targeted reach-outs
- Tap Employees for Referrals: Leverage existing connections for high quality referrals
- Be Transparent with Job Seekers: Encourage sharing on multiple touch points
Your company is only as good as its employees, which is why you should make it a focus to provide constant training. Going back to that very first rule, by providing training, you make it more likely that employees will be engaged with the work that they do and that they’ll want to stick around. They point to a comment from Randall Stephenson, the chairman and chief executive of AT&T, who said that his employees should be spending 5 to 10 hours per week learning online or they “will obsolete themselves with technology”. According to Meister and Mulcahy, companies can do this by following this five-step process:
1. Shift Mindset to On-Demand Learning: Are we ready to deliver personalized digital experiences?
2. Rethink the Vision for Learning: Why and how do we provide learning?
3. Expand Learning Opportunities: Are we offering the right choices?
4. Build Learning Partnerships: How do we scale?
5. Communicate the Value: Why, how and what gets measured?
This is arguably one of the most interesting chapters of the book because it breaks down what the workforce of the future is going to look like in terms of its demographics. It covers topics such as people staying in employment for longer periods of time and how to avoid conflict when younger employees are tasked with supervising older employees. Tapping into the power of multiple generations requires getting to know the demographic makeup of your work force and understanding what it is that they want from their jobs and how your company can help to meet those expectations.
Here, the authors break down the primary generations and their birth years and key attributes like so:
- Gen Zers (1994-2009): Super tech savvy, embrace diversity, globally connected
- Millennials (1982-1993): Confidence, competitiveness, workplace flexibility advocates
- Gen Xers (1965-1981): Independent, pragmatic, self-reliant
- Boomers (1945-1964): Equal rights generation, optimistic
- Traditionalists (Before 1945): Strong work ethic
It might seem as though building gender equality is just a matter of common sense, but you’d be surprised at how often companies fail to adhere to this rule. Part of that is because there’s a certain amount of inherent inequality in our society and some of it is subconscious, but you can pick up on it if you’re looking out for it and stop it from happening. An example of a subconscious bias is when YouTube engineers were working on a mobile app and couldn’t figure out why a certain percentage of videos were displaying upside down. It turned out to be because they’d been shot on mobile phones by left-handed people.
In fact, this chapter is notable because there’s no simple model for you to follow to ensure that your company is treating employees fairly. That’s because the route to equality looks different at every different company, depending upon the makeup of the workforce. They also point out that doing the bare minimum isn’t enough – after all, there’s no nationwide requirement in the United States for companies to provide paid maternity leave. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
The gig economy has been enabled thanks to the rise of the internet and remote working combined with a whole horde of millennials who want to take greater control over their lives and even to work while on the move. This is good news for companies because it enables them to keep costs down by hiring specific employees for specific tasks on short-term contracts instead of taking on a new employee full-time. The authors break down the five main types of gig economy workers like so:
1. Independent Contractors (36%): Work project to project. Self-employed.
2. Diversified Workers (26%): Portfolio of work. Income from both traditional and freelance work.
3. Moonlighters (25%): Freelance on the side (often at night) while a full-time employee.
4. Temporary Workers (8%): Often get work through a temporary staffing agency. Have a single employer.
5. Freelance Business Owners (5%): Self-employed individuals. Consider themselves both a freelancer and a business owner because they have employees.
This final rule is something that applies to every member of the company. The goal is to create a company culture which ensures that everyone is engaged with their work. Then, once they’re engaged, they need to be empowered to be able to make changes in the workplace, and given a budget to do so if necessary. It involves a certain amount of trust, but if you don’t trust your employees then you’ve got bigger problems to worry about.
Meister and Mulcahy say that workplace activists can lead positive change in three main ways:
- Recognize your job is not your job: Ask yourself, “What really is my job?”
- Reframe your job description: What do I include to help my organization succeed in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (otherwise known as VUCA) workplace?
- Rethink how to break HR: Which of our HR processes need to be reimagined for navigating the new world of work?
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