What will the future of work look like?

The future of work is closer than you think.

As businesses prepare for post-pandemic operations, they’re actively seeking ways to retain the best parts of both office work and remote work. How exactly this shakes out will be unique to each business, but there are some overarching themes to the transition.

Flexibility is one. Employee happiness is another, as is creating and maintaining a more equitable workplace. Here’s a closer look at what’s defining — and transforming — the future of work.

Remote work

For starters, remote work isn’t going anywhere. It will simply morph into hybrid work models that combine in-office elements. This allows businesses to retain the perks of remote work — such as hiring the best talent regardless of location — while minimizing the challenges, like coworkers feeling disconnected from each other.

In the future of work, we can expect to see more flexible workspaces with unassigned desks that facilitate social distancing in the office and smaller workplace footprints overall to reduce overhead — and free up budgets.

These changes demonstrate how employers will most likely meet employees in a happy medium between remote and in-office work. 

After all, research from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company shows that up to 25 percent of the workforce in many large countries could work remotely three to five days a week without losing any productivity. Studies also show it’s what the vast majority of employees want.

Hands-off management

Many employees have had a lot more autonomy in the last year than ever before, and there’s no going back. That’s why behavioral analytics firm Hotjar predicts we’ll see more self-managed teams, which chart their own courses, define their own measures of success, and keep themselves on task.

While some managers may bristle at the idea of letting the inmates run the proverbial asylum, it’s actually been proven to boost productivity and to positively impact job satisfaction, which is, in part, why businesses are embracing it.

Freelancers

Along with the flexibility of remote work, businesses will continue to tap into freelance workers to quickly scale up as needed. ​​Freelancers are less expensive and come with less risk, in part because you’re only working with them over the duration of a particular project. 

They may also have more of an impetus to prove themselves to the clients they work with, so you could see superior results. That being said, they are less familiar with your brand than insiders and aren’t exclusive to your company, so you may have to compete with other clients for their attention.

Inclusivity

Extending a trend from recent years, inclusivity will remain a prominent goal for managers in the future of work. Inclusive teams boost performance by as much as 30 percent, so managers now clearly understand they have a vested interest in diversifying their teams. 

A diverse team is also more likely to be creative and won’t just rehash the same old ideas, helping brands reach an even broader audience.

This trend ties back to another marquis moment from 2020: the calls for social justice following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. But it’s also part of a larger movement toward systemic workplace change encompassing not just inclusion but also mental health, empathy, and work-life balance.

Smaller teams

Offices may not be the only thing at your job that downsizes in the future of work. Smaller internal teams make it easier to monitor productivity and to foster relationships among colleagues who are apart at least some of the time — two potential challenges of hybrid workplaces. As a result, you can expect to see many workplaces rethink their org charts.

It’s a concept pioneered by Amazon as the two-pizza rule: Meeting size is capped at the number of employees who can eat two pizzas. By limiting meetings — or teams — to only the employees who truly need to be there, you ensure everyone can contribute in a meaningful way.

Upgraded meetings

Speaking of meetings, “This could have been an email” is a popular saying for good reason. Historically, meetings take up a lot of time — even if they’re not always productive. In the new hybrid work era that retains the good and eliminates the bad of traditional in-office behaviors, we’ll likely see fewer meetings as a whole.

The ones that remain will be laser-focused on functions that can only be done in a group setting, such as brainstorming. Remember Amazon’s two-pizza rule when sending out invitations, and you may eventually even look forward to meetings.

Along with remote work, widespread acceptance of virtual meetings could yield a permanent decline in business travel, which is bad news for your frequent flier account. On the other hand, virtual meetings can often be just as productive, and they eliminate unnecessary travel. 

Plus, the cost savings could fund a new company-wide initiative like a team-building experience or an office upgrade.

Transparency

The future of work will be more transparent than ever before. That transparency includes cloud-based files and project management systems that are accessible to all, openness about salaries, and organization-wide communication, all of which facilitate remote collaboration, ensure parity, and foster bonds and growth.

Transparency is yet another way work has fundamentally changed for the better as the employer-employee relationship shifts from more of a parent-child relationship to that of trusted peers. Informed, empowered employees are happier overall, leading to enhanced productivity and retention.

Increased automation

Finally, expect to see increased adoption of automation — especially in workplaces like warehouses and retail environments that previously required close human contact. A July 2020 survey from McKinsey found that 83 percent of executives in the United States reported they were fast-tracking automation. 

Along the way, businesses are turning to simple tools to speed up labor-intensive jobs. That includes Jotform Approvals, which makes it easy to set up automated approval workflows.

A bright future

As we prepare for the next phase of work, some elements will be familiar, like remote work, empowerment, and inclusivity. Others, like smaller teams and fewer meetings, may require some adjustments. Either way, the dramatic changes of the last 18 months should ultimately yield better work for both employees and employers.

AUTHOR
A compliance geek of occupational health and safety standards. There are no work accidents, there is less precaution.

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