By Louise Mowbray, Managing Director, Mowbray by Design
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler, Futurist & Author
“I’m going to work, I’m at work or I’m working” used to be rooted in something physical, something tangible. Work was a place that had working hours, people, culture, water coolers and big corner offices for management. Interestingly, today we are beginning to redefine work as an activity rather than a place, and it’s no surprise considering the eighteen months we’ve all been through.
That’s a big shift in our collective behaviour and it seems we’re not prepared to walk it back, as we’ve witnessed over the last couple of months with pushback from employees around the world.
Our relationship to work is changing and it’s not just the practicalities of ‘working’ – it’s our collective awareness of a system that no longer serves us. A system designed for people who have minimal parenting responsibilities, who can afford to live close to the office and are measured in industrial style ‘productivity’ terms.
The shared vulnerability we have all experienced over the pandemic has fundamentally shifted our appreciation of who we are and how we might thrive as ‘whole’ human beings.
“Before the pandemic, we encouraged people to ‘bring their whole self to work,’ but it was tough to truly empower them to do that. The shared vulnerability of this time has given us a huge opportunity to bring real authenticity to company culture and transform work for the better.” Jared Spataro, CVP, Microsoft 365
We are becoming more aware of the need for a more agile, mutable approach to work and life. And we know that the minute the majority of people change their awareness, the rules that govern our actions and behaviours begin to change too.
“At the moment when we bend the beam of collective attention back onto our own process and when we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and the eyes of the whole, then we begin to unfreeze the hardened state of social reality into a more fluid state that allows us to reimagine and reshape reality as needed.” Otto Scharmer: Ten Lessons from Covid for Stepping into the Decade of Transformation
Work: It’s a Collaboration Hub
For knowledge workers, we need to reimagine and redesign the office as a collaboration hub rather than a place of day-to-day work. And no, we’re not talking about the crowded collaboration spaces in offices of old, rather a redesign of our workspaces to bring people together to address some of the negative effects of working from home.
With little opportunity to bump into people in the office, people and teams have become much more siloed, which has limited our ability to build our near and distant networks and to spark innovation. We must actively seek out new ways to foster the social capital, cross-team collaboration and spontaneous idea-sharing that’s been the driving force in workplace innovation for decades.
So just how many people want to work remotely and how remote is remote, exactly? The findings from PwC’s latest Workforce Pulse Survey are interesting: 22% of employees are planning or considering a move more than 80 km away from their core office and another 10% have already made such a move since the start of the pandemic.
This naturally gives organisations a wider geographic talent pool and better retention tools. It also presents a few challenges including how to incentivise employees to come into the office for significant occasions and in some countries, tax and reimbursement policies.
The reality is that talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world. On LinkedIn, remote job postings have increased more than five-fold during the pandemic, which is having a profound impact on the overall talent landscape.
With all this focus on location, we’re also hearing much about pay cuts for remote workers. Google, Facebook and Slack have said they will cut people’s salaries should they decide to work from home. On the other hand, Reddit, the message board site and Zillow, the property marketplace have announced they will pay people the same whether they work from home or the office.
It’s always interesting when a ‘system’ is given a good shake. On the upside, whatever the outcome, this is a huge opportunity for more transparency over pay in general. More importantly, it’s a rare window to shift the axis of equal pay to support the business case for diversity, which is now stronger than ever.
Will we use this opportunity to right some of the inherent wrongs in our current systems – or let it slip away amid the noise of location, location, location?
As we think more deeply about hybrid work, corporate culture and what drives us, we’re faced with a myriad of questions.
Our corporate cultures are so much more than a common mission, vision and a set of values. They’re a system of beliefs and behaviours we encounter and enact with, day-to-day.
Culture frames how we experience our organisation and our place within it. It reflects how we show up and get things done. Its power lies in creating and nurturing a sense of belonging and a deeper, meaningful connection to a greater purpose.
The pandemic and a new era of hybrid working have forced us all to step back, re-evaluate and reimagine cultures we want to be a part of. Employers need to accept the stark reality of a widening disconnect between how they and their employees see the future.
In the push to establish some sense of normalcy, employers are focused on logistical solutions that give them a sense of control including the number of days in the office, collaboration tools and policies on pay levels to mention a few. However, we need to accept there is no ‘new normal’ in sight and it’s not a destination to be relentlessly pursued.
Today, Microsoft research shows that 41 per cent of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year, with 46 per cent planning to make a major pivot or career transition.
If we’re not able to meet employees where they are and embark on co-designing a future they want to be a part of, we’re going to suffer the effects of the widening chasm between what people want and what’s on offer.
Right now, as we think more deeply about culture and what truly drives us, we’re clearly faced with many more questions than answers. Where should we spend our time, energy and money? How can we create diverse, regenerative cultures to support the future we are all co-creating? What are the mental models leadership teams need to create cultures we want to be part of in a hybrid world?
The battle over shaping post-pandemic corporate culture has well and truly begun.
A number of big tech companies, including Google, Salesforce, Facebook and Amazon have already gravitated toward a hybrid model. On the other hand, Spotify is still offering employees the opportunity to work from anywhere they like as they believe it allows people to do their best “thinking and creating”
In stark contrast, last month The Washingtonian’s editorial staff stopped work after Catherine Merrill, CEO of Washington Media, penned an op-ed column saying corporate managers have “a strong incentive” to demote employees who don’t return to their offices.
She went on to suggest that remote workers can’t participate in office life and associated activities like “helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone’s birthday – things that drive office culture.”
Investment banks are also on a drive to get bankers back to the office with Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan taking a heavy-handed approach in recent months. There are some practical reasons for this sector to be (mostly) office-based, not least the threat of cyber attacks over insecure home office networks. However, the pushback is real and the sector is experiencing a great deal of attrition, forcing some banks to offer bonuses or perks to sweeten the deal.
There are vital lessons we can all learn as we witness this ‘push and shove’ playing out in real-time. Many leaders are still stuck in pre-pandemic thinking, attempting to reclaim, recapture and drive the benefits of the ‘hive mind’. To go back to office-based corporate cultures so strong as to collectively move as one and drive productivity.
The reality is, our experience over the pandemic has debunked the need for all people to return to the office in order to be productive. You can dig into the detail in McKinsey’s report; What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries.
When we get into the hybrid debate about the right ratio of days in the office to days at home, agile-thinking organisations will benefit from finding what’s right through rapid prototyping and experimentation. The key here is to communicate openly, collaborate with employees and try different options (2:3 / 3:2) in a given time frame. Things are moving way too fast to settle on decisions we make today and expect them to work in the near future.
The four-day workweek is also on the rise. Organisations (and some governments) in countries including New Zealand, Spain, Iceland, Denmark, Germany, the US, UK and Japan have been running experimental Pilot programmes with promising results.
Workers reported anywhere from a 25% to 40% increase in productivity, fewer sick days, a healthier work/life balance, less money spent on childcare, more family time and better morale. If this isn’t compelling evidence, we’re clearly missing the point.
Let’s consider another key factor, that of “Re-Entry Anxiety”.
It’s definitely a thing. We’re going to need to pay close attention to this emergent phenomenon when shaping our corporate cultures of tomorrow.
We’ve heard so much about the impact of the pandemic on our mental health. COVID-19 has been categorised as a mass trauma – when many people go through a hugely traumatic event at the same time.
“Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it… to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.” Alvin Toffler
“Re-Entry Anxiety” is showing up in all manner of ways including increased absenteeism, social avoidance and self-imposed isolation. Symptoms range from fear, distress, mistrust, depression and anxiety in social and public places. Not to mention worries about reinfection (despite being vaccinated), exposure to other illnesses, death and future disasters.
If we’re smart, we’ll take the three essential stages of recovery, which are establishing safety, remembrance and mourning, and reconnection into consideration and build them into our plans. Forewarned is, after all, forearmed.
“Anxiety is known to decrease work performance, reduce job satisfaction, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues, among other ills. For the global economy, the loss of productivity because of poor mental health—including anxiety—might be as high as $1 trillion per year.”
The Big Q’s
As we embark on reimagining and redesigning our office spaces, corporate cultures and ability to attract diverse talent, we first need to appraise where we are. Are we thinking in futures terms – do we have our big-picture lenses in? Are we agile and innovative? Are we creatively collaborating and challenging our own preconceptions through diverse perspectives? Are we dealing with the reality of what is, not what we hope it will be?
All good Q’s, which are well worth considering. If we’re not evolving, we too will surely suffer the consequences of pushback and attrition. Old-school thinking simply won’t work in a new world paradigm.