Five key steps to navigate the complexity of defining the future of work at your organization 

At WorkTechNY earlier this month, we heard a wide range of perspectives, predictions, and plans about the future of the office and the future of work. While instinct might compel people to channel a fortune teller to appear on stage to reveal our future, all of us at WorkTech wisely invested our attention to the speaker lineup, which offered a lively discussion and debate relevant to our own question, “Who owns how, when, and where work happens?”

Veldhoen + Company led an afternoon session, where we were joined by one of our long-term clients, Sun Life Financial, to discuss the approach that we are guiding their integrated Corporate Real Estate & Human Resources team through as they define their guiding principles for who owns work within their organization.

Our bottom-line takeaway: The future of work is not owned by HR, CRE/FM, or IT. It is not owned by the CEO, CFO, or CHRO. It is not owned by workplace technology. The future of work is a multi-layered, human-centric destination that is owned by every single person in an organization.

Who owns work in your organization?

Drawing from our experience with many organizations over the last 30 years, here are five ways we would help your team navigate the complexity to define or validate your guiding principles for the future of work:

1. Recalibrate your criteria for determining “appropriate” ways of working

For years, decades even, we have slowly increased our use of choice-based and flexible ways of working. Whether it is through flexible schedules, locations, or employment models, flexible working is not new to us. The underlying activity-based-working (ABW) principles have flourished and stood the test of time and industry over the past 30 years. Because in its core, ABW is a way of thinking and organizing more than anything else. What is new – what feels difficult – is the rapid and widespread acceleration of this recalibration.

What does your organization need to consider?

  • Are you making it more difficult than necessary to offer choice to your employees?
  • Have you rethought choice & flexibility in all its shapes and sizes, particularly for roles with limitations?
  • Do you have the right kind of data and insight to know what is possible?  

2. Review – critically – the harm of trying to define a future through legacy processes and behaviors

We are experiencing with our clients that flexibility is increasingly seen as a cornerstone to organizational agility. It is interpreted as a business strength rather than something that they must abide by to meet their talent pool. But it isn’t as simple as tacking on a flexible work policy to an existing framework. These adjustments require deep reflection. A flexible policy is an extension of your brand – saying you have a flexible policy isn’t enough. If it isn’t congruent with who you are as a brand and the values that you have, it will not lead to successful outcomes.

What does your organization need to consider?

  • How is the pursuit of flexibility being “undone” by inflexible legacy processes or blind spots?
  • Are you catering to senior leadership preferences or a risk-averse culture?
  • Does your workplace team (CRE, HR, IT, etc.) need an external partner to help you reflect and align the vision and guiding principles? 

3. Use your Guiding Principles as a “test” for every decision you make

Organizations must be aligned with taking an integrated, principle-based approach to how work happens. Doubling-down on these guiding principles will bring the greatest impact – or without it, the greatest threat – to your future of work strategies.

What does your organization need to consider?

  • How could you make your lives easier by having principles that act as a “test” for every decision you make?
  • How should you leverage these guiding principles for broader organizational transformation?
  • How should you structure agile prototypes for space design and behavior change that help you learn and pivot quickly?

4. Be a magnet, not a mandate

We’re watching a pendulum swing back-and-forth yet again: from prescribing a set number of days that people are required to be in the office, to full autonomy and choice whether to come to the office at all. As Kay Sargent from HOK alluded to in her WorkTechNY session,  “…people will need to feel like they’re safe. Giving them plenty of options about how they work and more control over their experiences in that space will relieve some anxiety.”

We believe each team and individual must have the ability to evaluate a work style that is best supportive of reaching their goals. Skeptics have raised concerns that flexibility and choice may lead to teams spending less time face-to-face and in turn decrease employees’ sense of team. However, the sense of team is not linked to space alone, but also to a behavioral and mindset context. As a result, teams often must develop new rituals to foster a sense of community.

What does your organization need to consider?

  • How are you sure that your data collection methods accurately convey what your workforce wants or needs?
  • How can your managers be better supported to enable activity-based choice and flexibility?
  • What types of shared team agreements will create stronger connections that are enhanced by, not a result of, physical proximity in an office?

5. Double-down on your investment in hybrid collaboration technology and training.

As Sam Dunn from Robin so eloquently stated during his WorkTechNY session, “The cost of getting team collaboration wrong is way higher than the cost of getting individual focus wrong.” Collaboration technology can have a profound, positive effect on the way we collaborate in every way.

What does your organization need to consider?

  • How should collaboration technology grow your capacity in ways that we haven’t yet imagined?
  • How should collaboration technology remove obstacles to connect, problem solve, and co-create?
  • How should you structure agile prototypes that help you learn and pivot quickly?

Although we can’t predict what our world will look like in the future, we do know the importance of relying on unwavering guiding principles as we continue to prototype, explore, test, and learn our way toward the workplace of the future.

Which areas are a challenge for your organization? Where do you need a partner to help you find your blind spots and move forward? Veldhoen + Company can help your team navigate through this complexity as you define or validate your guiding principles for the future of work. Contact us to learn more about the possibilities to define a better future of work at your organization.

For more about this project please contact Kristin Reed

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Navigating Uncertainty in The Future of Work