We often talk about the “future of work” as if it’s a destination; but the reality is that the future of work is already here. Technology’s impact on the remote and part-time workforce is transforming work culture right now. Are your managers prepared and ready to embrace this new work world?
The “future of work” is an umbrella term that encompasses everything from technology’s impact on work environment to changes in organizational structure, marketable skills, and government policy. Today, let’s focus on the five aspects that most impact your bottom line:
- Big Data
- Organizational Structure
Leadership in a competitive organization requires keeping track of all five.
The Positive Impacts of Remote Work
Global Analytics did a deep dive into the 2005-2014 American Community Survey (executed by the US Census Bureau) and found that 80 to 90 percent of the US workforce says they would like to work remotely at least part of the time. Currently 3.7 million people (2.5 percent of the American workforce) work from home at least part time—a number that’s sure to grow.
This attractive workplace benefit isn’t just the draw of working in PJs. Workers want flexibility to balance work and personal commitments, and prioritize it as much (if not more than) salary and benefits. Because of this, enabling staff to shift schedules and telecommute has a significant impact on retention and recruitment.
Remote work has also been shown to improve productivity and cut office expenses. Harvard Business Review studied Ctrip, a Chinese travel website, testing remote work by designating half of its employees as remote workers over a 12-month period. Not only did it save money, Ctrip reported that workers who stayed home showed 13.5 percent higher productivity.
The global market for talent has also been a significant incentive to allow remote employees. With valuable skills often in short supply locally, many businesses have turned to overseas professionals— and often at a more budget-friendly rate.
These shifts have transformed what it takes to be a successful manager, both in terms of communication and management skills, but also in how to set expectations. “They’re at their desk” isn’t a valid measurement of productivity anymore, especially when employees don’t share office space. Instead, expectations need to focus on goals and outcomes, and workers need to be equipped with a suite of tools that make communication and collaboration simple, whatever the distance.
Technology’s Impact on Productivity
Email is still cited as one of the top forms of communication by Americans. As much as we complain about our inboxes, we still use them—and for remote workers, they’re vital. But in a modern workplace, email isn’t enough.
With workers inside and outside office walls, companies must use technology that holds their teams together: real-time communication across devices, easy tools for collaboration and data sharing, and shared resources.
There are plenty of tools that can keep a team connected on a level that’s nearly as good as face-to-face, Google Hangouts and Skype being just two examples. By investing in paid videoconferencing tools such as Zoom or GotoMeeting, businesses can keep team members connected on a more reliable and secure level.
Another challenge is to manage projects and tasks in a way that enables remote and in-office personnel to work together seamlessly without a lot of extra email or admin time. Tools like Asana and BaseCamp help keep complex projects on track and organized. Evernote is another great tool, and for ongoing communications that save your inbox from overload, and it’s hard to beat the incredibly popular Slack.
No matter what technology you choose to handle workplace communications, it’s essential that you have a plan and that staff is comfortable using the tools and staying compliant.
Are You Using Big Data Yet?
Back in May, my friend Daniel Newman wrote a piece for Entrepreneur where he covered the use of big data outside of customer experience and sales. He was spot on when he said, “Many businesses, however, forget that our number one customer is our workforce.”
Businesses have the data on hand to better understand employees’ behavior, motivations, successes, and concerns. The challenge is to learn how to interpret the data that’s collected.
Instead of relying on HR personnel to report on employee triggers, data scientists or analytics professionals who understand how to interpret data can take the guesswork out of workforce management. If you know what you want to measure, and how to interpret the data, big data is your friend. Otherwise it’s useless, time consuming, and counterproductive. Hint: befriend big data.
Organizational Structure: The Change is Here
With the hype around the large Millennial generation, there’s a lot of talk about flat organizations with little or no hierarchy, where collaboration and “managing up” are part of everyday work life. Companies like Zappos are experimenting with a nearly flat work structure, dubbed “Holacracy.” Whether Holacracy works for them is yet to be determined, but it’s clear that the organizational hierarchy is becoming less defined.
There are no hard and fast rules for exactly how to structure an organization or department—each is unique with its own characteristics. It is clear that large, slow moving, siloed organizations are susceptible to disruption—and they may never see it coming. Companies that embrace a more streamlined, fast-moving culture are already reaping the benefits.
Developing and grooming leadership within an organization has long been a topic for managers, and it too has evolved with the changing workplace. Those with a Millennial mindset want different things from their leaders, and they want a seat at the table when it comes to decision making and strategy.
This new way of working means leaders no longer lead by directive—they lead by being inclusive, and by embracing technology and a more transparent work environment.
Business leaders have to be on their toes in this new world of work. Progressive companies are ahead of the wave and understand that you can’t wait around for the future of work—it’s already here. Preparing your leadership team for these changes can help you be one of the companies that excels in the new business world order.
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