Re-Imagining the Future of the Office
Posted on 30th March 2021 at 15:44
We are entering a pivotal moment in human history and the change is already underway whether we welcome it or not….Covid has merely accelerated the trajectory we were already on. Recent research has suggested that companies and consequently leaders are going to have to get used to dealing with 66% of their workforce working remotely in various forms, over the course of their time within the company. 34% of the workforce are going to be in the office for less than 2 days a week with an additional 45% in the office for 3 days per week. That’s a staggering 79% of the workforce moving away from the traditional model of 5 days per week.
This poses significant leadership challenges. How does this new ‘freedom’ for employees impact on leadership control and does it contribute to more innovation, more performance and higher engagement? Are we better together or better apart? As humans are tribal by nature, are there some benefits to being apart -less gossip, less bitching, less time wasting perhaps?
How do organisations and Senior Leaders ensure that there is a common understanding of purpose, strategic direction and performance criteria? What are employees expectations around organisational culture and where do leaders need to focus their energies on building trust, loyalty and engagement when they don’t have the same level of one to one and physical connection with their teams? How important is the employee experience versus the human experience in the future of the ‘office’ and how much attention do companies need to pay to the this?
One of the fundamentals for Leaders is agreeing, articulating and managing common purpose vs personal purpose. The ability to articulate and explain the expected actions on collaborative intent – ‘what are we trying to achieve together and apart’? becomes even more crucial, as we face a paradigm shift in working models.
One of the traditional views and assumptions of some leaders, is that in order to be valued, respected and feel good about themselves, they need to have control. They need to be seen as the leading expert, guru and decision maker in order to help them manage their own ‘secure bases’. The expectations from their workforce, based on traditional leadership behavioural norms, is of having to have the answers to everything. If Leaders don’t have the answers to everything and the ability to articulate insightful, assertive, directions why are they in the position they are in and why are they being paid what they are being paid?
In addition to managing their own need for secure bases, in the future of the office, Leaders will be asked to operate in a digital environment where contact, discussion, performance reviews, difficult conversations, onboarding, collaboration, strategic planning etc will all be done digitally and many of their direct reports will have the same access to knowledge as they have. At the moment, we are in a hybrid environment of increasing needs for digital adeptness, development of open knowledge architecture and differing levels of understanding and insight, together with a lingering need to operate with analog processes. Leaders will be asked to operate in a world where their direct reports to a large extent know more than they do technically. Their role then becomes providing thought leadership, modelling behaviour and inspiring innovation.
The Impact on Future Leadership Expectations
Reclaiming the word leadership means leaders grasping the concept of giving up something valued – their sense of themselves and their identities as authorities and experts, in consideration of something more valued and more important, building trust, loyalty, engagement and motivation with team members whom they may never have met face to face physically. The role shifts to winning hearts and minds, when the same tools and interaction opportunities of social interaction are not available.
…. systems are changing and there is a need for individual transformation for leaders. The movement needed is part of the changing understanding of what is expected of leaders – attributes, behaviour, mindset is shifting. From present based physical to performance based ‘presence’. From a high physical contact to high trust environment.
Leaders will need to manage their own responses and those of their direct reports regarding accountability, responsibility, performance targets and quality of work, when they no longer have the same tools at their disposal. In the need for ‘expansion of trust’ where are the current ‘breach points’?
Leadership and Developing Trust
As Leaders explore the notion of trust – what is their intention? Is it control, performance, ego based or is it trust, quality of work and genuine engagement based?. In understanding the shift needed Leaders need to ask the question of themselves ‘What can I actually do about this? and ‘What is my role within it and how do I interact with it’?
Leaders also have a personal stake in this shift. They are increasingly aware of their own life purpose – as one colleague recently put it ‘the roundness of their own lives’ – their interaction with their families and their communities, the search for purpose and legacy. How do they build a legacy when they don’t have the same levers around power, control and authority? How can they understand a new purpose and become leaders for the new humanity where collaborative intelligence and collective wisdom becomes the metric they are striving for?
This model of leadership with it’s elements of vision and determination, does not mean any less authority, depth of knowledge or lack of a need for ruthless achievement of a vision. However, it does mean tuning into the system and what is required. To build new knowledge bases around the link between intelligence, compassion and intuition. The link between head, heart and gut. Logical capacity is not enough…..it no longer serves the purpose of dealing with the big questions of organisations or society. The new leadership conundrum is how do profit, people and performance enhance each other in both the commercial and natural environment.
Some of the The Key Leadership Questions
How do we operate globally at scale and at speed whilst being ‘geographically agnostic’?
Can we interact with willing clients without having to travel and have greater productivity and work life balance?
How to stay in touch with employees’ mental health and offer support whilst they are operating remotely and sometimes alone?
How to manage key research proprietary knowledge bases that will become virtual and distributed rather than in person and held with one or two key experts?
How to create a shared cultural experience that is not foisted on people – how to agree what that shared experience will be rather than direct it centrally?
How to balance productivity and fun in a way that is meaningful for team members, that moves beyond ‘cocktails on a Friday or team quizzes’.
How to create Quality Virtual experiences - extend high touch value, leverage more subject matter experts with one click and scale past geographical borders vs virtual platforms.
From a budgetary perspective (both time and investment…) how to move away from relying on short term expediency vs long term gain and what are the leverage points?
How to move beyond traditional degrees from the traditional bastions of knowledge to global bodies of knowledge of stackable mico credentials to upskill, reskill and new skill workforces?
How to equip leader’s need to balance quality of production and output with the need for life balance? Understanding the traditional norms of output will become obsolete over time and the need, not just to ensure sutainability, but regeneration as a key metric,will become a key differentiator for the younger generation entering into the workforce.
As the normal work patterns change and the work day becomes more flexible with the ability to choose time patterns, how do leaders replicate the normal social networks with the ability to work across a global landscape? How will be ability to do more work for longer due to digital sophistication, impact burnout levels? How does this impact on leadership intention and responsibility?
Skills that Leaders will need to develop:-
Need to manage difficult conversations remotely
Balance mental health needs due to isolation against needs for performance
Ensure trust is built virtually and that colleagues don’t trigger each other because of throw away lines
Pick up on tension, anxiety, gameplaying and manipulation when remote?
Consciously pay attention to the culture they are trying to create and develop the ability to do that both remotely, physically and within a hybrid model so that experiences are as universal as possible?
Ensure isolation and miscommunication is not interfering with productivity, collaboration and relationships. Leadership impact will hinge on ensuring hearts and minds are engaged.
Equip managers to deal with unknown biases depending on proximity, visibility, involvement in particular projects, background, education, global exposure, reward system metrics
Flex work practices away from being present to understanding the importance of presence and outcomes………………………presence around being fully engaged and outcomes being delivered irrespective of work practices (e.g once the work is delivered to standard required, letting go of ‘normal routines’ of team members)
Make changes to selection, promotion decision and access points with a greater understanding of talent needs that is grounded in their leadership knowledge rather than relying totally on HR.
The ability to hire from different countries by choice, at scale and at speed to tap into diverse talent pools.
The importance of a common understood culture will become imperative. Employees will need to both understand, embody and ‘live’ the values of the company without the same touchpoints and sense making forums of old. Leaders will need to actually demonstrate how values are honoured by demonstrating them themselves through practical modelling of behaviour?
Leaders will need to understand and deliver on diversity and inclusion opportunities with different access points. Reach out to people and create experiences and gain access to budgets for hearts and mind engagement.
They will need to develop the skill of story telling so that they can capture verbally and articulate strongly their vision of the future.
Finally, Leaders will need to be open to taking off their super hero capes……The future of the office also means that the CEO and Senior Leaders can become even more remote with a possible impact on their personal mental health. The additional pressure and lack of contact needs to be acknowledged and addressed for each Leader in a way that resources them. The need for reflective space, connection points with peers and access to additional support will become a crucial business imperative.
This discussion paper endeavours to identify and open a dialogue on the future of the office where both the expectations and support structures for Leaders and their teams are articulated and acknowledged.
I won’t propose to have all of the answers but I have some very clear inputs, insights and solutions to how organisations can approach the future and become Leaders for the New Humanity.
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