The future of work is more than hybrid and remote. Even though organizations have now just figured out how to deal with hybrid work, leaders need to be thinking about how things are going to change in terms of where work is done, when work is done, how work is done, who’s doing the work and even what is considered work, said Emily Rose McRae, senior director of research at Gartner.
During a session on creating a future of work strategy at Gartner’s Digital Work Summit on Tuesday, McRae said their research shows three-fourths of organizations are not prepared. Further, 62% of HR leaders said that their biggest challenge is that their organization lacks an explicit future of work strategy.
The actions leaders take today are going to shape their organization’s future work, she said, adding that it is not enough for one business unit or one department to come up with their own future of work plan.
Gartner highly recommends that organizations take a unified approach to the future of work. When that is done, “you’re able to actually celebrate your actions in times of disruption,” and surface innovative ideas, as well as provide a centralized framework that can be contextualized and has a significant impact on both employee engagement and employee attraction, McRae said.
How to craft a future of work strategy
Crafting a strategy starts by designing a framework that includes trends analysis, scenario creation and what the future of working looks like at the organization.
McRae also advised organizations to prioritize trends and then do strategy development of future scenarios.
To do so requires that leaders “just collect everything you can from internal and external sources.” They should then try to crowdsource ideas and trends from employees and customers or clients, if doable.
“Whenever possible, try to get a wide variety of perspectives, particularly from your employees, who genuinely know your business best,” she said. “Another strategy is deriving trends from envisioning the possible future.”
Then leaders need to interpret the trends and what they mean for their organization.
They should also consider the impact from a macro scale, as well as the economic, social, political and industry-level impacts, and again, what this will all mean to their specific organization.
Finally, they can look at the types of opportunities available — whether this might give the organization some type of talent advantage.
Organizations should consider flexibility
Turnover is continuing as people go back to offices compared to when people were working remotely. There is a gap in expectations between what employers want and what organizations are currently offering when it comes to flexibility, McRae said.
“Companies as a whole are falling short when it comes to flexibility,’’ she said. “Flexibility is not just in where you work, but when you work, how much you work, what you work on … Over half of employees consider those [issues] important or very important.”
Companies that rethink how much people work, what they work on and who they work with will be able to “make some massive improvements to operations and move in a way that it wouldn’t have otherwise,’’ she said.
Flexibility should also extend to offsite workers, McRae added. Some best practices for doing this include providing tenured employees with options for what areas they work in and who they work with.
Specifically referring to retail workers, “make it easier for employees to work at different locations,’’ and consider whether it is possible to give employees the choice of when they start their workday, she said.
“Where can you adjust your expectations and often, in many cases, your scheduling software, so that more flexibility is possible?” she said. “And what kind of transparency can you actually offer for employees to prove what projects are available to them and how decisions are made about who is assigned responsibilities?”
When it comes to field technicians, McRae suggested considering whether leaders can authorize remote work when they are not onsite.
“Not every single task that needs to be done is done on the field,” she said. “Why not make it possible for them to work remotely when the work allows it?”
How to measure the success of a future of work strategy
There needs to be some way to know whether an organization’s future of work strategy will be successful. Without specific metrics, leaders will feel it isn’t working out, McRae said.
They should look at areas including employee retention, offer acceptance rates and employee engagement through surveys as well as productivity.
They also need to measure whether there were improvements when changes were made as well as in areas where there was no change, she said.
McRae summed up her talk with a set of recommendations.
“I highly recommend, if at all possible, when it comes to strategy, to convene a cross-functional team to work on [areas where you] previously crowdsourced your trends and your initiatives,’’ she said. “Programs and ideas are going to be so much stronger when they come from your employees.”
Initiatives are much more likely to be successful when people contribute to them. Prioritize the trends where your organization will have a comparative advantage.
“Use scenario planning for the most impactful and … go ahead and just leave the uncertain trends in your business strategy,’’ she said.