The Future of Work Is Already Here (5 Ways to Lead It Well)

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Like almost every leader, you’ve noticed that work is changing, rapidly.

The way people work had been shifting for years before the global pandemic disrupted almost everything work-related, and nothing’s completely going back to the way it was.

As tempting as it might be to ignore the changing nature of work and demand that everything return to the way it was, to do that is to set yourself up to fail.

If you talk to most managers, they’re quietly freaking out.

  • They worry that people are working less (are people lazier?).
  • They’re tired of teams that don’t want to be in the office.
  • And they realize that the rebellion against ‘the grind’ and hustle/burnout culture has left a generation working to live rather than living to work.

And yet change continues to happen whether you want it to or not.

The hours spent on the job in America are dropping, with the average workweek dropping by 30 minutes since 2019. That may seem like a small shift, but it’s the tip of the iceberg regarding how work is changing.

So, what’s going on?

From unlimited vacations and 4-day workweeks to the role of A.I. in the life of the average office worker, understanding how expectations about work are changing is essential if you’re going to lead a team well into the future. 

When it comes to a rapidly changing workplace, if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.

Here are 5 ways the future of work is changing and what to do about it.When it comes to a rapidly changing workplace, if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less. CLICK TO TWEET

1. Embrace the Work-From-Home Revolution (The Office As We’ve Known It is Probably Dead)

Today’s teenagers will look back on the office tower as the way their parents and grandparents used to work, the same way we look at farms as largely the way our ancestors lived.

In the mid-2010s, I drove through Dallas past new office towers under construction.

Long before the work-from-home revolution of the 2020s, I had a sinking feeling that today’s teenagers will look back on the office tower as the way their parents and grandparents used to work, the same way we look at farms as largely the way our ancestors lived.

That hasn’t stopped CEOs and leaders of all kinds (including Lead Pastors) from continuing to insist that employees stop working remotely and return to the office.

The call back to the office is happening despite the fact that as many as 98% of workers say they would like the option of working at home. Continued inflexibility on that option is quickly becoming a real competitive disadvantage.Today’s teenagers will look back on the office tower as the way their parents and grandparents used to work, the same way we look at farms as largely the way our ancestors lived. CLICK TO TWEET

Does that mean the office is gone forever? Not so fast.

The “brick and mortar office building” is quickly morphing into a central hub/meeting place rather than a place of work. And a growing number of employees expect to be trusted enough to work off-site.

Perhaps one of the reasons so many senior leaders are resisting the work-from-home trend is that deep down, they feel like they don’t have the skills to lead remote team members.

I’ve been managing remote teams in one form or another for over 25 years, and once you understand the dynamics, it works as (or more) beautifully than traditional office work. Managing remote employees or hybrid workers simply isn’t that difficult. Here are my Top 7 Rules For Leading A Digital Team.A growing number of employees expect to be trusted enough to work off-site. CLICK TO TWEET

2. Say Goodbye to 9-5. Say Hello to the 4-Day Workweek

Most bosses are worried that productivity will drop. Turns out that concern is probably ill-founded. Productivity often goes up, as does morale.

The concept of the four-day workweek has been around for a while, but it’s taken off in a significant way over the last few years.

Most bosses are worried that productivity will drop. Turns out that concern is probably ill-founded. Productivity often goes up, as does morale.

An experiment with the four-day workweek in the U.K. resulted in overwhelming success. My company embraced it in 2022, as have many others.

The challenge with office work is that we’ve embraced a standard originally taken from manufacturing—the idea that you had to go to work so you could have access to the tools you needed to do your work. Office workers didn’t need drills or presses but did need access to computers, files, meeting space, and the like.

That all changed completely during the 2010s, and by the 2020s, most office work could be done remotely just as easily and effectively as it could be done in person. Adding reliable video calling and video conferencing into the mix in the 2020s sealed the deal. Managing remote workers has never been easier or more effective.

It’s not like the five-day workweek was a long-standing tradition anyway. The standard length of workweeks and the nature of how most people work have changed every few decades over the last hundred years, and younger leaders today are ready for it to change again.

The reality of office work and remote work is that many people cram personal errands and tasks into their workday, resulting in inefficient and ineffective workdays.

Moving to a four-day workweek for many team members results in better work-life balance, working when they’re working and having an extra day to run their personal errands.

Bottom line? There’s nothing sacred about the five-day workweek. It was created in the early to mid-twentieth century, and it’s posed to change again.The standard length of workweeks and the nature of how most people work have changed every few decades over the last hundred years, and younger leaders today are ready for it to change again. CLICK TO TWEET

3. Welcome Your New Co-Worker (or Employee)—a Generative A.I. Chatbot

One of the biggest changes sweeping the workplace is the emergence of A.I. I’ve included the pros and cons of A.I. and my thoughts on what the future hold in this Ultimate Guide to A.I., Pastors and the Church.

While things could change in the future, right now A.I. isn’t a threat or a crutch, but a tool that can be used to increase productivity and efficiency.

Smart leaders are encouraging their teams to learn how to use A.I. to make them better at their jobs. Ironically, while some workers are worried about losing their jobs to A.I., it’s far more likely that workers who refuse to embrace A.I. will be the ones to lose their jobs.Ironically, while some workers are worried about losing their jobs to A.I., it’s far more likely that workers who refuse to embrace A.I. will be the ones to lose their jobs. CLICK TO TWEET

4. Offer Unlimited Vacation

Unlimited time off give employees agency, autonomy and freedom. That in turn leads to greater buy in and productivity during working hours, and increases employee health. Ideally, it reduces turnover as well.

Another emerging practice is offering employees unlimited vacation. We embraced this at my company in 2021, and I currently see very little downside to it.

Unlimited time off give employees agency, autonomy, and freedom. That leads to greater buy-in and productivity during working hours and increases employee health. Ideally, it reduces turnover as well.

While the jury is still out on whether an unlimited vacation policy works in all situations (here are some pros and cons), you have to have a responsible, engaged team to make it work.

Unlimited vacation policies are impossible without high trust between the leader and the team (and this goes both ways).

The surprise of unlimited vacation is that most employees don’t abuse it. And when they do, you can deal with it on a case-by-case basis. If someone is away too much, there are usually other performance issues you’re addressing with them anyway.

Americans still suffer from vacation guilt, and giving them permission to go and setting them up to truly have time off can be a sizeable perk of any job.

If you’re wondering exactly how to do it, here’s my 7-step guide on how to take a full month off work without cheating (something I do every year).The surprise of unlimited vacation is that most employees don’t abuse it. And when they do, you can deal with it on a case-by-case basis. CLICK TO TWEET

5. Nix the Toxic Company Culture (Employees Won’t Tolerate It)

Toxic cultures repel healthy people. Healthy cultures attract them.

Right now, the final trend in redefining office culture is an increasingly low tolerance for any toxic work environment.

Realizing there are so many work options, people are quicker than ever to jump ship if they catch a whiff of a toxic culture. Sites like Glassdoor make it even easier to know any workplace culture before you work there.

While the list is long, here are ten signs your workplace culture might be toxic.

Toxic cultures repel healthy people. Healthy cultures attract them.

Millennials and Gen Z’s intolerance for toxic culture is a healthy workplace trend. The healthier the workplace, the healthier the team will be. And the healthier the team, the healthier the workplace.Toxic cultures repel healthy people. Healthy cultures attract them. CLICK TO TWEET

Conclusion

Like many future-oriented companies, my company has embraced working from home (we’re an entirely remote team), a four-day workweek, A.I., and unlimited time off. We’re also working every week to ensure our culture gets healthier and stays healthy.

It’s never easy to manage people, but embracing these practices will make you better at it. A remote environment doesn’t make you a less effective manager, it can make you a more effective one.

The result is that you end up with a highly motivated, highly trusting team—and high trust is an exceptionally valuable characteristic of high-performing teams.

Experiment with and make these changes now, and you’ll be ready for the future. Ignore them, and the next generation of workers will move on.

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