- What will the future of work look like? Top experts debated this topic as part of Digital Workplace Day.
- GitLab’s Darren Murph played down the future of hybrid work from a language perspective, citing that organizations will choose to be office-first, remote-first, or digital-first.
- While there is still fine-tuning to be done, panelists agreed that flexibility continues to be a top priority for workers around the world.
The Digital Workplace Alliance Inc. Hosted a three-part live event in November. The event commemorated Digital Workplace Day and it featured top voices that debated what the future will look like in 2022 and beyond.
Allwork.Space tuned in for the debate: Hybrid work is unsustainable and will fade away with a minor impact. The debate was moderated by Neil Miller and the panelists were:
- Sheela Subramanian – VP of Future Forum at Slack
- Zach Dunn – co-founder and VP of Customer Experience at Robin
- Darren Murph – Head of Remote at GitLab.
Is Hybrid Work Sustainable?
It depends on who you ask.
Murph argues that there is no such thing as hybrid work. Let us explain.
“Language is really important, and we are still fine-tuning this language. I say there is no such thing as hybrid work; organizations will either be office-first, remote-first, or digital-first.”
Murph dislikes using the term hybrid work because it attempts to straddle two worlds. While on paper the term hybrid seems to offer the best of both worlds, “without a lot of intentionality and infrastructure in place, hybrid can quickly evolve to the worst of both worlds.”
Instead of using hybrid, Murph recommends organizations commit to one or the other (remote or office first), as this can “help ensure the infrastructure is set up properly for what any given organization is aiming to do.”
Speaking about infrastructure, Murph added that the technology companies leverage to support work will evolve.
“We are in the earliest innings of this (remote work) transition, and we are in this upwards teenager phase where we are trying to operate in a remote first way using mostly office-first norms, tools, and workflows.”
Subramanian, for her part, believes that hybrid work is here to stay, but that flexibility is the name of the game.
“What we are seeing from our research is that flexibility continues to be a top priority for workers around the world.” This flexibility isn’t only in terms of where work gets done, but rather when work gets done.
93% of workers want to break out of the confines of the 9 to 5; flexibility is the second most important factor when it comes to determining job satisfaction, beyond compensation and benefits, Subramanian argued.
Subramanian believes that now is the perfect time for companies to embrace a digital-first model. Digital-first, however, doesn’t mean that teams will never meet in person.
“Some people still prefer going into an office setting to work. Hybrid and flexible are not free for all options. Our data shows that two-thirds of employees want flexibility within a specific framework.
“It’s important for leaders to acknowledge why flexibility matters. With the current battle for talent, over half of employees (57%) are open to new opportunities in the next year.”
This means that companies that are serious about hiring top talent—and more importantly keeping them in—need to offer more flexibility for workers.
Dunn also believes that it comes down to flexibility, but that leaders must ask the right questions to best navigate the future of work.
“I think hybrid work is an evolution of what many called activity-based work pre-pandemic.”
Dunn believes that an office setting still holds an important place in the world of work. Leaders need to ask themselves “what job is your office hired to do?”.
“In environments where some folks can choose to work from home some of the time, how do you reintegrate the office into their schedule? I use reintegrate because forcing people to choose between the office or remote will misfire,” Dunn added.
We Need to Shift Our Focus
Beyond thinking about what sort of work we want offices to support, companies and leaders need to shift their focus to future-proof organizations.
“The global narrative is so fixated on the return to office that it misses the larger point of ‘let’s look at how work is being done’. If we can figure out how to work from anywhere, it will matter a lot less where each person is working from on any given day,” Murph added.
Murph believes that a digital-first approach to work is fundamental to de-risking business operations as this will enable them to decouple the results they drive from a specific geographic location. Even if organizations don’t leverage that digital-first infrastructure every day, having it in place can ensure business continuity.
The shift to digital-first doesn’t mean that CRE won’t play a key part in the future of work.
“Digital and remote first approaches can still make use of innovative space; especially considering that in-person strategies are essential for remote teams to thrive.”
Subramanian added to this point by saying that Future Forum’s research shows that day-to-day work is great for digital channels, but that “going to the office is great for driving a sense of belonging and cultivating camaraderie among team members.”
Meeting in-person is key to catalyzing amazing digital work for teams.
Dunn adds that leaders need to lead by example.
“One of the pieces of advice we repeatedly give is: don’t have executives come in 5 days a week, as this can quickly become a signaling issue and others won’t feel as comfortable working remotely.”
There’s still some fine-tuning to do around the conversation of work in a post-pandemic world. While we may not all agree on what to call work arrangements moving forward, one thing is certain: the demand for more flexibility is not going anywhere anytime soon.
The sooner organizations figure out how to best support employees to do their best work, the sooner they will reap the benefits of an engaged and satisfied workforce.