However we may have defined the “future of work” before 2020, our new reality has advanced technology investments, inspired new operational models, and changed how we work. While the rapid shift to a digital-first world powered by remote work proved mostly successful, some organizations are vying to put the genie back in the bottle by bringing employees back to the office. This is resetting the future of work, placing leaders at an inflection point. While the specifics of the future are hard to predict, what is clear is that the future of work isn’t what it used to be. Work is splintering toward a new trajectory, one without a playbook, proven case studies, or even consensus. Where we go from here, is the conversation we need to have right now.
Despite the prominence of the topic, expert hypotheses, and an abundance of research, most chief experience officers and organizations still struggle to understand and tackle the topic. For many, the future of work is about hybrid and remote work. To some, it’s about HR and employee experience. To others, the topic is focused on automation and emerging technology. This lack of definition has forced many CXOs to retreat to existing ways of working, while also highlighting a lack of ownership within many organizations.
The future of work is already here
Think about how far we’ve come and how quickly what was once a “future” of work is now our new status quo. Collaboration tools enabled synchronous work, meetings moved to virtual environments, email shifted to real-time messaging, and mobile devices have finally brought to life work-from-anywhere models. Once on the “way out list” of technology investments, AI, RPA, machine learning, and other automation innovations are augmenting work itself. At the same time, traditional working hours stretched beyond 9-to-5 and the idea of work/life balance suddenly morphed into work/life blending. Wellness, self-care, and employee experience are front and center in leading organizations.
The present of work needs to be reimagined to inspire a new and better future of work. We can’t just return to normal and expect to thrive. This is a time to savor the lessons learned during this great experiment to redefine our notions of and aspirations for work – including everything from how we will work to where we will work to what kind of work we will be doing and how that work will be valued.
So, what is the “future of work” and how should CXOs approach it?
Not everything about the future is directly related to technology. Much of it starts with perspective and curiosity and how fixed mindsets vs. growth mindsets influence the future of work differently.
Reimagining the paradigm of work
Living this new future of work hasn’t yet elasticized or opened fixed mindsets. Legacy processes, tools, and management practices have not kept pace with the rapid rate of tech disruption, behavioral expectations of employees, and emerging operating models. The work itself (tasks, activities, roles) has remained relatively the same over time, except it’s now remote and moving at a faster pace. This prevents organizations from thinking outside the norms and structures of today – stifling innovation and reinforcing legacy practices, measures, and management techniques. If these mindsets were to persist, the future of work would look a lot like yesterday’s normal, just operating under the guise of a new normal.
Reimagining work begins with understanding the work that needs to get done in context of where an organization aims to be in the future and how that vision aligns with the evolution of behaviors, expectations, and preferences of customers and employees. Just because some leaders are striving for normalcy, people can’t unsee the freedoms, conveniences, and empowerment that come with connectedness. In fact, Salesforce research found that not only is the world forever changed, 76% of workers do not feel prepared for working in a digital-first world.
In a separate Salesforce study, 54% of workers believe technology will advance faster than the skills of the workforce. The only way to bridge the gap is to assess the existing divide within the organization between current skills, skills in development, and skills needed in the next five-to-ten years.
The future of work is now about balance and inspired by empathy outside of the mindsets still holding onto pre-2020 ideologies.
Instead, the new future of work is about enabling experience, value, and productivity by working faster, smarter, and anywhere. It’s about leveling-up skills to collaborate with emerging technology and deliver more meaningful outputs and outcomes externally. This new paradigm for work puts more focus on employee experience, the organization, and how transformation is approached.
Whereas in the past redesign of work has been focused on process and technology, this new paradigm of work addresses the human component of design and change.
Working faster – Improving workflow, delivery, and service through automation. Redirecting focus on value-add activities. Simplifying and unifying tooling. Working smarter – Enabling leaders and teams to make better decisions with embedded analytics and predictive insights. Leveraging AI and shared digital capabilities across teams. Working anywhere – Powering asynchronous collaboration and digital collaboration. Powering external connectivity.
By fundamentally reinventing ways of working, organizations can drive greater customer-centricity & organizational change – resulting in greater agility, operational excellence, revenue growth and lifetime value (for both customers and employees).
Changing how we change: A new approach to transformation
The need to adapt has resulted in organizations taking on a myriad of transformation initiatives. However, many organizations are struggling to implement these changes successfully and expediently. Why? Because transforming an organization isn’t as simple as changing an IT system or adopting new software; it’s about rethinking the very foundations on which your company operates.
To design and prepare for the future of work, CXOs need to change how they transform. This requires challenging the status quo of what work is, how it gets done, and to transform with purpose and forward intention (transforming from doing things differently to doing different things). Rather than focusing transformation on specific use cases, process improvement and technology to do the same things, transforming for the future of work is intentional about designing for experience, workflow, and scale – driving greater agility and value by transforming the organization itself. This transformational goal helps push from incremental transformation to continuous innovation. Designing the future of work also means a focus on human centricity.
Putting the human at center means focusing on employee experience and transforming holistically, including transforming roles, management, and the organization itself.
Enabling scalable, integrated, end-to-end transformation also requires a new approach to technology strategy.
An integrated platform approach enables work to be designed ‘front-to-back’ maximizing interactions, efficiency, and effectiveness. A platform-led approach also allows for greater alignment and connectivity across efforts, at scale. Platform thinking allows CXOs to both transform for operational excellence (efficiency and effectiveness), while also better enabling experience design through shared capabilities (for both customers and employees).
The future opportunity for CXO’s is here, now
Designing work for the future will require a fresh approach to how we transform, prioritize connection, and reshape mindsets. CXO’s sit at the center of this revolution. CXO’s today are the trailblazers for tomorrow. Their ability to create, lead and manage change will dictate survival. CXOs need to work together to understand what changes will mean for their business, their employees, and their customers (regardless of their role or title). This means that leaders need to be prepared to embrace change and take an active role in shaping their company’s future. They need to define their organization’s future ways of working and how they will get there.
So, what’s next?
CXOs need to prioritize three key shifts that will dictate the design of future work in their transformation programs today:
Rise of human-centered design and employee experience – Employees are the new customers. Leading CXOs understand the connection between employee experience and customer centricity. By approaching EX like CX, leaders will be able to improve sentiment, satisfaction, and drive revenue growth. Reshaping of the workforce and leadership – Reinventing work has major implications on the people doing the work, and the skills they need to be successful. Operating in a new digital-first environment requires new skills, mindsets, teams, and managers. Connected design – Ecosystem thinking will revolutionize the future organization and operating model. Connected organizations will break down their four walls to better leverage external capabilities, scale, and innovation. By better connecting employees, teams and partners, leaders will be able to design work in a way that leverages key drivers for strategic growth, business optimization, community impact, and highly scalable value creation.
The future of work starts with you
The future of work is a growth mindset. It’s an attitude. It’s an experience-led, human-first approach to digital transformation and work itself, rooted in the thoughtful relationship between people, technology, and processes.
The future of work represents a shift in how we design, prioritize, and engage in work – one that prioritizes value add activities and focuses transformation on future tasks, activities, and roles. It puts a new focus on enabling the employee, leader, organization, and ecosystem. In the future of work, success is defined by your outcomes, not how you get them done. It’s also digital-first, so employees have the flexibility and freedom to succeed from anywhere — however they like.
What’s also true, is that the new future of work will be shaped by those who choose to see and build a better future for all stakeholders.
This article was co-authored by Niema Alimohammadi. Niema is an experienced strategist and thought leader who focuses on the future of work, digital transformation, and experience design. He works with leading executives on enabling value creation and innovation through new ways of working, platform thinking, and adaptive operating structures.
Artificial Intelligence, Employee Experience