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A Deloitte survey (sponsored by Facebook) asked C-suite executives for their perspectives on the future of work. Their responses reveal six themes about the future workplace—and six lessons to help leaders ease the transition. We were at WORKTECH17 this week and Graham Mackay, our Managing Partner talked about this survey and what it meant for the future of work.

Here is my talk from WORKTECH 17, summarising the Deloitte survey:

Technology is having a profound effect on the 21st-century organisation. It is fundamentally changing the way we manage, the way we work, how we organise, the products we use, where we work, and how we communicateThe results of the survey confirmed that the C-suite leaders surveyed DO see the future of work and workplaces as a crucially important topic and are aware that new technologies will lead to changes in how work gets done as well as to their roles as leaders.

Their survey identified six themes that the C-suite needs to give attention to:

Culture is king

Deloitte's survey showed that C-suite executives across different locations and varying company sizes have a mutual vision of the future of work. More than 69% of those surveyed believe that company culture, especially transparency in internal communications, will have a crucially important impact on their staff's ability to understand the company's mission and values.

In contrast, only 14% of Deloitte's respondents felt that culture has no or little impact on their ability to understand their mission and vision. This is skewed towards smaller companies, where scale may not yet have focused attention on this need, but the response suggests that as small companies grow, they will need to address it.

Lesson 1: Pay attention to culture; help to ensure leaders are actively participating in its development

Collaboration, communication, and connectivity are being transformed

climate-kic-350836-826696-edited.jpgCulture is critical, but business leaders realise there is work to be done. A cultural transformation will be needed over the next five years, as only 14% of leaders are completely satisfied with their organisation's current ability to collaborate and communicate. However, leaders are actively monitoring their progress - a sign of culture’s strategic importance.

For surveyed leaders, putting in place more efficient decision-making structures and tools (42%) and allocating more employee time and resources to innovation by making current processes more efficient (41%) were the two most important changes in culture they expect to see within the next two years.

Lesson 2: Businesses should be proactive in improving transparency in communications, adopting more collaborative systems and reinterpreting corporate culture around digital workplace; or they risk losing productivity, employees and potentially, customers.

Millennials (and Baby Boomers) are driving the change

andrew-neel-218073-627227-edited.jpgNot surprisingly, there has been a lot of focus on the influence of Millennials on the way talent is recruited and developed, given that by 2020 they will constitute 50% of the workforce. But we also cannot ignore the fact that Baby Boomers are working longer, often into their 70s and 80s. So, the need to manage across generations remains as important now as it ever was, if not more so.

Almost 4 in 5 (78%) of executives surveyed believe, for example, that generational differences in employees’ expectations will drive an increased emphasis on devolved collaboration.

This is particularly important given only a third of Millennials feel their company is making the most of their experience and skills, and 66% expect to leave their employer in less than five years. The priority executives give to this issue is a sign that they are aware of the problem and see it as a real challenge to find and retain top talent, particularly in the Millennial population.

Facebook has the best employment retention rate in the world and it's not just because of the high pay and jaw-dropping perks; they use their own technology to collaborate and communicate internally.

Lesson 3: To keep Millennials, companies should invest more on developing and nurturing their people, creating interesting and purposeful work, and building an environment with career flexibility and tools that enable employees to collaborate and exchange ideas transparently.

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Business benefits are real

Collaboration, communication, and connectivity are at the heart of much of what the C-suite believes will drive the major changes in the future of work. The reason for investing heavily in these aspects of work is the belief they represent an increase in efficiency, profitability and employee retention. This is why Facebook has developed one of the best intranet systems available today, and why companies like Walmart and Starbucks have adopted it.

When asked to identify the most important benefits from greater levels of collaboration, 57% of executives cited identifying and exploiting new business opportunities, while 48% cited increasing rates of innovation. These were closely followed by accelerating time to market (42%) and improving customer loyalty (41%).

Another survey (psfk report) shows that 65% of employees responding believe opportunities for growth and innovation exist outside the office location—further emphasising the need for providing tools that enables communication and collaboration wherever you are.

The culture required to support the future of work will demand more efficient processes, particularly different decision-making structures and carefully selected tools. 48% of executives surveyed predict increased levels of collaboration will enable better attraction and retention of top talent.

Lesson 4: Be clear about the benefits you are targeting and regularly check leading the progress you are making.

New digital tools are making screen time more efficient

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The future working environment will require a shift in how we communicate and collaborate, with 76% of executives surveyed predicting a move away from email and toward more sophisticated digital tools. These digital tools will be critical enablers for increased cross-cultural teaming. In fact, 72% of respondents see virtual teaming capabilities across cultures as becoming significant and normative in the next five years. Collaboration strengthens relationships, so the choice of technologies should ideally allow for relationship-building activities as well as efficient communications.

But tools alone are not the answer. As companies move from email to other tools for communicating, collaborating, and connecting, they will need to develop the right cultural context and adapt workplace policies and processes to help ensure the environment and expectations are set up to enable successful adoption of whatever digital capabilities are implemented.

Lesson 5: Start the shift to new collaboration tools, but ensure workplace practices and employee understanding are aligned with the new capabilities that are available.

Leaders need collaborative networks, not hierarchy

We have seen that expectations of leaders are changing not only in terms of how they interact and engage with their employees but also in how they see their role changing.

Our sample of C-suite executives showed that just over 40% of respondents expect they will increasingly place more focus on facilitating the flow and exchange of ideas and providing greater autonomy at team and individual levels. This shift from “top-down” to what we might see as “alongside” is a crucial component of the equation.

Unless leaders are role models of the target environment, limited or no progress will be made. The shift to facilitating an empowered network after years of being in a more directive mode is a big one. As Jeffrey Joerres said in his interview on the future of work, “As we look to the future, role modelling of behaviours is going to be more important than training.” In the highly networked, more fluid organisations of the future, leaders from the C-suite down will need new ways to communicate with employees and keep a pulse on their business.

Lesson 6: Leaders can underestimate the benefits of social tools at work and need to be educated in how to use collaboration and business social tools for improved communication, collaboration, and connectivity.

Conclusion

This survey suggests that at the top of companies, executives, particularly in larger companies, recognise both that the future of work will be very different from the way things have happened in the past and that their roles need to adapt to the new environments they will be leading.

How we work in future will be more networked, more devolved, more mobile, more team-based, more project-based and more collaborative. The challenge is to make sure it is not more complicated, confusing, or overwhelming. This will require better and different ways to communicate, collaborate, and network. Large multi-nodal fluid networks will rely increasingly on new pathways for information to be exchanged and lessons shared, leaning heavily on new, enabling digital technologies. Done well, the future of work offers the opportunity to provide the most engaging and motivating environment we have yet experienced and, after decades of aspiring to the idea, to become truly learning organisations. 

Credit: Deloitte

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