1. What do you think about the current state of work? What business trends are here to stay?
Having found ourselves in a state of significant transition, there are a few trends that will likely persist into the foreseeable future.
First, the primacy of the physical office has been challenged and in most cases severely diminished. We’ve proven that work can happen everywhere there’s a WiFi connection, and employees will continue to expect work-from-anywhere options. We’ll see more and more remote-friendly companies catering to this expectation. As a result, collaboration will be fluid, constantly moving in and out of different modes and workstyles – sometimes all remote, sometimes mixed (e.g., half in-person, half remote). Working in pure digital formats, even when in-person, will be key to making this fluidity happen.
So, what’s the role of the office? In a nutshell, the onsite will become the offsite. We used to commute to the same central location and then travelled offsite for team events. With a more distributed workforce, we see the opposite – people working from home now coordinate to meet up in the office. We just experienced this at MURAL, where a large group of people in Product Development used the office for a first-ever in-person meet-up. They even barbecued together on the rooftop deck.
Second, in addition to adopting a digital-first mindset, teams need to leverage asynchronous collaboration. The default used to be that a synchronous meeting was needed to make progress – to brainstorm, prioritise, and make decisions as a team. This presents a challenge when you have team members distributed across multiple time zones. Now, teams can use the undistracted, focused time to work independently and get more done, shifting time spent together to address those things where they need group consensus.
An increase in async teamwork will affect the workday schedule. We’ll likely see more flexibility in when people work as they win back more control over their time. Four-day work weeks and other flexible arrangements will be more common.
So, what about connection? How will we form meaningful relationships with colleagues? Organisations would be wise to concentrate on this issue as it will be more and more challenging to connect teams. I predict offsites, retreats, and in-person team-building events will become more frequent, as we lose out on more spontaneous connections in the physical office. A focus on mental health will increase, as well, as teams grapple with feelings of isolation and disconnection.
2. What’s your preferred work model and why?
Personally, I much prefer remote work, which I’ve been doing now for nearly 20 years. I’ve been able to produce impactful work, excel in my career, and make meaningful connections with my colleagues. We are now learning it’s possible if you re-imagine how collaboration happens.
But I think a hybrid workplace will be the norm, with people traveling to a physical office part of the time. As a result, a lot of real-time interactions will be mixed, with some in-person and others dialled in.
This is not new, however. Hybrid workplaces existed long before COVID, particularly at global enterprises with offices around the world. In the past, we’ve just not paid much attention to this condition – mostly to the disadvantage of remote participants – and most teams have a lot of work to improve the situation.
In today’s hybrid workplace, if even one person is remote and dialling into a meeting, then everyone is remote. Work isn’t a place, it’s what a team accomplishes together. Collaboration should and will happen from anywhere. We’re facilitating this, and we’re focused on doing it in a playful, imaginative way.
Digital workspaces like MURAL are a rapidly growing area of the enterprise collaboration toolkit to support remote and hybrid work by providing an ideation experience that’s often missing in meeting platforms. Visual productivity – the use of diagrams, charts, mind maps, canvases, and other ways to visually represent, and share information and ideas – is one of the most fertile ways for individuals to learn. When deployed in a remote work setting, visual collaboration supports the comprehension, organisation, analysis, and communication of information. When done in a group environment, it enhances collaboration and engagement between individuals.
It’s no longer acceptable to simply deploy technology that enables remote work. We must define new practices and rituals that encourage hybrid collaboration. We must use proven change management techniques to educate and change worker behaviour to adopt new practices. And we should measure experience so we can proactively adapt as needed. By doing so, we will create a hybrid office that everyone in the workforce – whether remote or in-person – will find engaging and productive.
3. What are employers looking for in a workplace? What about employees? Do employers and employees lean toward the same things when it comes to the future of work?
From an employer’s perspective, the ideal workplace is one that enhances team productivity, attracts a diverse roster of global talent, and contributes to staff retention. It should ultimately foster creativity and innovation that drives business outcomes.
But there’s a management problem in the new world of work – namely how to oversee teamwork. No longer is “management by walking around” an option. Trust is key here, and a typical “command and control” mindset doesn’t work well in remote and hybrid settings. Instead, managers need to shift their attention to output and, better, to outcomes, rather than controlling timesheets.
Employees are looking for flexibility in where and when they work. The Great Resignation clearly showed us that people want flexibility and control of their time — not so they can work better, but so that they can have the lifestyle they want. People want to spend more time with their friends and families, they want to be healthier and enjoy the outdoors more, they want to avoid lengthy commutes, and they want to spend their time on more purposeful activities.
The future of work is not about work, it’s about lifestyle.
4. What are your predictions for the future of work? What do you expect to change/stay the same?
- The nature of work has fundamentally changed due to the pandemic. Remote and work-from-anywhere and here to stay in some form and in some amount.
- Successful teams will embrace a flexible mindset, one that moves fluidly from mode to mode with ease (e.g., all remote to hybrid to in-person and back). The future of work is multimodal.
- We’ll become more deliberate about building team connections and relationships in an ongoing way, not just by doing trust-falls once a year at team offsites. Mental health will be a big part of that.
- Policies and laws will struggle to keep up with the changing nature of work and work circumstances in the near term.
- Organisations will prioritise teamwork and view collaboration as a strategic competitive advantage.
Jim Kalbach is the Chief Evangelist at MURAL, a collaborative intelligence company powering effective ideation, innovation, alignment, and team building at 95% of the Fortune 100. He is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in experience design, strategy, and visual methods, as well as remote facilitation.