How to Thrive in the Modern Workspace

By Restoring the Soul of Business Archives
Cover image for  article: How to Thrive in the Modern Workspace

Work is central to the human experience. It provides income, identity, community and meaning. The trauma of a job loss is second only that to the death of a loved one.

Three inter-acting forces are sculpting a new terrain for the future of work:

1. Globalization, which while creating wealth overall can be devastating for communities and industries in many regions. Both globalization itself and a backlash to it will shape the contours of opportunities (or their loss) for everyone.

2. The three A's of technology. Artificial intelligence, which accelerates middle-class income job loss at speeds far greater than jobs they create. Another major factor will be how mobile devices and advanced measurement will change how work is compartmentalized and distributed.

3. COVID-shock-driven behavioral and structural change. After nearly two years of dispersed work forces and plummeting travel replaced by Zoom/Teams, the expectations and behaviors of bosses, employees and clients are going to be dramatically different. Like a champagne cork that once opened never fits back in the bottle, there is no going back to December 2019 but imagining forward.

The nature of work, how it is done and where it is done will be dramatically different in the coming years. Three shifts are underway:

1. The "Office" as we knew it is over. Let us not kid ourselves or find succor in the belief that "hybrid" work will bring back the office. Yes, if you are in dentistry, work on an assembly line or your work requires close physical proximity with your customer, in-person work will resume. Otherwise, we are likely to spend less than 20 percent of our time in the office as we knew it.

In"Jigsaw or Return"the concept of the "unbundled " workplace was discussed where there are four places we work, including home (increasingly distant from our old offices and significantly upgraded for working), events/conferences (where we go to network, learn and build relationships), third places (WeWork, Starbucks and other places where we get out of our homes and collaborate with our colleagues) and the museum (the old office filled with artifacts and history where senior management or curators of "culture" pass down learning and training and clients are pitched).

Let's be real: How much time will we spend in museums?

Despite what you may be hearing, most smart companies are recognizing that to compete for top talent, retain flexibility and agility, and control costs they must significantly reduce their physical footprint. Even the big banks and old school investment firms that insisted everybody return all the time are working behind the scenes to align with the new reality.

2. We are all going to be gig workers. The reason for this is three-fold:

First, companies in a world of change are beginning to see that making costs variable is a key to success. The ability to shed costs with changing demand is what makes an Uber (which owns no cars, and its drivers are not employees) do better than a Hertz (which owns the cars and has employees on its payroll).

Increasingly in a world of change and zero-based budgeting and with new companies starting with a fresh sheet of paper, the modern organization is re-aggregating skills at scale rather than hiring generalists and training them to be specialists. And based on demand it adds and subtracts what it needs.

One driving force of this is platforms. Not just the platforms that we are familiar with from Microsoft, Google and Amazon, but also internal corporate platforms that allow a company to give employees everywhere training, connections and, also importantly, opportunities they may not have had in their market. Companies now can re-aggregate customized solutions by choosing individuals from everywhere.

2. The diminishing half-life of skills.A company today remains in the S&P 500 for less than 14 years while many of us will work for 40 years. Someone perusing job descriptions today who was asleep for the past fifteen years would probably not understand many of the words in the job spec.

3. The future is fusion. It is not man/woman versus machine but man/woman working with machines.

Today we may be people using machines. Tomorrow we will be helpers attached to machines to do what we can do more cost effectively like pick produce or enter a building to drop things off or add a bit of empathy or experience so we can connect with other analog, carbon-based feeling appendages of digital, silicon-based, computing machines. The machines will advance at the rate of improvement in chips and machine learning which means getting twice as good every six to 18 months while we humans improve far slower.

How to thrive in the modern workspace.

While the modern workspace might sound dystopian it does not have to be so. Having the option to work from anywhere on opportunities we did not have access to, with repetitive work delegated to machines is not an unpleasant scenario! But it will require us to change, re-tool and grow by honing four skills:

1. Continuous learning. The day you stop learning and upgrading your skills is the day your future in the modern workspace begins to decay.

In today's world where many smart companies are providing access to significant learning resources online and where Coursera, YouTube and a multitude of free or low-cost training and credential programs are available, there is no excuse not to learn. Allocate an hour a day to learning regardless of your level in the organization. In many ways middle and senior management need to learn the most since our skills are probably the most rusty and irrelevant!

2. Upgrading our emotional operating system. While understanding data and technology and its implications will be necessary to succeed, they will not be sufficient. If we are to work in a connected workplace where we add value to machines and quickly integrate with other people, we will need to ensure that our emotional operating systems are continuously refined since while we will be working with silicon-based, data-driven computing machines we will be adding value and connecting with others as carbon-based, story-driven, feeling humans. We will need to build our skills to empathize, our ability to listen, our ability to inspire with creativity, design and storytelling and to earn and gain trust by doing what we say and building a long-term reputation.

The future of human careers in a distributed and technology driven world will be built with emotional TILE: Trust, Inspiration, Listening and Empathy.

3. Think like a "Company of One." Even if you are working in a company of tens of thousands in the modern workplace your company will re-aggregate individual talents into teams that work on a client or project. In many cases you may find yourself working with different parts of your company or different regions that may not know about your skills, or you may find yourself working with several companies. You are now a company of one who needs to ensure that people within the company are aware of your skills, and to build skills in areas there is a need.

In addition to ensuring that databases and information about you on your company's system are up to date it is also critical that you build out an external online presence. Your resume is not what is on your hard drive or LinkedIn -- it is a sum of your web presence, particularly the first page that people see on Google when they search for you. Go look at it today. Go look at news. Go look at pictures. Go look at videos. This is you as the future becomes more distributed and digital.

You would be surprised at how many clients now check out the people that companies assign to them to see if they are any good.

To help create a better presence think of being active on Twitter and LinkedIn, develop a website (using Square Space or some other service), think of writing a blog on some passion or hobby or even starting a newsletter.

4. Learn to "lead" and "do" since "managing," while important, will increasingly play a smaller role. When talent can take any assignment. When there is nobody to keep waiting outside your office since there is no office and you are a square in a Zoom call whose big office building that was supposed to impress is in the cloud, what is a manager to do? When "checking" on people is truly defined as what it is which is "increased friction" and "un-necessary control," it will be those who can lead (inspiring, teaching, listening, showing the way forward) and those who can do that will be followed.

People will follow people and not titles. The modern workspace is real. The future will not adapt to us. We need to adapt if we are to have a thriving future.

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