The past year has challenged and changed us as individuals and as a society. There has been loss – too much of it. And there have been triumphs in the midst of it – of science, perseverance and simple, extraordinary humanity.
Everything that we have lived and learned this year – the speed at which we adapted the way we work because of the pandemic, the long-overdue consensus that it’s time for meaningful progress in the fight for racial justice: All of it creates a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change across so many facets of our lives and society.
Transformational change is hard. On a societal level, it’s incredibly hard, starting simply with the fact that humans like what they know and avoid what they don’t, and no one likes to question the status quo. But the sheer volume of change that has been forced on us over the past year creates an opening to do so much, so differently, and to meet this moment with imagination and intention, innovation and invention.
Nobody set out to design the world that we live in today. Nobody planned it. Not the way we live, and certainly not the way we work. Instead, we live and work in a world whose implicit rules and patterns were shaped by all kinds of factors – some well-intentioned, some clearly not and some entirely accidental. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have the opportunity – and the ability – to determine what kind of world we want and to go ahead and make it. To take back the things that we’ve missed from our time in the office but also to let go of the old structures and practices that no longer serve us. Now is our moment to create a future of work that is inclusive, flexible and rooted in connection and engagement.
The future of work is inclusive
We know that diverse teams are the most innovative, launch better products and services and are more resilient in the face of adversity. Building inclusive and equitable teams is the right, and smart, thing to do.
Today, most knowledge work is clustered in cities, which can be dense, expensive and environmentally challenged. Distributed work gives us the chance to extend the opportunities of the knowledge economy to areas that have historically been excluded. Removing geographic barriers to employment quite literally opens up a world of talent.
Distributed work eliminates the physical headquarters as the focal point of a company, and instead leverages technology to give employees control over when and where they work and how they engage and respond. Participation and collaboration is no longer restricted by the size of a conference room. Context isn’t something that you get only if you sit near the boss. And leadership isn’t the exclusive province of people who have the time and freedom to commute and work in a particular place, at a particular time.
Workplace changes alone won’t solve all of the inequities in our processes and systems. However, research from the Future Forum, a consortium dedicated to designing a people-centred and digital-first workplace, demonstrates that flexible work can significantly improve satisfaction in many ways. For example, Black workers report twice the sense of belonging and a 64% boost in ability to manage stress when working remotely.
The future of work is flexible
The fixed 9-to-5 never worked for many people. For example, some people were more productive from 11 to 6, or after their children went to bed. Those issues have been brought out in stark relief this year.
Offices and meetings were the two most prominent aspects of pre-pandemic work for knowledge workers. When the pandemic shut down physical offices, we all pivoted to our computer screens. But after a year of sitting on video calls all day, we know it’s not sustainable or productive.
While we all expect to be held accountable for delivering results at work, we want to feel empowered, not controlled. Employees want flexibility because employees have lives. They have kids and parents, and electricians coming to fix the lights. And they love their jobs and want to deliver too.
That’s why hybrid, asynchronous work is the future. What’s more, the Future Forum’s research found that people are more productive, enjoy better work-life balance and are more satisfied with their flexible, remote working arrangement than they were in the office. In fact, 83% of global knowledge workers want flexibility in where they work.
As companies adopt hybrid work models, leaders are identifying novel ways to replace synchronous processes and meetings with alternatives that offer greater flexibility, ultimately boosting efficiency and productivity. These changes present opportunities to reimagine our workday, helping people stay connected and engaged wherever they are, on whatever schedule works best for them.
The future of work is connected
Social connection and bonds between colleagues are foundational to the success of all organisations. People who feel a sense of connection to their work, teammates, partners and organisation don’t just show up and punch a clock. They look forward to the opportunity, are resilient in the face of challenges and exceed goals faster than ever before.
An engaged workforce must be supported by processes and tools that allow individuals to build relationships, teams to build trust and communities of diverse groups to support one another. Almost half of workers agree that their company or team ‘has made deliberate changes to how we collaborate since working remotely’.
However, there’s an opportunity to deepen connections with everyone we work with, including partners, customers, vendors and clients. In a survey by market-research firm IDC, 43% of respondents said the primary challenge in their transition to remote work was communicating and collaborating with external stakeholders. The constraints of doing business before the pandemic meant flying to the client to pitch a proposal or waiting for the next in-person get-together. As companies become more interconnected, there is an opportunity to stay close to everyone you work with – across locations and time zones, even under the most challenging circumstances.
Start reinventing the way your organisation works, now
The way we’ve come to expect work to work is rooted in centuries-old practices, many of them exclusionary by design. Now is our moment to change that – to invent a future of work that works for everyone. It will take ongoing commitment, collective action and many steps. But at Slack, we are more optimistic than ever. Join us in taking this opportunity.
Helpful guides for reinventing the way your team works: