5 Thought Leaders Weigh In: "What's Holding Us Back from the Workplace of the Future?"

August 8, 2017 Shelbi Gomez

Nothing is so constant as change. We all know it, and yet we are still surprised when we take stock of the technological and cultural changes that have swept through the workplace just in the last five years. 
And it’s enough to get us wondering: at this pace, what will the workplace look like in five or 10 more years? And how can we get ahead of that change to work better and be more competitive than ever before?

Watch our on-demand webinar "Engaging 5 Generations in The Future Workplace" for more insight from thought leaders.

Recently, I sat down with several thought leaders to ask them a number of questions around this topic:

  • Jess Pike, managing editor, King Content
  • Alex Clarke, digital content manager, B2B Marketing
  • Paul Hill, journalist and course director, Chartered Institute of Marketing
  • Barry Hodge, programme manager, Knightstone Housing Group
  • Phil Sheldrake, member of the Digital Life Collective and director and secretary at Network Society Research
  • Andrea Fryrear, speaker, author, and Chief Content Officer at Fox Content
I started off with two questions:
  1. “What is the biggest change you see happening now in the workplace?”
  2. “What is holding us back from achieving a great future workplace?”
Their responses below were eye opening:

What is the biggest change you see happening now in the workplace?

“Companies like ours seem to be really embracing flexible working—there's a recognition that happy workers make for productive workers, and that trust is an integral part of any working environment.
"Plus, technologies like Slack today make working from home/the train/the moon a lot easier than ever before.”
—Jess Pike and Alex Clarke
“The limited introduction of forms of artificial intelligence—or at least smart programmatic apps that feel like artificial intelligence.
"For example, the increasing use of chatbots to deal with customer service queries and engagement. Or bots being used as personal assistants to deal with diary appointments.
"Today’s workplace is a giant computer science laboratory—and we’re all test subjects.”
—Paul Hill
“Organisations used to be very command and control with a strict hierarchy. The move to cut costs and become more efficient has led to flatter organisations.
"I also think technology has played a part in this. CEOs now have real-time dashboards, so no need for lots of people writing reports.”
—Barry Hodge
“I think we’re finally starting to move away from the cult of the workaholic a little bit. 
"Maybe it’s millennials coming into the workforce, or maybe it’s things like Uber imploding, but whatever’s causing it, it seems like there’s less acceptance of the idea that we’re all supposed to work as hard as we can for as long as we can. 
"Even more than the idea of work-life balance, it’s like a demand that work, where we spend SO MUCH of our waking life, should be genuinely rewarding and not just a 45-year death march between graduation and retirement.”
—Andrea Fryrear 
“The times in which we operate are quite complex, quite chaotic.
"Things happen pretty darn fast at the moment. One moment you can be having a nice business, the next minute, with an innovation from left field, it has just completely thrown you into turmoil. 
"Unfortunately, the response for many organizations right now is to push that risk down to the individual.
"Instead of trying to absorb that risk in an organizational way—to use the fabric of the collective, if you liketo build a certain robustness, they think: ‘Do you know what we’ll do? We’ll do zero-hour contracts. We’ll make the individual involved in our organization and take all that risk for us because we might need them next week, we might not need them next week. We’ll tell with about 30 minutes’ notice whether we want them or not'.
"That’s a disgusting way to treat an individual, but some people at the center of the organization think that’s the best way for the organization to de-risk.
"I would say it probably does de-risk in one short-term way, but it puts in place a much bigger risk that this organization won’t be viewed by any of its stakeholders in the future as something they want to be part of."
—Phil Sheldrake

What is holding us back from achieving a great future workplace? (i.e. We thought we'd have hoverboards by now; what impedes progress? Or is anything impeding it?)

“Tradition and status quo!
"Don't judge the brands with the pool tables until you've walked in their shoes, we say—interweaving the social and the serious is key to having a happy workforce, we reckon.”
—Jess Pike and Alex Clarke
“The biggest obstacles to building great workplaces for the future are definition and inflexibility.
"If you can get a sense of what the future of your industry will look like—how existing and emerging technology could transform your operations—you can start to build a picture of what your workplaces will need to be.
"Any good CEO needs to be looking to the horizon before asking about traditional business issues like time, money, and human resources. And from that vantage point, they need to be thinking about flexibility.
“At the moment, many businesses and markets are tied into traditional patterns of getting things done. Oftentimes, they find it hard to adapt to technological change.
"That’s where you see disruptors—nimble, flexible businesses with new approaches to technology—that change the game: from taxi firms to mass media.
"So, how flexible is your business? How ready is your marketplace to be disrupted?”
—Paul Hill
“A lot of businesses still work the same way they were over 20 years ago when Windows 95 came out. Sat at a desk with a mouse and keyboard sending emails and using Microsoft Office to make documents.
"I think the way we input with a mouse and a keyboard needs to be improved, and I do think we are slowly getting there. We are seeing improved AI with the likes of Siri and Alexa, for example.
"We are also seeing pen and paper being replaced with a tablet and an electronic pencil. There is also virtual reality and augmented reality getting better all the time.
"But we are not seeing these move into the workplace yet. When they do, then we will see great future workplaces.”
—Barry Hodge
“Being too busy to innovate.
"There’s this weird belief that being busy is the same as being important, and that if someone has time to think carefully about how to manage work or to get really organized then that person must not actually be in high demand.
"But without good process management we just end up on a hamster wheel, running and running but never moving forward.”
—Andrea Fryrear
“I think it just comes down to something as simple as widespread understanding. It’s astonishing for a social animal like our species that organization sucks. 
"It’s incredible that we have got to 2017 and we still haven’t quite worked out how best to organize ourselves and we’ve got these really weird ideas, hang-ups if you like, from the very first forms of organizing which involved a monarch or an army.
"It was all command and control and one person made the decisions and everyone else just tried to make it happen.
"We have so much of that hanging around centuries later in our organizations that people don’t feel like they can bring their best to the game if you like.
"Not until we have a wider understanding, something as simple as that, can we have enough agents in place to effect cultural change.”
—Phil Sheldrake
It’s clear that these experts all agree that the freedom of flexible work schedules, the ability to work from almost anywhere, and increased efficiency by way of improved technology are today’s biggest workplace changes.
They also feel that dated office traditions that don’t embrace technology or flexibility currently pose the biggest threat to achieving great workspaces.
Over the next several posts, I will continue to share the insights I got from this forward-looking group on the future of work and how we can adapt to and benefit from it. Stay tuned.

See our post "How to Get Ready for The Future of Work, From Ian Cleary, Clare Evens, and More: News From Best of Leap 2017" to learn how you can prepare for the future of work.

About the Author

Shelbi Gomez

Shelbi is an experienced public relations professional with experience in both agency and corporate marketing environments. She currently guides brand awareness, market research, analyst relations, and customer content. She has nearly a decade of BtoB and BtoC experience helping companies tell their stories in the changing media landscape — in traditional media outlets, social media, and now through content marketing.

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