The way we work is changing, and it's changing fast. Communication, collaboration, reporting, teamwork, and even the nature of our jobs are evolving and we are on the brink of experiencing the office of the future.
I recently had the chance to talk with Brian Fanzo about the future of work. He's an expert on leveraging digital technology to reach Millennials and Generation Z, and he has some excellent insight into how work is changing.
See our new State of Work report to find out how 2,001 enterprise workers think email, meetings, and automation are shaping the future of work.
The following are Brian's responses to a few questions about what we can expect in the office of the future.
1. Looking five years into the future, how do you see the way we communicate about work changing? How will this affect existing tools and practices like email and meetings?
Work is no longer about a place we go or something we do. Rather, it’s an important aspect of our lives and our lives are changing at a speed we’ve never experienced before.
Communication at work, about work, and with those we work with is drastically shifting from a “message” driven communication to a relationship driven conversation.
What does this mean for existing tools and practices like email and meetings? It means tools must factor in contextual insights as well as existing social data to move messaging formats into conversation structures.
As for practices like meetings, companies and leaders must shift their focus to leveraging tools like social business collaboration platforms, messaging apps, and video to accomplish their previous goals of traditional meetings in a world of work that allows employees to work when and where they are most productive.
2. How should teams be changing how they communicate at work (e.g., technology, processes, culture) to be competitive in the future?
The change required to embrace this shift in communication starts and ends with creating a culture of three-way trust:
- Trust in leaders/managers by employees.
- Trust in employees by leaders/managers.
- Trust in company tools/technology/data by leaders/managers and employees.
To truly thrive in this rapid change culture built on trust, you must embrace what I call the "three T's" and the order of the three T's is essential:
Culture change driven by digital transformation and innovation requires fluid and open communication made possible only in a culture that is built on the foundation of trust.
Once this foundation is established, leadership must create an “always be learning” atmosphere that includes company driven education on how, why, and who the company is linked to, and employee-owned and company rewarded self-education on what tools and technology to use and how best to utilize them.
A culture built on the platform of trust that embraces an “always be learning” atmosphere will be prepared to adopt any and all current technologies while also being agile enough to pivot quickly as innovation drives it to new and emerging technologies.
3. Among knowledge workers, we're seeing a growing appetite for flexibility in how and when work gets done. Why (or why not) might this be a good thing? How should businesses be reacting to this trend?
The idea that every person in a company is most productive between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. makes sense only for a company made up of robots that all think, work, eat, and interact the same.
The ideation of “thinking outside the box” is ultimately the driver that has exposed the massive disconnect between a company’s desire for innovation and change.
If you want to hire people that work differently and think differently, then you must empower them to do so with the tools and processes open to trusting them to work how they do best.
Hiring someone that thinks outside the box and forcing them to work where you want them to and during the hours you require simply puts a box around the potential of that employee and ultimately eliminates all of the characteristics that led you to hire them in the first place.
This does require trust between all parties involved and that trust isn’t given because of one's title or years at the company. Rather, it’s earned based on the data shared and results achieved. Here is an example from my past:
As a young manager 10 years ago, I was on a mission to not only earn the trust of my new employees but also demonstrate the importance of trust being a two-way street.
As my team and I all worked from home I gave every employee access to my Find your iPhone and Foursquare data, allowing them to see where I was at any time of the day. Why would I do this?
The company policy—previously—for those that worked from home was that the Microsoft Communicator status must be green for the eight hours an employee was clocking on their timecard.
When I saw this policy I quickly coded a program on my computer to wake my mouse every eight minutes, giving the illusion I was "green" no matter where I was or what I was doing.
As a manager, I understood the root of this policy was that we didn’t trust that those who worked from home were putting in the eight hours the same way those who worked in the office were and this worried leadership.
I knew that I didn’t care how many hours someone was working or from where they were working. Rather, I only cared about the results of that work.
By shifting the policy from sharing that you were “green,” or at your desk, to sharing your location data so everyone on the team knew where you were at allowed for us to hold each other accountable while also shifting the focus from how many hours you worked to the results of the work you did.
Now this was 10 years ago and a lot has changed in that time, including policies and procedures that might not make it OK for a manager to share all of this data so transparently.
But, the results are what mattered the most and my team was able to triple our training program in four years and during that time we scaled from a team of three to a team of over 20.
4. Our research shows that knowledge workers feel a great deal of optimism toward automation, while many workers in other job types are wary of it. How do you see automation and artificial intelligence improving knowledge work in the near future?
Companies with a culture built on trust, training, and technology ultimately empower employee-wide optimism around innovations like automation and artificial intelligences, as they trust that technologies that will help the company succeed will be implemented so that they can be properly trained on how to leverage them while also being rewarded for seeking new skillsets that are the results of this innovation.
Companies that lack the trust and training aspects within their culture have inspired an employee mentality of holding onto the knowledge they have and pushing back on change.
They don’t trust that they won’t be replaced by this new technology and believe the company would rather replace them with younger/cheaper talent than train them.
Technology trust within a culture is as important as trust between managers and employees.
Over the last 10 years many companies have forced new technologies on a culture without proper training and without communicating why this change was being made, which too often led to either a failed implementation of the technology or failed company-wide adoption of the technology.
Automation and artificial intelligence require strategic training, implementation, and execution by the employees leveraging these tools as no technology will fix stupid or eliminate the need for trust and training within a culture.
Those companies that successfully leverage artificial intelligence and strategic automation will do so because they have a culture that’s built on trust with a shared vision and collective passion for innovation across the entire company.
5. In five years, what will the balance between automated work and work that requires a "human touch" look like? What are the limits of automation and artificial intelligence technologies in the workspace?
Automation and artificial intelligence will transform what we work on and how we do our work, transforming our workflow from results driven to a workflow focused driven to discover new insights and transform existing experiences.
Over the next five years, we will see the implementation of automation and AI to distance ourselves or eliminate the need for many human touch points.
But just as is the case today with mobility and digital media, we will quickly learn that the need and desire for human interaction, relatability, and trust between companies and customers only grows in importance with new innovation and change in human behaviors.
I believe the workforce of the future will come down to strategically empowering leaders and employees to focus on what they do best while leveraging innovation to scale and increase productivity, ultimately creating new jobs.
It’s not about automation and AI replacing humans. Rather, it's about humans leveraging automation and learning from AI to become better humans and achieve new innovations that have yet to be dreamed of.
The future of work is just around the corner, and Brian believes that with the rise of knowledge workers, an increased use of AI, and changing methods of communication, trust will be essential. Businesses that prepare now, with this insight in mind, will have an edge in the workplace of the future.
Check out "Fighting Forward: Three Ways to Prepare for The Future of Work" for more tips on preparing for the future of work.