New clothes, new hours, and other expert advice
Six pressing questions about the future of work.
By Rebecca M. Knight
If at least some of your job can be done from home, what should your work hours and workweeks look like?
We must get rid of the notion of a 9 to 5 workday. Those hours make sense when you’re commuting, but the rigidity of that schedule doesn’t allow you to get the benefits of working from home. Once you remove that straitjacket, you can figure out the best hours for you. Maybe you start your workday around 10 after you get the kids ready for school and do some exercise. Or maybe you do your best work late at night.
There are some limitations. If you’re working in a team or with people in different time zones, you’ll have to coordinate. And you’ll need to be amenable when your manager wants to talk. But the goal is to structure your schedule around your life’s competing objectives and work when you’re most likely to be creative and productive. It takes a more results-oriented mindset where the focus is on what you’re accomplishing, not the hours worked.
Most employees, if given a choice, will opt for a “Goldilocks plan” that involves not too much time at the office, and not too little. On office days, you may find you’re working longer hours because you’re cramming a lot in. You’re seeing clients, using specialized machines, or having informal lunches and team meetings. You’ll need to figure out how to optimize your time based on how your organization is structured and your own preferences.
— Robert C. Pozen, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and author of “Remote Inc.: How to Thrive at Work . . . Wherever You Are.”
How can employers balance having some people at the office while others are at home?
Pre-pandemic, employees in the office often took precedence; remote workers were second-class citizens. Now our perspective has broadened, and we’ve gained an awareness of, and comfort with, remote work. The worry is that once we return to some kind of normal, we will revert to autopilot. Leaders mustn’t let that happen.
Building and sustaining a positive organizational culture is an urgent priority. Leaders will need to get creative in how they employ video, story, and music to create human connections between employees. They’ll need to overcommunicate with their teams, constantly reinforcing the bigger picture they’re working toward, and reminding people of commonalities they share. New hires will need to pair with an onboarding buddy — a culture carrier — to help them learn the organization’s beliefs and values.
Leaders will also need to be thoughtful about managing interactions between their remote and in-person workforces. During a hybrid meeting, for instance, they’ll need to be mindful of technology — even down to the screen sizes they’re using to make sure people joining remotely aren’t reduced to tiny boxes. They’ll need to be better facilitators, too. They’ll need to ask the remote colleagues for their thoughts first and then turn their bodies to listen. During impromptu interactions, they’ll need to be intentional about keeping all colleagues in the loop.
— Amy Jen Su, co-founder and managing partner of Paravis Partners and author of “The Leader You Want to Be: Five Essential Principles for Bringing Out Your Best Self — Every Day.”
How can companies spark collaboration among remote workers and accurately measure their performance?
From a creativity and collaboration standpoint, the hybrid work schedule — where employees spend some days each week in an office and other days working remotely — represents the best of both worlds. Workers will use the office for socializing and brainstorming; they will do their thinking and virtual collaboration from home.
A majority of employee communication will continue to be mediated through a computer screen, but that won’t have too big an effect on innovation. Tools like Slack and Zoom are continuing to evolve. As long as there’s some in-person interaction, and time for joking and gossiping, employees will adjust.
What will change, though, is how managers evaluate employees’ performance and how well they collaborate with colleagues. Most organizational cultures overly prize folks who are first in the car park and last to leave. Performance reviews reflect who’s the best at politicking and reputation management.
With more people working remotely more of the time, managers will have to focus less on style and more on substance. In some industries, they’ll rely on statistics and metrics to judge. In others, peer feedback will be the gauge. Managers will be looking at team synergy: How effectively are teams collaborating? Do employees feel energized by the ideas generated? Are people contributing equally? Employees will need to show that they’re delivering.
— Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University.
Is the shape of career paths changing?
Historically, degrees and prior experience have been the main criteria needed to get a job. But today we’re seeing that more and more companies are looking for relevant skills rather than pedigree, and this thinking is very quickly expanding the pools of available talent. For job seekers, this means that building and demonstrating skills has never been more important. And companies will want to see that people have the skills to do the job, whether it’s by taking an assessment, having a credential, or completing a course.
We’ll also continue to see a rise in internal mobility — people moving to new positions within their organization rather than jumping to new companies when they want a career switch. While internal mobility was already a growing trend, the pandemic made it a must-have. As hiring slowed, leaders were more driven to look internally for talent to fill roles. Team members with lighter workloads were moved to departments that needed extra support.
Since the pandemic began, internal mobility has increased by roughly 20 percent, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing as companies realize the benefits.
— Jennifer Shappley, vice president of global talent acquisition at LinkedIn.
What will employers do to truly promote diversity and inclusion?
Last spring, our country experienced a cataclysmic awakening after the lynching of George Floyd. His death, combined with a pandemic that’s disproportionately affected marginalized groups, caused us collectively to take a hard look at racism in America. It put a spotlight on how we treat people in our communities and in our workplaces.
Employees have been clamoring for better treatment since forever. And now they’re defining what that means. The goal is an equitable workplace — meaning no discriminatory hiring practices, no pay disparities, and no gender imbalances. Black and brown and queer people and women should be able to be themselves at work and not feel like they have to hide who they are.
The best leaders now are listening deeply to what their people need and making changes accordingly. They’re inviting employees to prioritize their families and well-being. The leaders who don’t get it are draining their people and treating them like machines.
When the worst of this pandemic is over, we’re not going back to where we were. We’re going to remember the companies that made outward and authentic gestures in support of Black Lives Matter and then followed it up with action — like addressing anti-Black racism in their industry. We’ll reward those companies with our consumer dollars, and we’re going to want to work for those companies, too.
— Tiffany Jana, founder and CEO of TMI Consulting and co-author of “Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions.”
What’s the future of work attire?
Many of us have spent the last year looking at our closets wondering when and if we’d ever again have occasion to put on our dressy work clothes. We’ve changed; the world has changed.
The emphasis on comfort is here to stay. Gone are men’s neckties. Ties are uncomfortable and antiquated.
But ultra-relaxed, stay-at-home loungewear will get an upgrade. The future lies in tech-savvy fabrics that are easy to wear and help us feel our best from a health and wellness standpoint. We’ll choose breathable materials that keep us warm when we’re cold and cool when we’re hot — which is useful if, say, you’re sweating over an important presentation. Sustainable clothes made from mushrooms and coconut fibers will become more popular, too — as will eco-friendly pieces made from recycled materials.
When we’re dressing for work, the question we will be asking ourselves is, What feels good now?
— Leesa Evans, stylist and Hollywood costume designer.