Blog: What next for the Future of Work?

Wellbeing@Work CEO, Chris Cummings, shares his thoughts on ‘What next for the Future of Work?’:

As organisers of high-quality virtual summits around the world, I am only too aware of the great insight you can gain from live content. Setting aside time in a busy working day to listen to peers and leaders that you respect can be valuable, empowering and enriching. This week, a webinar in the UK caught my eye, ‘Building Back Better’, so I decided to sign up.

The panel consisted of a fantastic mix of experts: Will Butler-Adams, Managing Director of Brompton Cycles was joined by Richard Reed, Co-Founder of Innocent Drinks and serial investor, and advertising veteran Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy Group, who were brilliantly moderated by Kate Silverton from the BBC. My expectations of this 45-minute discussion were a high-level insight into how post-Covid-19, the UK economy builds back strongly, and this was certainly delivered. However, I wasn’t expecting such a strong focus on the Future of Work, and in particular, the new workplace and the changes in employee behaviour as we look to the future. The discussion and views were extremely insightful and surprising.

My favourite quote from the session was from Rory Sutherland who suggested making the office a mixture of a library and the pub. It sounds like a strange suggestion and combination, but the explanation is genius – create a space where both introverts and extroverts can thrive, where noisy creativity and collaboration can sit alongside quiet reflection and most importantly, now that the office is competing with a person’s home, as a suitable place to work. It should be a space that you want to come to every week, even if it is for a reduced time than before. I found myself shouting out in agreement.

In my view, the open-plan office set up has certainly had its day, but this is an important observation and one that I have not heard before and makes complete sense. Workspaces and offices are now competing with our homes alongside other options, such as cafes and co-working solutions, as alternative workplaces. Additionally, Sutherland talked about the reason we retire is not because we don’t want to do our job anymore, on the contrary, most people retire because ‘they don’t want to get up at 6 am to sit on a packed commuter train anymore’. Could this new concept be a game-changer for many in this age group? This is a huge shift that requires radical thinking.

Business travel was also under the spotlight as something that will never return to pre-Covid levels. Can you imagine spending a whole day away from your office and travelling to Frankfurt for a client meeting for 90 minutes, missing time with the family and having to catch-up on a backlog of work on your return? Or would you prefer to have five client meetings across the world from the comfort of your home study and still be able to the kids up from school? Whilst there will be a return to face-to-face meetings, my view is, and I agree, that business travel will never return to pre-Covid-19 levels. Also, future budgets allocated to this spend by intuitive CFO’s will be very different.

This leads nicely onto the green agenda that was heavily covered during the discussion. Major infrastructure investment in the UK such as HS2 and Crossrail certainly looks dated now from this future of work viewpoint and Governments should look to the medium and long term when planning such projects. Do we need a huge, expensive tunnel running through the centre of London now? How will the transport system of the future be used? How will technology play its part? Some interesting climate challenges need to be tackled first.

The final area that was discussed was flexibility and the focus on outcomes. Will Butler-Adams explained that when things are going well in his organisation, he encourages his teams to take time out, relax and recuperate. There will be times when all hands are required for busy periods or a crisis, and therefore, it is important to focus on yourself when there is the opportunity to do so. The focus on outcomes has certainly been a wake-up call for many leaders around the world during the pandemic and must now be the way forward. A balanced approach of spending time in the office for collaboration, interaction, and of course quiet time away from home is essential, but the traditional 9-5 has gone for good. We must provide employees with the flexibility on how and where they work, place outcomes at the heart of everything we do and allow time for rest and recuperation, especially after busy periods.

Major challenges like Covid-19 not only demand leaders to adapt quickly with short term solutions for their business, but it also provides the opportunity for us all to reset our working and personal lives; find what’s really important to us. Is it to live outside of a major city? Is it to be able to work different hours, perhaps after the kids have gone to bed? Is it to spend two days per week in the office and more time at home? Some professions, especially front-line workers and blue-collar industries may not have the same opportunities for flexible working as white-collar industries, but technology will continue to evolve, as we have seen with virtual GP appointments, so change is inevitable. However, for those in office environments, the future of work will look hugely different in 12-18 months if we grasp the opportunity now.

I also think that all the points raised in this discussion are heavily linked to our wellbeing and mental health and post Covid-19, that must be a top priority for all going forward. A greener society provides a strong sense of purpose; cycling to work allows for more physical exercise. A more flexible approach to working hours creates more time for connections and the opportunity to eat healthier foods. Less time commuting reduces stress and allows more time with the kids, and an adaptable workspace allows both introverts and extroverts to thrive. The future of work is here, and I urge you to grasp this amazing opportunity now to make a positive change to your work and home life.

You can listen to the 45-minute discussion, ‘Building Back Better’, on the JLA website here

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Wellbeing @ Work Hub

Global community helping individuals and organisations achieve excellence in workplace wellbeing & mental health

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