In the history of our world, every disaster and emergency has taught us something, and many times has given us a stark invitation to evolve. That is how we grow, how we have developed, and how we have taken the opportunity to move forward and become the society we are today. At times, this evolution has occurred over millennia, over centuries, but now in a more accelerated fashion.
One thing is for certain, COVID-19 has been the accelerator of many existing and underlying issues everywhere, including the world of work. These issues have risen to the top and have now become front and center as organizations consider their future.
What is next as we try to reimagine the future of the work experience?
There has been much speculation and that will continue as the pandemic unfolds and we understand which of our habits and behaviors have changed for good. This is critical as we start to reimagine the future - what will stay the same and what will change in the long run? Therefore, it is important to understand how long it takes to form and cement new habits.
In the 1950’s Dr. Maxwell Martz, a plastic surgeon concluded that it took a minimum of 21-days for his patients to get used to their bodily changes. In 1960 he published his book Psycho-Cybernetics sharing his observations and theory, selling over 30 million copies. Over time, self-help practitioners and publications omitted the minimum of 21-days and morphed it into a new phrase that ‘it takes 21 days to change behaviors’, an inaccurate claim.
Over 50 years later, Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London published a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology that more accurately answers this question. The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period.
Some of the people chose simple habits like drinking a bottle of water with lunch every day. Others chose more difficult tasks like running for 15 minutes before dinner each day.
The researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took for each person to transform from starting the new behavior to automatically doing it.
What they found was that it took anywhere between 18 and 254 days for people to form a new habit but on average it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic – 66 days to be precise, and over 3 times as long as Dr. Maxwell had hypothesized.
So, now months into the pandemic and lockdown, according to Lally’s research, our habits may have already changed, maybe permanently, maybe for good, and maybe for the better.
So, what does this mean as we look to the future of work?
It is likely that by now, during this pandemic, habits, and behaviors have changed for good, creating an opportunity as we design the future of work. There are other considerations and observations to contemplate as companies plan for this next evolution.
Big data is an invaluable source to evaluate what has happened in the past and make intelligent decisions using data sets and inference to answer new questions, and even predict what the future may hold. By using these tools, we can better map the foundation of what we build for tomorrow.
“Through our data science platform, we are able to overlay maps, regions, cities and postal codes to understand data including retail pricing indices, commute times, household income, housing costs, affordability, availability of skilled labor, net migration and much more. The platform will become more intelligent as we continue to add data sets that can answer complex questions.” - Jose Urrechaga, Data Scientist at 4xi.
How do you know what your employees really think? Do you make assumptions that are not backed by data? Often, what people say they want is not necessarily how they behave. A perfect example is a surge in gym memberships at the beginning of each year, a new year’s resolution to opt for change is what people say they want. However, data shows that fitness companies model bets on those that won’t use their membership as opposed to those that will. Understanding real feedback and measuring behavior will provide clues on what to build in your new work experience and what not to.
Jackie Cupper, formerly global head of facilities at a major Pharma company commented, “Working with partners like 4xi you can get to the bottom of what people really think, how they actually behave and how they perform. The combination of these two data sets is an integral reference to creating and maintaining the future experience.”
Every organization has its own distinct personality and culture. How can you nurture this with a highly dispersed workforce in the future? Culture is the glue that keeps people together, gives them a purpose, a sense of belonging, a tribe that they can connect with, and a reason to stay.
Understanding not only the current culture but what is desired in the future provides an additional element of the design framework of the work experience you create, and more importantly why.
Having access to a diverse and experienced team to help craft the experience in line with all these factors is critical to the long-term success of the experiential proposition to your workforce of today and into the future.
The commercial considerations of any business are extremely important. Most organizations understand the critical link between human capital, growth, success, and ultimately profit. How does a shifting business model account for investing and ROI?
The tangible benefits of creating a great work experience are summarized to include:
Increased Employee Retention: According to TLNT, replacing an employee can cost an organization anywhere from 30% of an entry-level salary to 400% of a senior executive’s salary. This is a compelling reason to invest in improving the work experience. According to Gartner, employee turnover in the US alone is a $1 Trillion opportunity for American businesses.
Greater Productivity: More easily measured in some organizations versus others, productivity is important to every organization. According to Gallup, there is a confirmed connection between engaged employees and an increase in productivity. Engaged employees are most often those who experience a better work experience whether in an office, co-working, at home, or wherever they may be in the future.
Better Levels of Customer Satisfaction: Customer experience has been an important focus for organizations. Marketing departments are now equating employee experience to customer acquisition and retention - happy employees help create happy customers, and businesses benefit from stronger top and bottom-line performance as a result.
Enhanced Innovation: A better-connected workforce with the philosophies and values of your organization are more likely to be progressing the evolution of the business and innovating for the better. If customer success is an embedded value then engaged employees are more likely to proactively contribute to that pursuit. Most companies understand the need for innovation to fuel the future success of the business.
Effective Recruitment: Companies like Glassdoor have proven that a great-sounding tagline can fall flat if the actual employee experience is not genuinely great. Sites like this provide real-time, honest feedback from including the hiring experience, perks and benefits, culture, and even rating the CEO.
I have often written about the issues of the commute to and from work, unproductive hours, never mind the now abundantly clear health risks of spending up to 5 years of your life in a car, or on a train, or even for business travelers on planes. Now, we will have more control over where and how we work.
Beyond the physical, and mental health considerations, the knock-on effect of reducing travel time has a significant impact on reducing our carbon footprint and potentially improving our health.
According to the BBC, in countries like the UK and the US, the transportation sector is now responsible for emitting more greenhouse gases than any other, including electricity production and agriculture. Globally, transportation accounts for a quarter of CO2 emissions.
A large portion of the world’s transportation network remains focused around the motor vehicle. Cars, trucks, buses, and motorbikes – account for nearly three-quarters of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from transportation.
At 4xi, we are not only passionate about how we can impact and change the work experience for good, but we are also mindful of the eco-system. Through our work, we can help our client’s performance while improving the health and wellbeing of their employees. It is important to create experiences where families are happier and more productive while reducing the workplace impact on our environment.
Inevitably, more people will be working remotely, either full or part-time, spending less time at the ‘mother ship’; therefore, setting the stage, the environment, and providing the tools to enable collaboration will become more important.
From classrooms to church services, from grandparents to friends’ virtual cocktail hours, and of course as a means to do work, Zoom has boomed. The Silicon Valley video conferencing app grew revenues by 85% in the first three months of 2020 and have doubled their value during that same time.
Based on Phillipa Lally’s research, tools like Zoom are likely to stay, reducing the nonessential daily commute, giving back time to family and self. Then the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco’s Webex, Google Hangouts, and others are probably going to be one of our new adopted habits.
But beyond video conferencing, what else can these and other platforms do to help with collaboration? Document sharing, editing, calendars, chat are common ground, but what about building community?
Corporate loneliness was an issue before COVID-19. Jason Wingard wrote on Forbes that loneliness is on the rise, according to a recent Cigna Survey of more than 6,000 workers. Although it increased for members of every generation over the past year, loneliness remains most prevalent among millennials and Generation-Z, of whom nearly half report feeling lonely.
While loneliness can have a life-changing impact on those individuals, it can also have serious consequences for the businesses where they are employed. Lonely workers take twice as many sick days and demonstrate less commitment and weaker performance. Their emotions can spread to others, as well, causing a ripple effect throughout an organization.
“Given the pernicious effects of loneliness… and given the amount of time people spend at work, leaders must address the issue,” Sigal Barsade, a professor at The Wharton School, told the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).
“This is not only, of course, because it's an alienating and upsetting experience for the employee, but also because it's an organizational problem.”
So how can you design the future with community and inclusion in mind? How will management styles need to be adapted to the new reality of a more remote workforce to engage with them, empower them but also take care of their emotional needs?
Coffee & Cake
I have long professed that food has been at the very center of society since the beginning of mankind. The kitchen is the heart of our home, where families connect, share achievements and disappointments, and where plans are made, and problems are solved. What better way to create a community than around this fundamental human habit?
The future workplace will have fewer people but the need for connection and community will be elevated. Think of the workplace experience proposition as being not just a necessity but a draw to attract your workforce. It will be key to compel them to leave the comfort of their remote location and come to the office to meet with colleagues, to collaborate, socialize, and innovate together.
I was recently on a call with a trusted industry consultant and she made a very interesting observation:
“The reality is that humans like interacting with humans and nothing will replace face to face casual collisions. The truth is that for those who want to progress their careers with their employers, they probably need to be seen, in person, at the corporate office from time to time.”
I pondered this comment and saw the logic and sense in the thought. Of course, to build rapport, relationships, and trust, then the human species needs more intimate, personal interactions. Having a balance between remote 'heads-down work' and collaboration that happens in the office.
So, what are the things that will tempt folks back into the office?
Probably not 5 days a week, every week, but a balanced approach. For some essential workers it might still mean weekly but for many, the collaborative work experience must be like a magnet to pull them in.
The environment should be thought through, from end-to-end. This includes the commute, the welcome and arrival, the amenities, and services available to each employee. It all matters, from the ease of booking meeting rooms to the food, the collaborative spaces, and the workspace – the entire experience.
Organizations may need to invest more in creating these experiences, but with inevitably less consumers, the overall cost could remain the same, or turn out to be even less as populations and even real estate footprints may shrink.
Think technology that manages your experience - alerts you when like-minded colleagues or team members are scheduled to be in the office. Workplace-as-a-Service (WPaaS) App to book meetings together, lunch, stay at the same hotel, social opportunities together, and even dinner. Maximizing the investment of making the visit and optimizing the value of return for the employee.
That same WPaaS app could also be used for dispersed workers too. Imagine an easy way for managers to send gifts or food to colleagues without a lot of effort. Could you be reminded to take a break, get something to eat, or support your cognitive and physical performance?
Just like an Airline App, the WPaaS could help navigate employees through their end to end journey, no matter where they are heading. Looking after their safety, security, health, wellness, comfort, and an overall end to end experience.
But whether working at home, co-working, or at the office, the quality of the coffee and the cake will be more important than ever before!
There has been a lot of conversation around what the future of co-working will be after the pandemic if it will survive, or will it thrive? I am in the latter half of these two thoughts.
As inevitably corporate real estate portfolios will shrink, let’s face it, even prior to COVID, many estimate that in some cases office space was utilized less than 50%. Working alone is also challenging for many, especially over long periods of time, therefore, co-working offers a middle ground.
These destinations of choice will become more like airport executive lounges where there is a sense of belonging but closer to home, with people to interact with, socialize with, amenities available that offer comfort other than sitting in the local coffee shop, curated, controlled, managed, and therefore much safer too. The key here is that companies can exchange this for their office and use it on a part-time basis as a place to meet their teams and collaborate.
Convenience has always been at the top of the consumer agenda, especially in this on-demand-world. Closely linked to simplicity, examples like the pioneers of experience in Apple have always amazed me of how the combination of style, convenience, and simplicity makes for an easier way to get things done, removing the friction wherever possible. The same goes for the design of the work experience of the future. How can you create a frictionless relationship between the employee, the employer, and life?
Years ago, they had a term for this around work/life balance but realized that there can be no such thing as it does not exist. We all know the phrase that relates to ‘loving what you do makes work easy’, well, integrated life with work and vice versa the lines blur but also so does the enjoyment, satisfaction, and therefore engagement levels too.
"Don’t be misled by the unemployment figures, these were necessary for survival during the economic lockdown. The most talented will quickly get swept up as organizations know that they need the best and brightest for them to win. It is a simple supply and demand equation. Those that are swift and offer the best experience will be the winners.” Commented Simon Kruger, EMEA Regional Consultant at 4xi.
The introduction of robots into the workplace has some people worried but the reality is that robots need people, and robots can replace menial, often low paid tasks. In turn, companies can reallocate labor to complete more meaningful, rewarding work. We have already seen this in our manufacturing, call centers, assembly, and many other industries. Over time, the robots and artificial intelligence will continue to evolve, and our experience will improve for the consumer and the workforce.
Gary Mackay, 4xi Regional Consultant for LATAM commented, “I see robotics playing a leading role in eliminating the more mundane tasks of life, and work. We already have autonomous lawn mowers, window cleaners, even through start-up Foldimate you can fold a full load of washing in less than 4 minutes eliminating an hours-worth of mundane ironing.”
Cobotics, or collaborative robots, are robots intended for direct human-robot interaction within a shared space, or where humans and robots are in close proximity. There are many innovative robots and AI to help with the world of work and making the environment not only collaborative but productive too.
It is a conundrum for sure, one that at 4xi we liken to the Rubik’s Cube. The pieces are all different and not all organizations' challenges are quite the same. The key to success is personalization predicated on having the right partners to deliver, within the defined scope. Through aligning and establishing your partnership mandate as a North Star, you can create the measurement of success, deliver your desired outcomes, ultimately benefiting the entire organization.
Jungle fires in the rain forests produce green shoots the next morning. The Volcanoes of Hawaii erupt and create new land, and opportunities. The wildfires, hurricanes, monsoons, the earthquakes, although devastating in the loss of life and property, they prompt us to adapt, overcome, and evolve. This has been our evolution as a human race since the beginning of mankind, and COVID-19 is one of the latest challenges set forth to us.
Together we can adapt, improvise, overcome, and reimagine the future of work, together. How are you planning to transform your work experience for GOOD?
Simon Elliot is Managing Partner of 4xi Global Consulting and is focused and passionate about the transformation of the work experience. Based in San Francisco, Simon has a global perspective having visited and worked with FORTUNE 100 corporations across six of the seven continents. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and on the Global Partner Advisory Board of the WORKTECH Academy.
4xi is a global workplace consulting and solutions firm supporting corporations, service providers, innovators, and accelerators to lead the transformation of the work experience for GOOD.
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