Looking to the Future of Work and the Office

“Going to work” has transformed into turning-on-the-work-laptop while comfortably tucked in your blanket at home. As remote work and flexible workforce become the sexiest words of the day, we cannot help but wonder about the future of work and the “destiny” of the office. 

Flexible work is no longer a beautiful promise; it has turned into a palpable reality that every company has to face. So, are we to envision barren office buildings with deserted desks and conference rooms, much like in an apocalyptic Hollywood movie? Should we let our imagination get the best of us?

The kinds of transformations we’re now witnessing on the labour market are not a surprise, but the speed with which they’re happening is. The Coronavirus pandemic might have accelerated the future of work like we could have never envisioned and now organizations need to graciously pirouette their way into the remote digital service. 

The Future of Work and the Workforce Segmentation of Roles The digital-native Russian bank, Tinkoff has established cloud-based call-centres with freelancers working as call centre operators making about 500,000 customer calls a day. The recruiting, training and managing costs are offset by savings in rental space and workplace amenities.  Organizations can and will change their service and support to meet the new behaviours of their customers and employees. On a higher scale, this calls for a new workforce segmentation and new families of roles in the company.  Based on the impact of the value chain and the difficulty in replicating certain skills, we have four major cohorts: Critical, Core, Specialist, and Flexible roles. You can map these roles against other families of roles (onsite, virtual, gig, hybrid), and you’ll get a new organizational matrix to ensure efficiency.  For example, you’ll see that the specialist and the flexible roles can be virtual or gig because they can work in agile, “liquid” ways. 

Flexible Working Hours and Agile Ways of Working Adapting to the times means shifting from a stable workforce model to a more flexible one. For example, you can establish variable and performance-based remuneration systems. A sub-prime British lender found a unique approach to keep its business afloat during the crisis. They would offer doorstep lending conducted by the self-employed workforce. Agents would call customer experience managers to go door-to-door to market small loans, make collections, follow up on customer leads or log complaints. In this case, they would get paid on commission based on sales and collections. Another example comes from the telecom industry where an organization established highly-flexible hours to allow its employees to work from their preferred locations whenever they wanted.  Agile ways of working are not disrupted by the remote work models either. The agile model implies the physical proximity of team members, meetings, and quarterly business reviews, but they can also be done remotely.  Other companies have used lean office approaches, including hot-desking and this is an interesting perspective.  Is Hot-Desking the Future of the Office? Or is there no future at all? With the recent developments in the global crisis, it seems that the desk-to-employee ratio will keep swinging to its extremes. The office of the future might have a lot fewer desks than employees. This hot-desking practice implies that you can have 300 employees sharing 150 flexible space desks. However, the million-dollar question is: are companies able to coordinate 300 employees working from 150 desks, or even less? This leads us to the idea of the hybrid workplace, which is gaining a lot of traction and changing policies as we speak. Augmented workforce integrated with robotics and cognitive automation is also part of a broad digital organisation vision. However, the critics have already raised a red flag: Businesses might lose the human touch! That’s a strong red flag.  Enter Independent Contingent Workers and the Gig Economy Freelancers or free workers, the “outside talent” are probably the least complicated option when it comes to payment, and results. Companies are already engaging these temporary workers by the hour, or project-based, with defined, set-in-stone duties.  They are hired through online marketplaces, or even through staffing agencies, and the way they accomplish their tasks is not defined.  The gig economy has been on the table of many organisations looking to solve their staffing problems, for some time now. The benefits of this alternative workforce model might bring about a smoother post-crisis recovery. Some companies are also considering share employment workforce models with other firms.  The future of work looks quite complicated, with so many things happening at the same time. There are three trends that we should follow closely: the increasing automation of work, the rise of new models of interaction between companies, and the reconfiguration of the physical proximity workplace.