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Our futures are owned at every level: Pt 2

Updated: May 17

Reflections on Future Work Scenarios 21 – Part 2

Grantley Morgan



In brief


Future Work Scenarios 21 (FWS 21) brought together some of the world’s leading minds to consider our changing relationship with the workplace and the impact of technology on our work. Set within an unprecedented context of sweeping digital transformation, global health crises, social justice movements and environmental challenges, it is easy to assume our futures are not fully within our control. Yet featured companies acted boldly to merge purpose, wellbeing, DE&I, digital transformation and learning initiatives in response to forced adjustments to their workplaces and often business models, simultaneously. Many also did this whilst providing essential or key services. What can we learn?

  1. We can and should create frameworks to make the disruptive impacts of AI and automation visible, and present workers with choice and ownership over the shape of their future careers.

  2. Learning continuously at the pace of change can help us move and stay ahead of unstable technologies, which will continue to accelerate the rate of skills obsolescence.

  3. Workplaces have simultaneously become more and less equitable due to the dislocation of work from place and time – we should retain positive changes whilst seeking to balance out negative consequences.

  4. Our rediscovery of collective action has distributed ownership of workplace wellbeing at multiple levels, requiring leaders to set the tone and equip managers to shape a culture of dialogue and support.

  5. Post-pandemic workplace design is likely to further reflect this new-found collective focus, as the office becomes a hub for connection, collaboration, and community building. Teams rather than individuals should be the focus of workspace allocation.

  6. Purpose-led companies continue to trailblaze new business and governance models that prove doing good does not come at the expense of growth, innovation, productivity, or profit.

Above all, our work futures are a set of connected choices and decisions shaped by the narratives we create and are owned at all levels. The future will be what we make it.

In Part 2 of the Reflections series, we will recap the remaining 3 themes: Wellbeing, Workplace Design and Purpose.


(ICYMI, you can find Part 1 of this series here)

Previously, we explored how Digital Transformation, Learning and DE&I are setting a course for a new, intentional future of work in which choice is empowered at every level. Global society has a broad and growing awareness that social justice and outcome equality can only be achieved if governments, companies and workers act as change-makers in unison. Part 2 explores how we can sustain this change, making inclusive behaviours default behaviours, by creating purposeful cultures within which people can be themselves and collaborate with colleagues to create new sources of value and growth. Here are my final takeaways on how ownership of our work futures can be distributed at every level.

4. Wellbeing is a team sport, but managers make the difference

Our rediscovery of collective action was noted by Christy Pambianchi as something we should keep post-pandemic. Indeed, multiple speakers noted the importance of taking ownership of wellbeing at multiple levels. Leadership and management teams are obvious difference-makers - Eileen Donnelly reminded us that interpersonal relationships are the biggest driver of job satisfaction, within which relationships with management are 6x more impactful than relationships with co-workers. This extends to the pivotal role of leaders in promoting supportive cultures:



Dr Shaun Davis described the strategy for whole-person health at Royal Mail – spanning physical, mental and financial wellbeing. Mental health is RM’s largest absence category, prompting an initiative to promote positive narratives on mental health during the pandemic, treating it as a high-performance mindset in the same way we think about physical health. The role of Line Managers here is focused on signposting workers to correct support mechanisms.


Starting from the same initial goal of helping workers manage their mental health through the pandemic, Karl Simons shared a fascinating example of how Thames Water took the opportunity to embed broader cultural transformation through a rapid transition to hybrid work. Leaders were asked to set the tone, but ownership at all levels is encouraged through 5 new workplace values:


• Take care (individual, colleagues, environment)

• Reach higher, be better (continuous learning)

• Be respectful and value everyone (teaming principles)

• Passionate about everything we do (customer ethos)

• Take ownership (secure, pro-active ways of working).


Building on these excellent initiatives, continual EX listening or employee nudges could be used to merge data with personalised interventions on the ground to track behaviour change in a scalable way.

5. Be radical when approaching team-first workplace design

Adding to the re-emergence of the collective, John Burgess and Caroline Pontifex explored how teams will become the focal point of workplace design as offices become hubs for connection, collaboration and community building. Both focused on how modular, flexible office layouts can reinvent space for small team collaboration and learning, whilst also serving to reinforce brand identity. We can expect post-pandemic workplaces to mirror retail and hospitality trends as our campuses become more experiential - I’m excited by the potential of short, hyper-collaborative stays in apartment-style spaces!


Indeed, architects are beginning to talk about the emergence of mixed-purpose buildings as office HQ space is reduced by up to 30%. Thinking about the challenge of inter-generational wealth differences, could we see employers integrate discounted living space within HQs as an additional employee benefit?


While speakers fully expect the office to remain the nerve centre of operations, the role of suburban or communal spaces for collaborative work poses a different challenge. John suggested these can’t be controlled by the centre in the same way, predicting that club-style models will emerge, grounded in employee choice, such as the deal recently agreed between Standard Chartered and IWG.


Delving deeper into emerging hybrid work models, Nicola Millard shared the 5D’s of future workplace collaboration which represent a useful frame for a post-pandemic reset.

The 5D’s illustrate just how much has changed before our eyes during the past 15 months. It would be easy to forego the opportunity to reset our relationship with work by seeking a return to pre-pandemic ways of working. However, many of the changes were already coming. Office use, the structure of our working day, and distance between teams had all been changing prior to the pandemic, shaped by tech advancement, social preferences, and the forces of globalisation. Looking ahead, we can expect to continue the quest for new productivity measures or the design of new jobs built around emerging technologies, business models and enviro-social challenges.

6. The unifying power of purpose

Saving the best until last, purpose unifies all other themes within featured FWS 21 case studies which demonstrated emerging governance frameworks that promote social and economic interests through distributed ownership models – proving that doing good does not come at the expense of growth, innovation, productivity, or profit.


Danone’s power of 3 model (Business, Brand, Trust) sets a compelling framework for distributed ownership in organisations, directly linking employee voice with bottom-line value creation.

Over 400 DE&I champions tie DE&I to Danone’s industrial innovation heritage, while annual priorities are set via a direct link between shareholders, the Board and employees during a strategic planning round. Through its dual economic and social mission, Danone is a beacon for inclusive capitalism. The results? 45% of global Danone businesses are covered by B Corp certifications, products are available in 120+ countries and 67% of Danone sales are generated outside of Europe.

IKEA found breakout success in 2020 with a similar approach, posting record group revenues of €37.4B in 2020 after pivoting its business from bricks and mortar to online sales at the onset of the pandemic. With a foundational commitment to doing business in a good way, IKEA applies 3 tests to all strategic decisions: is it good for business, good for our people, and good in both the short and long-term? Armed with a digital channel strategy which met those tests, IKEA then provided stability and space for its global workforce to adapt to and realise this digital transformation. Key actions included:

  • Committing to income stability despite the closure of retail stores

  • Extending employee support program to 31 countries

  • Completing 2.2M learning hours, including remote work and mindfulness/wellbeing training

  • Prioritising ‘action in the community’ programmes for at-risk communities

  • Taking action to close the gender pay gap and improve representation.

Melding Purpose, AI & Digital Transformation, and Learning themes, IKEA simultaneously unlocked new value and growth whilst improving co-workers’ long-term employability. In doing so, IKEA moved ahead of benchmarks on co-worker inclusion (80%) and authenticity (83%). And with a multi-generational view of the impact of automation, digitisation, platform economies and new workforce categories, don’t bet against IKEA any time soon.

Summary


Whilst there is no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating the future of work, some of FWS 21’s featured speakers and companies are significantly ahead of the pack. Everyone has needed to make fast decisions in the tunnel over the past 15 months, however our featured companies were bolder in melding purpose, wellbeing, DE&I, digital transformation and learning initiatives in response to forced adjustments to their workplaces and often business models simultaneously. Many also did this whilst providing essential or key services. What did we learn?

  1. We can and should create frameworks through which workers at all levels can understand and manage the impact of AI and digital transformation on their work.

  2. Learning continuously at the pace of change can help us move and stay ahead of unstable technologies, which will continue to accelerate the rate of skills obsolescence.

  3. Workplaces have simultaneously become more and less equitable due to the dislocation of work from place and time – affording some an equal platform to share ideas, express views and participate fully; whilst presenting real challenges for others facing economic dislocation or balancing primary caregiving responsibilities. We should listen for and understand these impacts, retaining positive changes whilst seeking to balance out negative consequences.

  4. Our rediscovery of collective action has distributed ownership of workplace wellbeing at multiple levels, requiring leaders to set the tone and equip managers to shape a culture of dialogue and support.

  5. Post-pandemic workplace design is likely to further reflect this new-found collective focus, as the office becomes a hub for connection, collaboration, and community building. Teams rather than individuals should be the focus of workspace allocation.

  6. Purpose-led companies continue to trailblaze new business and governance models that prove doing good does not come at the expense of growth, innovation, productivity, or profit.

Above all, our work futures are a set of connected choices and decisions shaped by the narratives we create and are owned at all levels. The future will be what we make it.

Thanks for reading. To engage with our Future of Work community, please join our LinkedIn Group, where you'll get first access to future blogs and advance notice of future events.

About Future Work Scenarios

Future Work Scenarios (FWS) brings together HR and transformation leaders from the world’s top employers in addition to futurologists, behavioural psychologists, and innovative tech companies. It provides space to reflect on how technology and changing attitudes are reshaping the world of work. The summit is produced by Independent Forums - follow the showcase page on LinkedIn for details on future events.

About the author

Grantley is a Consulting leader specialised in Workforce Strategy & Transformation, with 6+ years’ experience advising global clients on the future of work. He is an advocate of economic empowerment through education, work, reskilling and social mobility - with the goal of making that available at any point in an individual's career. Grantley also advocates governmental exploration of new models of labour and taxation to aid competitiveness as we shift to a digital economy where AI is a source of improved global economic, climate and health conditions.

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