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How to Prepare for the Future of Work

the future of work, the new workplaceOne of the largest responsibilities of any business is to keep looking ahead: continually forecasting, predicting, and preparing for the future. But the Covid-19 pandemic meant that many were barely treading water. It has dramatically impacted the way we work, in many cases accelerating existing trends. And unfortunately, there’s no one-and-done playbook on how to move forward. Now that the world has acclimated to the radically reimagined workplace, it’s time once again to examine the future of work.

In this blog, we’re covering everything from new technology to the hybrid workplace, employee productivity and burnout, the gig economy, and continued professional development.

Automation & Augmentation

With technology at the forefront of, well, pretty much everything, automation and augmentation are two primary future-of-work trends that businesses need to investigate. This category covers a wide range of tools and technologies that businesses can implement in many ways. It might look like updated CRM software, implementing a chatbot on your website, or using robots in your manufacturing plant.

Efficiency is the name of the game. Automation and augmentation are the keys to success when it comes to optimizing your internal processes. This is especially relevant when many businesses are operating with a reduced and offsite workforce.

You can also check out our blog on this topic.

The Hybrid Workplace

A recent study by Slack discovered that 72% of knowledge workers would prefer a mix of remote and in-person work. While this provides the flexibility we talked about earlier, this method of work has its own challenges. This might look like meetings where some members are in-person and some are on a screen when the mix of media might impact the organic flow of a meeting. It may also take the form of implementing new technologies, like those mentioned above, to bridge the geographical gaps between workers.

It’s also likely that employees won’t want to work in the traditional 9 to 5 workday. Instead, an employee might want to work 11a.m. to 7p.m. Because there are distractions at home not found in the office, like kids doing virtual school or noisy pets, employees may find that working during alternate hours allows them greater productivity.

In many cases, employers’ flexibility at the beginning of the pandemic came out of pure necessity. But now, a year into the pandemic, flexibility has become a job staple. Employees will expect it to be a standard part of the workplace instead of a bonus.

 Reexamine How to Measure Productivity

Because we’re operating in a hybrid workplace, businesses will likely have to change how they measure performance and productivity.

Pre-pandemic opinion purported that a team’s productivity was dependent on proximity. But the forced shift to remote showed us that businesses could survive—and in many cases thrive—in a work-from-home environment. Now that we’ve settled into a new work structure, managers and team leaders can’t use the same methods of ensuring productivity (i.e. walking the floor) when workers aren’t in-person. So how can businesses continue to motivate and get results out of employees?

It’s time to change how we measure productivity. Since leaders can’t physically observe that employees are working, try using impact as the metric to measure productivity. Here are some key metrics to implement:

  • Define and clearly communicate key performance indicators for each role. Determine if the employee met the KPI’s within the given timeframe.
  • Establish milestones for task completion, especially for long-term projects.
  • Provide employees with task management software. At NAS we’ve used the Tasks feature on Microsoft Teams to keep us on track.

Remember that each employee may require unique methods of coaching to boost motivation and productivity. Regular check-ins and flexibility communicate to employees that they are valuable team members, which can boost motivation and productivity.

The Growing Gig Economy

Prior to the pandemic, the gig economy was already a growing trend. The gig economy is the term used to describe the rising number of freelancers and independent contractors hired by many businesses instead of full-time employees. Pre-pandemic, some estimated gig workers composed up to 35% of the total workforce.

Since many workers were laid off as a result of Covid-19, they turned to gig work. Gig work is often more flexible than a regular full-time job. Workers set their own hours and can take on many different types of work. This flexibility may be essential to working parents whose children are in virtual school.

One hot topic of debate in the gig economy is the continued need for health insurance and other employee protections. Such benefits aren’t typically provided to gig workers. California’s recent Prop 22 vote required app-based transportation and delivery services to provide their independent contractors with a healthcare contribution stipend and 120% of the minimum wage, among other benefits. A worker-centric focus will continue to trend, whether for gig-workers or full-time employees.

To prepare for the gig economy, workers should ensure that any certifications, ratings, testimonials, and other items can carry from job to job. Be sure to showcase these on your online profiles and resumé.

Continued Learning

With a myriad of online resources and certifications, workers can continue their professional development with free or low-cost alternatives to traditional education. Online courses often offer some of the most relevant trends and practices to help you stay up-to-date in your industry. A few of our favorites are LinkedIn Learning, Google certifications, the massive online open course provider Coursera. 

Many industry organizations also provide industry-specific education, like seminars, certifications, and conferences to develop their workers. Here at NAS, we’ve participated in ongoing professional development via the International Sign Association online programs.

You can read our blog on career building for young professionals for more ideas.

Combatting Employee Burnout

In a recent industry seminar we attended, many participants voiced that one of the biggest challenges of the past year was feeling isolated. Especially for those who thrive in-person, losing the connection that comes with seeing coworkers face-to-face can be detrimental to mental health.

Employees may also be contending with burnout and other mental health challenges that are even more difficult to combat when isolated at home. Employers must focus more resources on employee care and well-being. Besides regular check-ins with supervisors, this might require a company-wide reevaluation of those policies intended for an in-person workforce, like sick leave, vacation time, and childcare.

We’ve seen how to world of work can adapt to rapidly evolving situations. And while 2020 was a tough year—the beginning of 2021 has been no picnic either—everyone can be encouraged by the flexibility and resiliency shown by the working world. Now we can take the next steps to prepare for the future of work.

You can also check out our blog specifically for young professionals on preparing for the changing workforce.