What the future of work really means for you

He’s on a zero-hour contract, his job is about to be taken over by a robot, and the only time he ‘talks’ to his colleagues is through instant messenger: the future of work is supposed to be terrifying.

Yet despite all the talk of technology doing us out of work, somehow we’re having trouble recruiting skilled people for the jobs we’re advertising. And when we do find rising stars, they leave within three years because they don’t feel a strong connection to the company.

If all this concerns you, don’t despair. At Global Women’s November Diversity and Inclusion Meetup the theme was flexibility and the future of work, and the feeling was hope.


When you’re more flexible, you need to be more productive too
Gina Mills, EY

‘Five years ago, nobody really talked about flexibility,’ says Gina Mills. ‘When it was mentioned, people assumed it was about women, and particularly about working mums.’ You’ve heard of ageism, racism, and sexism, right? The backlash against flexi-working began, and it was called ‘flexism’.

Fortunately for the amateur athletes and gym-goers, the working parents, the execs with ageing parents, and indeed everyone else, the evidence is against the flexists. ‘Our surveys show 11% improved engagement for people who use flexitime, and 20-22% improvements in wellbeing and manager approval ratings.’

But to work at different times in different places, working efficiently is the key, says Mills, whose colleagues are moving towards paper-free working to maximise their flexibility. Mills also recommends the Pomodoro technique as one way of ramping up your productivity and putting an end to procrastination. ‘Switch off notifications, set an alarm on your phone and do the damn thing!’


Don’t panic!
Meredith Wilmot, EY

We ask our music speakers questions, set our thermostat regulators and check our security cameras on an app, watch TV online and use our fingerprint to unlock our phones. ‘Employees today want the same digital experience at work they can get at home,’ Meredith Wilmot tells us. But how many of us are using a computer that looks like it came from the 1990s when we get to the office?

With everything changing so fast right now, it’s hard to imagine what the workplace will look like in a few years, forget about five or ten years down the line. So don’t. Instead of getting paralysed, plan for six months ahead and make a start, says Wilmot.


Flexibility is key to wellbeing and achievement
John O’Rourke

The key for skilled, ambitious employees to keep up with workplace changes is your ability to be adaptable.

We used to have employees and bosses. These days people want team members and coaches. The relationship has changed and empowering people through trust is more important than ever.

We used to have health and safety. These days people want their physical, psychological and social needs met at work. Wellbeing is essential for achievement.

What links empowerment, wellbeing and achievement? Flexibility. Not flexi-time, but a broader understanding of the word. Your ability to adapt. Your openness to change. Having a range of different perspectives. Having work-life balance.

Today, go out of your way to try something new or unfamiliar, to meet a new person or go somewhere you’ve never been before.


Work smarter, not harder
Joanna Leng

When we first suggested the idea of activity-based working (ABW), Joanna Leng tells us, ‘nine out of ten people were concerned about hot desking.’ The idea of not being able to put up photos of their children or keep their tea at their desk was a barrier.

But as Leng explains, there’s more to ABW than hot desking. The idea behind it is that you create the most engaging and effective environment for you and your colleagues depending on the task you are working on at the time. That could mean going for a walking meeting to pep the team’s energy levels, or coming together around a white board for a planning session. Like the concept of agile working, ABW is all about empowering people to work in a way that optimises their performance.

As a change champion, Leng’s role was to inspire her colleagues to see the benefits, not just the challenges. It wasn’t easy, she says, but it has been worth it. ‘We work differently. Teams realise ‘we don’t need to go into a meeting room for an hour, we can raise the desk and have a quick standing huddle.’’

ABW has also improved communication at IBM. The executive team feel comfortable sitting with staff, where they were previously in their own offices, and staff feel more able to ask their leaders questions.

The best thing about agile working, according to Leng? If something doesn’t work, you can quickly iterate different options until it does.


Where next?

So where does the future of work leave smart, skilled employees? More powerful than ever before, according to our speakers. Technology and a more modern understanding of the ‘workplace’ will enable you to be more flexible in how you get your job done. And as long as you have the most important skill of all – adaptability – you’ll find that your job starts working harder for you, instead of the other way around.