Leaders must prepare now for future ways of working

Author: Leigh Ober | Chief People Officer | OPMG

In the world of work, I’ve learned not to get too comfy. Each generation of workers has brought their needs, shaping what work was and needed to be. Baby boomers and Generation Xers lived to work, often staying with one career, focusing on benefits and retirement. For generations like millennials and Generation Z, the emphasis shifted to flexibility and purpose; they work to live. Today’s priorities will continue to shape future ways of working, and right now, that future is looking even more flexible compared to the present.

3 work trends shaping tomorrow’s world

One trend that will continue is the shifting role of work in people’s lives. According to Statista, 72% of job seekers prioritize work-life balance. Younger generations are especially willing to work hard but unwilling to give up freedom or choice. There’s an increased openness about what “work” means — hence the emergence of the gig economy and the contingent workforce replacing traditional, full-time, salaried teams.

Second, work is no longer one-size-fits-all. It’s one-size-fits-one. Leaders can see the importance of this mindset when they think about the growing awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion. People want to bring their whole selves to work — political and personal — without judgment or discrimination. But with 42% of people believing that DEI policies can be divisive, how can leaders promote a sense of belonging without losing the sense of togetherness? To remain relevant, leaders must evolve to make DEI integral to all financial, client and cultural commitments.

Third, the skill sets leaders need are changing. Upskilling and reskilling are rising, and traditional higher education gives way to real-time learning. People want flexibility but are also restless for new knowledge and challenges. They must develop soft skills and technical skills to become fluent in digital languages and artificial intelligence.

Everyone works in a 24-hour connected world, but hybrid work remains valuable. Being together (in an office) allows people to learn from each other, ideate, collaborate and socialize. Employees have proven they can be productive working from home, but they experience energy, spontaneity and connectivity when in the same space. Observing others breeds compassion and learning moments that inspire a sense of belonging, growth and innovation.

3 strategies to empower future ways of working

Future workers can choose nonlinear career paths and enjoy a dozen different roles in their lifetime. They may cultivate an open mindset and hybrid skill set to evolve into whatever opportunity they find.

So, how can business leaders navigate this changing work dynamic to support future ways of working for their teams?

1. Make employees’ work-life balance customizable

People are less inclined to want the same kind of work every day. They want a varied experience and the chance to try new things. So, motivate people by offering customizable options. Ask people what they like most and least about what they do, and see if there are projects or roles they might be interested in. Allow people to consider working on another team or take on different projects (as long as you free up their capacity to set them up for success).

This also means supporting people’s wellness goals while they’re at work. Host a wellness break, schedule regular mental health check-ins, make wellness coaches available, have a meeting walkabout or provide benefit options that acknowledge other needs. Also, prioritize hybrid and flex-time work options so people can quickly adapt their schedules to outside commitments and nonwork goals.

2. Embrace the boundless potential for nonlinear evolution

One approach to nonlinear career paths can begin with the people companies hire. Sometimes, the strongest candidates with long-term potential need to gain experience in the industry that leaders would prefer. New hires need a long runway to get that experience and understand companies’ working methods and industry and client terminology. Leaders who provide these candidates an opportunity to understand their companies and encourage their curiosity will benefit from fresh perspectives that can positively challenge how the business has always done things. This can bring new energy into a company that fuels creativity and encourages new working methods in this dynamic world.

The second approach calls for internal mobility. Just as leaders have brought in fresh faces for new perspectives, they should make it easy for employees to experience other positions and share their views. Whether that’s through a hybrid role, work swaps or apprenticeships depends on the business. Mentoring and sponsorships are valuable to developing talent and advocating for them to get new opportunities. It’s crucial to provide pathways for employees to utilize the company knowledge they’ve cultivated in new roles.

3. Empower others to reach beyond their perceived limits

Prioritize learning and attitude rather than aptitude. Encourage people to share their ambitions. An excellent all-around employee should explore sales despite having no background. This willingness to learn and adapt, especially (but not exclusively) when combined with demonstrated success, should be taken seriously.

Offer skills training such as AI basics or change management. The goal isn’t just to show people how to use these technologies for work; it’s to give them a mindset to help the business thrive. Some companies are putting together internal programs for reskilling and upskilling employees that involve a portfolio of on-demand and in-person training. Through these programs, companies can laterally move employees into new internal roles that interest them and empower them into leadership positions.

The future of work continues to evolve, especially as technological innovation gathers speed. However, leaders who imagine they can automate and streamline every problem they face must be corrected. The human element will need to evolve just as ferociously because business is about people at the end of the day. Companies need human intelligence and creativity above all else.