The “future of work” seemed to dramatically shift overnight in 2020, but there’s still so much change on the horizon. Because of this, many leaders find themselves seduced by the allure of what’s to come — fixating on desired outcomes and planning ahead.
This makes sense. According to technology research and consulting company, Gartner, the pandemic has reset major work trends, forcing companies to rethink their organizational agenda. As the authors of a recent Deloitte report write, the COVID-19 pandemic is like a time machine to the future: “This peak moment of accelerated change has created an imperative to consider the choices we will face when the constraints of the pandemic are removed.”
While I am fully on board for planning for what the future holds, I believe all of this energy is better spent on the present. By taking things one step at a time and focusing on what they can improve right now, leaders will be better equipped to navigate an ever-changing landscape.
Offer opportunities for growth
Upskilling your teams is a win-win as it allows people to grow professionally while also adding more value to your business.
“Encourage employees to develop critical skills that potentially open up multiple opportunities for their career development, rather than preparing for a specific next role,” Gartner highlights. “To build the workforce you’ll need post-pandemic, focus less on roles—which group unrelated skills—than on the skills needed to drive the organization’s competitive advantage and the workflows that fuel that advantage.”
At my organization, we encourage in-house mentorship or what we like to call “co-piloting,” where we pair junior team members with more experienced staff. This gives them the chance to both hone their skills and develop problem-solving abilities.
Of course, our training doesn’t end there. We also make it a point to provide employees with niche courses, sessions, and events, as well as bring in specialized consultants to support their growth. In my experience, one of the best ways to protect against future disruptive events is to set your workforce up with a continuous learning model.
Focus on empathetic communication
Regardless of future work trends, one thing that won’t be changing any time soon is the need for effective communication. And it’s something leaders shouldn’t lose track of in the present. Building trust and a sense of purpose in your team lays the groundwork for greater adaptability and resilience.
Keep in mind that people are still struggling with the instability and trauma of the past 17 months. How you communicate can make the difference between a tense atmosphere or one that fosters a sense of familiarity and reassurance. Consulting firm, McKinsey and Company puts it well: “The workplace provides a relevant and powerful source to help people put traumatic situations into a more motivational perspective,” they write. “Clear and inspiring communication is central to making this next unsteady phase a success.”
McKinsey recommends focusing your communication on the well-being of your employees, not work. “Leaders need to invest time in cultivating open, compassionate conversations about what has been lost in the pandemic,” McKinsey adds. “They should validate that there is an emotional impact and that it can be a topic of discussion in the workplace.”
Remember to be human
Planning for what’s to come will mean very little if your culture crumbles beneath you in the meantime. Gartner warns companies against treating employees as workers first and people second. “Be deliberate in which approach you take and be mindful of the effects on employee experience, which will be long-lasting,” they urge. All to say, don’t neglect your team’s wellbeing in the process of preparing for what’s ahead. “While every organization will face its own set of challenges and opportunities to accelerate forward,” Deloitte writes, “the destination is clear: to humanize the future of work.”
Make piece with not having all the answers
In writing for Harvard Business Review, co-authors Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler, note that the businesses most prone to thriving are those who are quick to read and act on signals of change. “In order to adapt, a company must have its antennae tuned to signals of change from the external environment, decode them, and quickly act to refine or reinvent its business model and even reshape the information landscape of its industry.”
One of their most surprising takeaways? “Adaptive companies are very tolerant of failure, even to the point of celebrating it.”
For me, failing has been instrumental in my ability to learn. Without it, I wouldn’t know how to course-correct or shift and experiment. I believe that not having all the answers but being open to what our present mistakes can teach us, is what ultimately strengthens our adaptability.
After all, the future of work is ever-evolving, and as David Capece wrote for Wharton Magazine “The reality is that long-term roadmaps must be flexible,” he explains. “Today, more than ever, we need leaders who can be at the forefront of change.”
Aytekin Tank is the founder of Jotform, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, Jotform allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.