New avenues of visibility in today’s hybrid workplace — As employers continue to explore fully remote and hybrid workplace models, they will look for new opportunities to increase employee visibility and better understand the needs of a dispersed workforce. Avenues like social listening to help track employee sentiments over time, or approaches to set aside time to hear directly from workers, can help.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Martha Bird.

Martha Bird is Chief Business Anthropologist within ADP’s Global Strategy Team. She supports understanding the diverse world of work to inform more meaningful products and services.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

In general, I’m reluctant to make predictions about the future. The future is, after all, based on the imaginative resources of the present. Still, I believe there are signals from the past that lend themselves to speculations about possible futures for the world of work. For thousands of years older generations have looked upon the proceeding one as more prone to slacking off, less responsible, singularly deserving and, basically, lacking motivation and dedication; I have no reason to believe this generational dynamic will alter dramatically. “They [Young People] have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things — and that means having exalted notions” (Rhetoric, Aristotle, 4th Century BC). Jump ahead a couple thousand years and you can read similar sentiments: “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial” (Time magazine, Proceeding with Caution,2001). Given this long history of intergenerational disapproval of elders towards youth, I’d expect to hear/read some version of this playing out in the workplace 10–15 years from now. The exchange, however, may well take place between holograms in an augmented or virtual reality workspace. That’s a shift in how work gets done that I’d expect to catch on and scale over the next few years.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

The concept of visibility in the workplace is shifting. Invest in social listening whether through digital tools to help measure employee sentiments over time or analog approaches where you set aside time to hear from employees directly. A radical commitment to positive employee experiences — — fair compensation, inspiring workplace design, a supportive and inclusive company culture, and ongoing opportunities for growth — -is central to maintaining relevance as an employer people want to work for (because they have a tangible sense of shared purpose) and one they might seek to grow with. Staying curious about the people, practices and places where work happens both inside and outside your company is key to the ability to proactively adapt to the inevitable transformations that happen over time. Nurturing curiosity has the added benefit of encouraging wonder — — and wonder is always inspiring.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

The hyper customization of employee experiences on an individual-by-individual basis poses significant challenges for employers of any size. Employees as consumers are increasingly accustomed to on-demand, intuitive and hassle-free digital experiences. This raises the stakes for employers who need to ensure the technology and “services” they are serving their employees go with the flow of life and work practices, not against them. And so much comes down to the ability to be flexible and have a high degree of personal agency. I want to plan my work schedule around my kids’ activities; I need to work remotely most of the time; I’d like to be able to develop new skills as and when they are relevant to my work (I’d like you to make suggestions); I need to understand my avenues of progression and how I might go about pursuing them; I want personalized feedback; I want to be able to showcase my abilities. Employee expectations are rising, and I don’t believe this trend is attributable solely to the current “buyer’s market.” Many people (certainly not all) have grown increasingly accustomed to choice — -choice of social platforms, choice of livestreaming channels with mountains of content, choice of delivery apps, etc. — — and these expectations have found their way into our work lives — -including how, when, where, and why we work. Not surprisingly, the gap between what employers are able to personalize and the degree of choice employees desire remains wide. Workplace analytics can help you identify broad trends across your workforce — -% time in-office vs. % time remote, communication patterns (who is talking with who), cross functional interactions (what teams work together most often), etc. A pulse survey can provide a longitudinal mapping of sentiments, while employee panels add qualitative richness to the quantitative insights. The wise approach to narrowing the gap between offer and expectation is committing to a clear understanding of what’s at stake for both the employer and the employee. It’s a collaboration and should be approached as such using some combination of the methodologies I mentioned earlier.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

For those of us able to work from home, we learned that with the right technology we could be very productive outside of the office and we could do so beyond the traditional 9–5 routine (and, yes, we experienced burnout from too much productivity). The experience also highlighted just how much time is “given away” when we commute into work. We were likely surprised by the monthly costs — -financial and emotional — — of this coming and going. Many of us are now unwilling to go back to that wheel. Many will look for employers who offer greater flexibility, including the ability to work anywhere.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

In order for more people to gain access to opportunity, there needs to be concerted efforts made to enable progress in the forms of access to learning, access to healthcare, financial wellness and technological fairness. Upskilling and reskilling will play a significant role in this effort as many of the “jobs” of the past are no longer viable as is, which isn’t to say all is lost, but rather that older skillsets can be “updated” to meet new demands with the proper training. A line worker in a steel mill, for example, has many of the skills necessary to work in 3D manufacturing. A flight attendant might be an excellent customer service representative. A waitperson likely has skills necessary for a successful job in sales. Of course, not every job has an immediately obvious correlate, but as skills-based competency becomes more and more important, the companies that are able to look past the “roles resume” and see the skills nested within will be those in a far better position to attract great talent — -with the right training programs in place, of course.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I’m hopeful that through the pandemic lockdown more people learned from direct personal experience just how truly essential some working people really are — -grocery clerks, postal and sanitation workers, hospital staff, food delivery drivers, caregivers, janitors, teachers, truckers and many more. I’m optimistic that this awareness will result in more of us showing gratitude for the hardworking people who are often overlooked and the importance of elevating and valuing those essential roles and the employee experience they offer.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

People have begun to reevaluate their priorities. For those in a position where the labor market is tight this means weighing out the pros and the cons more critically. Is it possible for me to work remotely? If not, am I willing to commute given how much time out of my day this takes? Does my employer offer enough flexibility for me to take care of important life events while still being able to be productive in my role? Did my employer demonstrate care and concern and communicate effectively throughout the pandemic? Does my manager trust me to do my job without the need to look over my shoulder? Am I proud to work for this organization? Do the company values align with my own? Does my team have my back?

Given these types of questions, it’s worthwhile for leaders to consider the following:

  • Do you inspire your employees to want to do their best work? Do you help them develop new skills while sparking their curiosity?
  • Do you show gratitude for a job well done? Are there programs in place to spotlight employee accomplishments?
  • Are you flexible on flexibility policies?
  • Do you clearly message (and act) on the company’s purpose? Is the purpose inspiring?
  • Do your employees feel welcomed whether in the office or working remotely?
  • Do you ask how employees are feeling about your policies and practices?

Answers to these questions will help you begin to identify the kinds of experiences employees find compelling and those they do not. I’d say that’s a solid start to building a culture that’s worth working for, now and in the future.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends to Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. New avenues of visibility in today’s hybrid workplace — As employers continue to explore fully remote and hybrid workplace models, they will look for new opportunities to increase employee visibility and better understand the needs of a dispersed workforce. Avenues like social listening to help track employee sentiments over time, or approaches to set aside time to hear directly from workers, can help.
  2. Hyper customization of employee experiences — This might be one of the bigger challenges for employers, but workers are increasingly wanting and expecting hassle-free digital experiences to allow them to work the way they prefer. Workers want technology that seamlessly integrates with their new flow of life and work practices, some likely with a high degree of personal autonomy.
  3. Greater workforce flexibility — As we’ve seen over the last year, we’ll likely continue to see employers offering more flexible work policies. Based on research from ADP Research Institute, three quarters (75 percent) of the global workforce made changes or plans to change how or where they live, with that percentage even greater (85 percent) among Generation Z. If employers want to retain and attract talent, they will likely need to evolve their working policies to accommodate for these new demands, especially among today’s younger workers.
  4. Upskilling and reskilling the workforce — As roles evolve, upskilling and reskilling will play a significant role in helping employers attract and retain great talent. Older skillsets often have translatable opportunities in the new world of work, and with the right training programs in place, organizations can help harness the power of those skills to meet new demands.
  5. Revaluating employer connection — Over the past two years, many workers have taken a step back and reevaluated their priorities. Feeling connected to an organization’s purpose is a strong driver of how engaged employees are. ADP Research Institute found that U.S. workers who feel they are Strongly Connected to their employer are 75 times more likely to be Fully Engaged than those who do not feel connected. With connection driving engagement, employers will need to heighten their focus on their people and reflect on the larger purpose that unites their workforce.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

I believe that every person gives us an opportunity to learn. I’ve never had a day when I didn’t learn something new whether it be an extraordinary or everyday learning.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I’d welcome a conversation with Glenn Close. She seems like a lot of fun.

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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.