The four day work week. Many companies and even national governments like Iceland have found that shortening the workweek is much better for individuals and has only a positive impact on productivity. It looks different in every company, but is an important trend to watch.
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 Neil Miller.
He is the host of The Digital Workplace Podcast. He has talked with more than 200 digital leaders about how we can rebuild work for the digital age. He covers new approaches to productivity, leadership, collaboration, culture, and technology.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
I started my career in India, so from the beginning I felt like I was playing catch-up. It was an extremely transformative part of my life and I gained a more global approach to work. I started working remotely from the US in 2016 and have been fascinated with the changes and opportunities that digital work has brought.
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?
For some people, work is going to get amazingly better in the next 10 years. Many companies will improve their practices around distributed work, institute four day work weeks, and become more equitable workplaces.
However, only a small percentage of the overall workforce will be able to take full advantage of this. Despite what we learned during the pandemic, most companies will gravitate back towards what they were used to, just with a little more flexibility to work at home on occasion. There’s a great opportunity for leaders who commit to a digital path now to be able to attract the best workers now and in the future.
We’ll also see a radical change in automation and front-line workers. Retail stores will move to touchless checkouts. Warehouses will invest more in robotics. Restaurants will find ways to be less dependent on human workers. People who rely on these fields will be left out of the benefits of the future of work unless we all move together in a coordinated way.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
If you want to be a destination employer, you’ve got to improve your digital skills. It’s not just about offering a little bit of work-from-home. It’s about retraining your team around how to collaborate asynchronously and still build culture even if you are not next to each other every day. These aren’t natural skills and take time to develop. The most mature digital companies are about 15 years old right now.
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?
I think most employers are willing to be a little flexible on where you work from, and offering work-from-home one day a week is going to be pretty common. But employees are looking for more than just flexibility. We recognize that work doesn’t have to be a horrible way to spend a third of your life. You can do interesting work, you can feel cared for, you can accomplish great and important things.
Many employers aren’t willing to give up the attitude that they own employee’s time and don’t trust them to use it well. That basic contract between employer and employee is the biggest gap. The best employers will find ways to see employees as intelligent allies and trust them to do the work required.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Working from home proved that everything we thought we knew about work wasn’t actually true. Most employers would have said they would never be able to offer work-from-home, but it turns out that was wrong. Then, once you prove that working from home is possible, you start to question other assumptions. The deeper down this road we can go, the better.
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?
The gap between essential front-line workers and knowledge workers who can work from home is real. While wages have increased modestly for front-line workers, there will be a bigger and bigger gap. Our society has fully committed to a digital economy and wants delivery services and lots of things that are still reliant on people doing some of the grunt work. We need to support these folks, but also recognize that robotics and automation will one day drop the floor out under them and we can’t leave them to suffer for it.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I love seeing the quality of life for people who work for very mature digital organizations. They don’t carry the same stresses their parents did. They are able to enjoy life and provide help to others. Their entire family benefits from a healthier work life. I think a lot of leaders are eager to build these kinds of great companies that make life better.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
I love that monetary compensation hits a roof at some point. While a little more money is nice, what is even better is more free time. I love the trend towards a shorter workweek and giving people more time to engage with their local communities, hobbies, and other creative outlets.
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?
Ignore the changes around you at your own peril. You’ll still be able to operate using the old manual for a while, but the quality of people you can attract will continue to go down. Employees know what is possible and are willing to go and try to find it elsewhere if you don’t show any interest in giving it to them.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The four day work week. Many companies and even national governments like Iceland have found that shortening the workweek is much better for individuals and has only a positive impact on productivity. It looks different in every company, but is an important trend to watch.
- Asynchronous work. It’s hard to shift to digital work and still expect people to be on call exactly when you want them. The most mature digital companies like Automattic and GitLab are very committed to allowing people to work when they want and only using synchronous meetings when necessary.
- Distributed authority. The best companies are reducing the amount of oversight that employees need. Netflix doesn’t require approvals for paid-time-off or submitting expenses. Many companies will find ways to cut out wasteful and archaic hierarchical practices.
- No code platforms. IT teams are not going to be able to build all the technology we need. But many team leads are savvy enough to build their own processes and systems as long as they don’t have to get into the coding. Platforms like Kissflow are exciting ways to see what people can build on their own.
- Flexible workspaces. Most homes are not built for work. People are working on sofas and dining tables. We’ll see more WeWork-style neighborhood co-working locations that people can use to still get out of the house without needing the long commute.
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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.