Working from home was a necessary step that many organizations had to take to keep their business up and running even during the pandemic. Employees welcomed the flexibility which allowed them to work from home all the while quarantining safely. For organizations, this new work model, however unplanned, helped reduce expenses and ensured the smooth functioning of the business.  

But now that we are slowly phasing out of the pandemic and more people are getting vaccinated, the question remains — What does the new post-pandemic future of work look like? 

Now that employees know they can manage all of their work without commuting to the office everyday, they are expecting more flexibility. Most of them no longer want to go back to their usual schedule of attending the office five days a week.

While some employees are looking forward to meeting their colleagues face to face again to collaborate better, they still want the flexibility and the freedom to be able to work from anywhere they want. 

The future of work is now more flexible than ever and organizations need to gear up for it if they want to improve employee engagement and retention. 

Why is the future of work happening now?

It was expected that the majority of the workforce will go remote by 2025, so the pandemic has only accelerated the entire process. Even though nobody expected the future of work to come so quickly, the sudden shift to remote work has led to the emergence of digital workspaces and it has also forced organizations to adapt to these new changes at a rapid rate.  

As employees now expect flexibility in choosing their own physical work environments, offices of the future will need digital workplaces that can keep people connected, whether they are working from the same office or from a different city altogether. 

Here are some of the biggest trends that have brought on the future of work faster than expected.

Remote work is the new preferred way of working

Remote work has long attracted employees. Over 99 percent of employees in 2019 said that they wanted to work remotely at least once in their careers. But most employees assumed that their work either couldn’t be handled remotely or their company wouldn’t allow them to work remotely for longer periods of time. 

The sudden shift to remote work, no matter how unplanned, made it clear to many employees that they can in fact manage all of their work responsibilities even while being away from the office. 

Similarly, organizations realized that they didn’t need to set up large offices incurring high infrastructure costs to accommodate their growing workforce. Moreover, offering remote working perks also allowed organizations to hire the best talent without any location limitations.

Increased digital transformation 

Over 89 percent of companies have either already adopted a digital-first strategy for their business or plan to do so in the coming years. In 2020, when lockdowns were imposed, the organizations that were far ahead in their digital transformation journey had an obvious advantage — They already had a digital infrastructure in place to support their workforce that had to suddenly go remote. 

The rest of the year was spent refining the digital transformation strategies and steps to better align them with employee needs. For most organizations, it was important to digitize their workplace in a way that it could support the current remote employees and the in-office employees.

This has in turn encouraged organizations to digitize their internal company processes to keep employees always connected and informed about what is happening within the company, whether they are in the office or not.

The introduction of social collaboration

It is common for employees working from home to feel isolated from their colleagues due to a lack of face-to-face interactions. The emergence of social collaboration has helped employees feel connected with the rest of their team and get a sense of belonging. 

Social collaboration essentially is the process through which different employees, teams, or departments can come together to achieve common goals. In most cases, tools like a digital workplace can be used to bring employees closer and make it easier for them to work collaboratively and communicate seamlessly, even when they are working from different physical locations.

The transforming role of the company leadership

Before the pandemic, not many organizations considered that their leadership could help pave the way for the future of work. Most considered that it was the technology that would eventually change the workplaces and lead us into the future of work. 

But now, it has become abundantly clear that company leadership is pivotal in establishing healthy and productive workplaces, especially in challenging times.

Company leaders play a key role in aligning employee requirements with the company goals, building trust in the workforce, and recognizing the change that is needed to bring the future of work.

A bigger focus on flexibility

It’s important to acknowledge that it is very unlikely for the future of work to be fully remote. After almost a year of working from home, many employees are expected to move back to the office, as soon as it is safe enough for them to attend offices. While some companies might shrink their office spaces, they are not expected to give up their physical offices entirely. 

Even if office spaces are expensive, companies still find them to be a beneficial investment since they help create a productive work environment for the employees. 

While remote work is beneficial for some employees, others still need an office environment to thrive. For companies, that means, offering increased flexibility to their employees and allowing them to work from anywhere they want, whether it’s from their homes, from their offices, or from a cafe across the street.

Even though flexibility can mean different things to different people, here is what flexibility should look like in an organization

Flexible schedule

A flexible schedule means allowing employees to start and end work on their own terms, without expecting them to follow the standard nine to five schedule. Employees should work according to a schedule that aligns with their productivity levels and take breaks, whenever needed. 

Asynchronous communication

Telling employees that they can create their own flexible schedules isn’t worth anything if you keep dragging them into meetings every day. 

Moving to primarily asynchronous communication can help employees have enough room in their schedules for their own work. Synchronous communication should only be used for urgent discussions or pre-scheduled team meetings 

Result-based performance

Employee performance should not be measured according to the number of hours employees spend at the office or stay signed into the work application. Instead, employee performance should be measured based on their work results. After all, when managers majorly focus on the employee outputs, employees too focus on getting their work done instead of just spending time in front of their screens to clock in the required number of hours.

Flexibility starts with the right digital culture

There is no straightforward formula for achieving flexibility in an organization. If there was, everyone would have been following the exact same formula by now. Instead, organizations need to consider their future business goals, employee requirements, and work challenges in order to achieve the right level of flexibility. More than anything, offering flexibility in the workplace is about creating positive employee experiences and that should always be the main focus.