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3 cultural shifts shaping the 'Hybrid Future of Work'

Technology is the backbone of the new work ecosystem. However, it needs to be supported by a culture that makes it real for people to experience and be at their best. Though there is a long list, to begin with, here are three simple, yet effective cultural shifts that would shape the “Hybrid Future of Work”.

As we grapple with the worst pandemic of our generation, it has also opened new avenues and fast tracked innovations that was to take place few years down the line. It is heartening to see the way organizations have come to terms with the new reality & adapting to new ways of conducting business. The initial premise of remote working was driven by pandemic isolation and largely focused on Work from Home (WFH) construct. With time, new flavors have emerged, whereby WFH is replaced by Work from Anywhere (WFA). In some organizations, it is further extended to Work from Anywhere & Anytime (WFAA).

Does this mean, the traditional office spaces have become redundant? Maybe not. The concept of WFAA nicely blends into the thinking of hybrid workplace model, which provides organizations and its people a platform to choose what works best for the given situation.

Technology is the backbone of the new work ecosystem. However, it needs to be supported by a culture that makes it real for people to experience and be at their best. Though there is a long list, to begin with, here are some simple, yet effective cultural shifts that would shape the “Hybrid Future of Work”.

Command & Control to Empowerment

Move from hierarchical leadership to networked leadership. Unlike an office setup, where all the team members were together; in the new work ecosystem, it is important that trust & empowerment becomes integral to the way leaders manage teams. Productivity is often measured by the number of hours spent at the desk and often compared with others from an effort perspective.

In the new normal, leaders should focus on setting the vision & allow team members to shape their work themselves and be accountable for the outcome.

Embracing servant leadership would be a key differentiator in this context.

Frequent & Transparent Communication

The Workplace experience and interactions are increasingly becoming digital. In the virtual ecosystem, transparency and the speed of communication is going to be a key driver in binding teams together towards the common purpose.

In a physical office setup, people had multiple sources like water cooler moments, social connects, tea breaks etc. to get frequent updates, besides formal channels like quarterly town halls. In a distributed team setup, lack of informal communication sources necessitates the need for managers to setup frequent virtual connects to keep the team members engaged & connected. Few organizations have weekly “open houses” with their teams to allow people to ask questions and share company level updates. Quarterly town halls is replaced with monthly or fortnightly connects. Besides that there are plethora of tech tools like MS-Teams, which offers platform for people to share information real-time and generate views in a flash.

The emphasis is on two-way communication via open dialogue and feeds in the culture of open & transparent exchange of thoughts.

Fixed Time to Flexible Work Time ( 9 to 5 is a passé)

In the new work environment, people are expected to operate from home more than ever. This demands a balance between work & personal life. In an office setup, people had two distinct environment – office for work & home for personal life. With no such demarcation in the new work setup, it calls for a culture that trusts people and allows them flexibility to determine work schedules; not feeling pressured to be “ON” always. Few organizations have relaxed the rules of fixed office time and given the choice to the individual and the team to determine the work schedule that best helps address individual needs and that of the team.

In summary, hybrid future of work is evolving at a rapid pace. Companies embracing faster will have a competitive advantage in driving business growth. For employees, it is going to offer the best of both work & the choice of workplace. Technology innovations & cultural shifts are going to be the key cornerstones of success in the new normal. Looking forward to exciting times ahead!

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Futurecasting: 7 World of Work Trends We’ll See in 2021

Futurecasting is sometimes akin to looking into the sky and trying to connect the stars. As we look ahead to the future this time, though, we know the direction we’re going. We know where the prominent work trends are taking us.

The pressures and complexities of 2020 and the pandemic forced an awakening. The innovation developed, creativity demonstrated, and momentum generated since that global reckoning has been so strong, there’s no turning around now; we’ll never go back to the way it was. So the tools and strategies we’ve leaned on throughout the pandemic will continue to redefine how we work in 2021.

With that in mind, here are seven key work trends that will continue to make their mark this coming year…

1. Remote Working 

As an option, a necessity, a perk, and an official policy, remote working is here to stay. It’s a classic example of “if you build it, they will come.” And the many employees (and their managers) who have now experienced the ability to function remotely and now know the advantages remote work brings won’t want to go back.

As companies scale back on real estate spends (sorry realtors), remote working is a way to maintain a large workforce on a tighter budget. So we’ll see countless organizations following the path of big tech firms who have pledged to keep their employees remote for the time being — if, of course, they can accomplish the job and responsibilities without the need for a shared physical workspace. Once again, big tech is leading the way and disrupting the status quo. Only this time, it’s not transformative leadership creating the change; it’s the technology itself.

2. New Hires, New Experiences

For new hires (and particularly for Generation Z), that traditional rite of passage of joining a workplace and learning a whole new set of behavioral and social norms isn’t going to be as prevalent. This wholly digital generation has already changed the way we experience technology. Now, they’ll help us usher in a whole new way to enter the workplace. Soon, we’ll come to know this new wave of hires as the “remote generation” (or “hybrid generation”).

The brand-new job experience will not have the same impact as it did past generations. We don’t yet know how younger hires will feel about the value of that experience or workplace culture. But we will — and soon. The difference here: The 2021 work culture will be digital in nature. So the experience will not be as sharp a contrast as going from the classroom to the world of work.

3. Video Conferencing

Video conferencing has become the de facto way we meet. It has become so ubiquitous in the workplace that “to Zoom” is now a verb.

Zoom may have been the frontrunner. But there are plenty of existing competitors and new visual collaboration platforms that will help how we work together evolve. After all, this is a very hot aspect of HR technology and will undoubtedly continue to be one of the most dominant work trends.  So I predict increasing capabilities to communicate just as effectively over mobile as we once did face-to-face. I also see better ways to archive and transcribe our video-based conversations and more ways to extend the work done via videoconference to teams and stakeholders.

4. Upskilling

In 2021, we will see a big shift from hiring being the primary driver of increasing an organization’s capabilities to upskilling existing talent. Organizations that had to tighten their hiring budgets after sustained buffeting from 2020 and the pandemic will shift resources into training and development. Those that did just fine despite economic turbulence — in industries that actually grew during 2020 — will be adding a robust reskilling and upskilling program to their HR strategy.

The bottom line for everyone is that institutional knowledge is critical for maintaining continuity and weathering a crisis. Upskilling existing employees will become known as a smart way to hold onto that intelligence while evolving skills to meet new challenges. Upskilling will become a business imperative.

5. Mental Health

Without question, our mental health has become an enormous issue. A recent report by Monster revealed a whopping 69% of employees working from home experience severe burnout. It’s not that working from home is particularly hard on everyone by itself. But the rush to remote without an underlying culture and infrastructure — and without an end-game being defined — has caused some stress.

Because one of the key triggers of burnout is mistreatment by supervisors and managers, we’re learning about the importance of setting boundaries and doing frequent check-ins. Many of us are also making sure our people have access to the mental health benefits they need. To help us continue this critical work trend, we’ll soon see even more apps that help with emotional and mental well-being (such as a meditation app and a mindfulness training tool). And we’ll see more forward-thinking companies providing these practical and widely-available tools as part of their overall well-being programs.

6. Inclusive Cultures

Diversity is critical to every aspect of the workplace — and organizations need to do better. So we’ll see a lot more leaders focusing on how to improve a sense of belonging in their organizations, as well as some authentic soul-searching as we dive into legacies such as systemic racism.

Our timing couldn’t be better. Currently, 70% of job seekers in a survey by the Manifest say they consider a company’s commitment to diversity when evaluating them as a prospective employer. But diversity in terms of hiring and promotions is only one part of the equation. Companies must pay attention to their work cultures, gauge how truly inclusive they are now, and then work to close the gap between what is and what should be. This is perhaps the mother of all work trends and will play a critical role next year. Because in 2021, organizations are not going to be able to get away with a performative statement or symbolic gestures. If you truly believe in equality — if you genuinely believe black lives matter, for example — you’re going to have to show it.

7. Empathetic People Management

Let me add a few words to the phrase above: “empathetic people management… for the right reasons.”

The pre-pandemic talent crunch triggered many reflective moments around how to better conduct HR and talent management. The goal for many companies is to be perceived as a better employer brand and to successfully engage and retain your people. That’s all well and good. But we’re not in a talent crunch right now.

Yet between February and October 2020, some 2.2 million women in the U.S. left their jobs. Overwhelmed, undersupported, and stressed out, many women — particularly working mothers — reached a tipping point and gave up. That’s an incredible talent drain. When they come back to work, they’re going to look for companies that set up the structures that truly support their people through empathetic people management for all the right reasons.

Looking Ahead to 2021

2020’s silver lining is that we’d been stubbornly dancing around what was truly important in the workplace — and to the workforce. We were forced to reckon with real-time discoveries in an authentic way. So we now know exactly what lies between us and where we want to go. We’ll bring that wisdom, and these work trends, to 2021.

This welcome knowledge, together with knowing we have better tools and a clearer vision of what must come next than we’ve ever had before, brings me to my final bit of futurecasting…

2021 will be the year HR once again finds its soul. 

In 2021 and beyond, we will take better care of our people — and each other.

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Why honing your company’s culture should be a top priority in 2021

Your brand purpose should be well-defined, understood, and infused across your organization via all touch points—in everything you make, say, and do.

Now more than ever, leaders are analyzing, debating, and trying to predict what the new year will bring. We have never before experienced such uncertainty and unpredictability affecting all areas of business. 

Despite the great unknowns, there’s one critical action that should guide every leader’s vision in the new year: prioritize your corporate culture. Nurturing your internal culture enables people and business to thrive. After a year of uncertainty, chaos, and social unrest, how companies function internally not only has a profound impact on employees and corporate reputations, but it directly affects organizational growth and influences every aspect of your business.

This became even more apparent to me with the recent tragic passing of one of Silicon Valley’s iconic leaders and proponents of corporate culture, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh. In a New York Times interview he discussed the company’s incredible success: “We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself.” Here’s why his philosophy is even more relevant and imperative today and how it will inform other business priorities in 2021.

Internal relations are now external

For years, marketers have known that most consumers want to make purchases from companies with values that align with their own. During this pandemic, value-based consumer loyalty is driving market realities more than ever. In a recent report, 90% of people believe brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends. And 66% of consumers consider elements like company culture and employee welfare as factors that determine whether they buy from one brand over another. Building brand belief across the whole of the organization has become critical to commerce.

To keep employees engaged and attract the values-based generation of consumers, all your actions should be led by your brand purpose. Your brand purpose should be well-defined, understood, and infused across your organization via all touch points—in everything you make, say, and do. Your purpose can be a galvanizing force—something bigger than a company’s commercial offering—that people can believe in to drive innovation to all parts of the organization. This is also a great time to evaluate and possibly update your company core values to make sure they are still relevant in the new world order. 

Putting your people first will build back business

As the pandemic lingers and employees continue to work from home, hiring and retaining productive employees will be a challenge. According to a report by SHRM, one in five Americans left a job due to poor company culture within the last year. Replacing an employee costs up to 150% of their annual salary and drives productivity into the ground. Organizations that want to succeed in the post-COVID era must make sure employees feel valued, respected, connected, supported, and productive to prevent them from running to competitors with better culture. 

In the new year, your primary focus should remain the health and well-being of your people. When employees come first, they can then take care of the business more effectively. This is the time to take another critical look at your benefits, workplace safety, and internal communications practices to make sure they are meeting your employee needs. Make sure to include staff feedback via surveys or managers to inform and prioritize your actions.

Culture is a differentiator

In periods of uncertainty such as the COVID-19 pandemic, strong corporate culture is even more important, as organizations need to leverage every competitive advantage they have. In a study of 5,000 respondents by Glassdoor, 77% of people would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there, and over half consider it more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.  

In our virtual work world, nurturing culture is challenging. Identify the unique elements of your culture that create a sense of community and connectedness and then develop ways to re-create them online. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been using all the digital tools at our disposal to connect via virtual meet-ups, happy hours, book clubs, group yoga sessions, and more. Now we’re taking this a step further to recreate the more spontaneous encounters that we had in our open office space to keep our culture alive. We host a weekly virtual coffee shop where everything but business is discussed as well as a virtual meeting roulette where employees are randomly assembled to simulate moments like lunch on our rooftop or a drink at our TapServer.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not just an HR issue

The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in corporate America has gained widespread public attention this year due to heightened recognition of social injustice and inequity. Rightly so, leaders are being called on to join the global effort to affect change, beginning with internal efforts to increase DEI efforts in their own workplaces. According to The Harris Poll, nearly eight in 10 Americans say they expect a company’s leadership to support racial equality.Companies with foresight will seize the opportunity in 2021 to not only make internal efforts a priority but also allow them to inform external actions.

Make sure your DEI viewpoints and goals are included in your brand purpose and infused across all your actions. Being inclusive of all will help attract the next generation of high-performing workers. Creating brand experiences for people of all backgrounds and abilities will attract more people to your brand. Better yet, this is sure to happen if you include people who represent the full spectrum of your consumer base in the co-creation or user-generated design process. 

The path forward into the new year for any organization should be prioritized around nurturing a vibrant and strong internal culture to fuel the health, well-being, and productivity of your team. This investment will pay even more dividends in 2021 and years beyond. 

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How To Build A Culture Of Employee Well-Being

Nothing determines business success (or failure) more than workplace culture. This is especially true with employee health and well-being, where bad culture can sabotage even the most well-designed employee programs.

Yet, employee well-being across America is at an all-time low. According to authorities like Gallup and CDC, low employee well-being is leading to poor physical and mental health that’s eroding profits through lower employee engagement, higher turnover, poorer customer service and higher healthcare costs.

This national malady tells us that workplace cultures are not supporting employee well-being. At the Returns On Wellbeing Institute, our research shows that employers are creating workplace cultures that are antithetical to employee well-being in the following areas:

Low pay (a leading cause of stress and low engagement) Under staffing (which is hurting morale and increasing stress) Bad managers (a prime cause of stress, depression and low self esteem) Lack of leadership (CEO's and boards are ignoring employee well-being)

Overall, workplaces are not seeing the big picture. They are contributing to poor employee health, directly and indirectly, by overworking and underpaying close half the workforce, and causing dangerously high stress levels that are leading to poor health and lackadaisical workplace performance and customer service.

Moreover, while many employers have invested in physical fitness-oriented wellness programs, most myopically focus on obesity, curbing smoking and lowering blood pressure, while not allowing time for physical fitness and work-life balance with long hours, unpredictable schedules and scant vacation time.

And while many companies believe, without hard evidence, that their wellness programs deliver returns on investment (ROI), they are blind to how employees actually view, let alone embrace, their well-being initiatives. This produces workplace cultures that are indifferent or even hostile to well-being efforts.

Culture is the Foundation

Accordingly, if companies hope to see any positive ROI from improving employee health, workplace cultures must be the foundation for programs. Culture comes before programs, because cultures are the seedbeds that determine whether employee well-being programs die or flourish.

A workplace culture consists of unwritten rules about what it really means to be an employee at the company. These are the real core values, and are often not what employees see on posters or employee handbooks. Simply put, workplace cultures tacitly communicate “How things are done around here.” 

Cultures are embodied and reinforced by leadership styles, procedures and perceptions of what’s valued, rewarded and punished. 

Cultures can be changed. And when they are purposefully planned and executed as foundations for successful employee well-being strategies, they can lead to the following: 

Higher Participation. A culture of well-being can establish employee trust and boost enthusiastic participation. A supportive workplace culture shows employees that the well-being program is in their best interest; not just a tactic to improve the company’s bottom line. 

Pervasive Peer Support. Trying to get healthier alone is difficult. Supportive cultures reinforce healthy lifestyles and lead to teamwork that contributes to better mental/emotional well-being. Co-worker support can overcome inertia or lack of motivation while being engaging and fun. 

Better Managers. Data shows that managers profoundly impact the well-being of their direct reports. Cultures of well-being motivate and reward managers to prioritize employee well-being as the most effective and way to hit their numbers.

Better Business Outcomes. Data from Gallup to Deloitte show that higher employee well-being leads to greater employee engagement, which can result in substantially better bottom-line business results by every measure. 

Building a Culture of Well-being 

Workplace cultures must be assessed and re-engineered to ensure they support employee well-being. This requires that culture itself must become the primary strategic priority, managed with objectives, timetables and accountabilities. 

Assess the current culture

Companies must first understand the existing workplace culture as it relates to employee well-being, for better or for worse. 

Determine how the current culture supports or discourages optimal employee well-being. Consider things like 24/7/365 availability, tacit discouragement of taking vacations, uncaring managers, and paying below living wages. 

Conduct surveys, focus groups and in-depth discussions throughout the organization to hear, first hand, from employees what they need and want.  

Employee well-being must become a core value that infuses all organizational procedures, policies, leadership traits and even how managers and leaders are evaluated. Make changes showing that taking action to improve employee well-being will be recognized and rewarded. 

Involve employees in program design and implementation

Involving employees in the selection and design of the specific well-being programs ensures that the right programs are selected and creates a sense of ownership. This reflects and reinforces a supportive culture.

If stress is an issue (and it always is), consider resiliency training. If depression is rife within the workplace, work with managers and develop initiatives that remove stigma and encourage getting early and effective treatment. 

This, too, is a culture change. And given that many workers struggle with personal finances, infuse the culture with education and opportunities to reduce financial stress and improve personal finances. 

Change manager evaluation criteria

It’s been said that people don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers. 

Companies must reorient managers with training and resources to help them become effective leaders. Nothing is more culturally important than that.

Managers must (1) become see the connection between employees well-being and company success; and (2) be incented by rewards (or consequences) that foster employee well-being in all forms. Managers’ futures must depend on how they treat their employees and foster their well-being.

Ultimately, managers must become enthusiastic about supporting employee well-being, rather than seeing it as a hurdle to hitting their numbers. And if they cannot see their way to that end, they must be fired. That puts an exclamation point on the cultural values you’re espousing, and employees will surely notice.

Encourage workplace socialization

Strong friendships are formed at work. This is not only good in itself, it can become the glue that holds organizations together and reduces turnover. Workplace socialization can form the foundation for strong peer support that encourages  happier employees and healthier lifestyles. 

Employers should give workers time to congregate and socialize in lunch or break rooms, or a central area for physical activity. Clubs, team contests and group activities foster a stronger work environment. Bottom-up, rather than top-down, is best, so encourage this sort of activity as an integral part of the culture.

Nurturing Cultures of Well-being

Once established, new cultures of well-being must be nourished and maintained. In truth, a culture of well-being is not so much an “initiative” as it is a permanent change in how work is conducted. 

Culture is not just an HR responsibility. It requires constant vigilance and thoughtful monitoring as a standing C-suite priority to safeguard and protect an organization’s most critical asset: its workforce and intellectual capital. 

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Jane Daly's Worklife Podcast - Nancy Kline: The Promise that changes everything


In this episode Jane talks to Nancy Kline about her life, new book and the Thinking environment. 

Nancy Kline is the author of four books including the recently published bestseller, The Promise That Changes Everything (Penguin Random House) and the 20-year bestseller Time To Think (Cassell/Octopus).

She is also Founding Director of Time To Think, a global leadership development and coaching company. Her ongoing research through her lecturing and her work with colleagues, professionals, executives and teams around the world continues to build the body of thought known as ’The Thinking Environment’. 

Nancy is Visiting Faculty at Henley Centre for Coaching, Henley Business School, UK. 

 Born and raised in New Mexico, Nancy is a UK citizen and lives in Oxfordshire with her English husband, Christopher Spence. 

Nancy recommends the following 3 simple things listeners could do to delve deeper: 

- Decide to live for one week without interupting anyone ever, staying interested in where they will go next with their thinking.   - Read these two masterpieces:

Mathew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux)

        James Williams’ Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy (Cambrigde University Press)

- Invite someone to be a Thinking Partner with you once a week for six weeks. Take Individual turns of five minutes each to think about any issue of your choice with the other’s full attention and with the promise of no interruption. Avoid comment of any kind unless invited. Appreciate each other at the end.      Links to find out more about Nancy and her work : Enjoyed this episode? There's lots more to listen to, sign up here to find out more 

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Flexible models of work will shift focus from place to purpose

A new report from Poly claims that there is a ‘granular shift’ in focus from place to purpose of work as businesses respond to the COVID-19 crisis, redesign their operations and reinvent the way they work. Out of city coworking spaces, ergonomic at-home work setups and virtual water cooler moments will define the new age of flexible working, the report claims. Drawing on experts in the future of work, workspace design and psychology, the Poly report, Hybrid Working: Creating the “next normal” in work practices, spaces and culture, sets out the path to what it refers to (tediously) as the “next normal,” where employees enjoy flexibility and choice, and businesses thrive through motivated, collaborative and productive teams.

Triggered by COVID-19, businesses have the opportunity to challenge convention and redefine what “work” really means, the authors suggest. Hybrid working will introduce:

New working patterns – new working policies that bring employees flexibility on when and where they work; Outcome-based working – taking the focus off the hours and location, to being productive and delivering results; Optimised investment – looking beyond the company office to create collaborative, technology-enabled personal workspaces anywhere.

Tom Cheesewright, applied futurist and contributor to the Poly report, said: “Even before the pandemic, the nature of work was changing because the nature of business is changing. Today, few can claim that the technology is a barrier to changing practices, but the lockdown has highlighted the need for investment into the cultural and behavioral components of flexible work. The future is a flexible working environment that caters to the needs of all employees, giving them the most fulfilling work experience and in return allowing them to maximise the value they return to the organisation.”

Hybrid working spaces

In the report, Sarah Susanka, architect and best-selling author of the Not So Big series of books, also explores why creating the best environments for employees to be productive and collaborative will be vital to the new hybrid working era. Poly’s report sets out the following key global trends for hybrid working spaces that will emerge in 2020 and beyond:

Home offices will be given as much attention as the kitchen – ergonomically organised and crafted into places that inspire; A prevalence of coworking – organisations will invest in co-working spaces in the outskirts of expensive cities to attract talent. Group collaboration and social connections with colleagues and others will lead to cross-fertilisation of ideas, with resulting innovation; Cityscapes will change. Office towers as we know them will most likely become a thing of the past. However, the city as a vibrant social structure will remain, with the city’s amenities serving as extensions of the “not so big” individual apartment, e.g. restaurants become an extension of their kitchen and dining room.

 Managing cultural change

Megan Reitz, professor of leadership and dialogue at Hult Ashridge Business School, believes that businesses need to “hardwire” fundamental habits into their teams’ culture to bring hybrid working teams together and ensure employees can speak up. For teams to be agile, innovative, ethical and compassionate, Poly’s report says that work cultures need to be:

Inclusive – diverse teams do better, but you must be able to harness and appreciate difference; Inquiring – “one-size” management doesn’t fit all. Employees will respond differently to hybrid working and managers must learn the skills to inquire, be curious and ask questions; Purpose driven – we are seeing a well-overdue widening of purpose and this focus on impact will serve as a compass in times of change and make for a more meaningful workplace