Employees are now taking the lead in the future of work

Illustration of a line of employees
(Image credit: Shutterstock / elenabsl)

What does the future of work look like? It’s a question at the forefront of all business leaders’ minds. But to get the right answer, it’s their staff they’ll have to talk to. This is because it is employees that will be spearheading the changes to the workplace in the years to come.

About the author

Magnus Falk is CIO Advisor at Zoom.

The pandemic taught us many things, including how the days of being in an office from 9-5, five days a week are firmly in the past. Now, workers are demanding greater flexibility and new levels of autonomy from their employers, and it’s time they took notice. Employers wanting to tempt the best and brightest talent will find themselves embracing ideas that might have been previously unthinkable, such as a four-day working week, meeting-free days, or employees who work to their own schedules. To nurture employee happiness and retain staff, businesses need to continue innovating and updating their ways of working, with technology playing a key role in enabling this.

For most organizations, flexible working will become the default option for those jobs where it’s not imperative that the person has to be on site. Research conducted this year at Zoom has highlighted that employees do not want to return to the old working world. It found that 69% of respondents wanted to decide where and how they worked. That figure rose to 85% among those who are already working remotely. Employers who choose to ignore this trend may well be in for a rude awakening, as 45% of employees said that they would look for a new job if they could not work where they want, rising to 55% among those already working from home. Remote workers are confident in their ability to deliver results while working from home, with 92% saying that their current working environment enables them to succeed.

When it comes to delivering flexibility for employees, when they work could be just as important as where they work, with asynchronous working already high on the menu of employee desires. In a recent study conducted with 10,000 knowledge workers, more employees (93%) said they wanted flexibility in when they worked than wanted flexibility in where they worked (76%). The pandemic made employees realize that location wasn’t the secret ingredient that made them productive - and increasingly employees are realizing that productivity doesn’t have to happen to a particular schedule either.

Asynchronous work is already becoming a reality in knowledge-based industries around the world. Technology is a key enabler of this, with meeting software allowing people to replay meetings after the fact, and offer input at that point. Going forward, technology will increasingly incorporate functions to allow teams to work together effectively, regardless of how separated they are by distance or time.

It’s also about company culture. In the early months of the pandemic, employees had to take the reins in a way they never had before. So it’s understandable that employees now expect greater autonomy, and to be trusted to keep that hand on the reins. Asynchronous work allows employers to be more inclusive of people with families, people with caring responsibilities and people who have to travel abroad. Business leaders need to learn trust: rather than using monitoring tools to assess productivity, they need to listen to employees, ensuring that managers understand what they are doing and what they need, using surveys and town hall sessions to gauge employee happiness throughout the organization.

Boost productivity with meeting-free days

Listening to employees has never been more important. Employees throw up useful and interesting ideas, such as having days without meetings to boost productivity. Research found that one meeting-free day per week can boost productivity by more than 35%. It certainly seems to make people happier, too.

We encourage teams to only have meetings where strictly necessary: for instance, for the start of a project, or for the discussion of sensitive information. We also follow the ‘Triple-A approach’, paying close attention to agenda, attendees and action items. Have a clear agenda for the meeting, ensure it’s only attended by people who need to be there, and aim throughout to create and assign action items, to minimize wasted time.

The four-day working week of the future

An employee-led approach to how people want to work has been shown to be highly effective. Workers who are able to choose whether they want to work in the office, from home, or somewhere in between are happier, and more productive. In the future, could we all be embarking on a four-day working week?

Britain is currently host to the world’s largest experiment in the four-day working week, with more than 3,300 workers at 70 companies working just four days a week, on the same pay. Will the idea take hold? If employees demand it, there’s a reasonable prospect that a four-day week may become reality at many companies - although research this year has shown that while employees like the idea, flexible working is actually more important to them than having a shorter working week, with 45% saying they would choose a job which advertised flexible working, compared to 40% for a four-day week.

Employees are taking the lead

Employees will be in the driving seat when it comes to the future of work. Enhancing their experience and happiness in the workplace can no longer be an afterthought for business leaders, but one of their top priorities. The employee experience is not separate from the customer experience, and both of these are essential for the success of any business.

Looking ahead, to attract and retain the top talent, businesses need to commit their support to a flexible working culture, one that is underpinned by the right technology, to set themselves up for hybrid working success.

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Magnus Falk is CIO Advisor at Zoom .