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Challenges @ Work Part 3

Aug 31, 2020

What Will Our ‘Big Rethink’ Moment Create?

The first two parts of this blog series have argued that the Future of Work is both human and a mystery rather than a puzzle to be solved. This final part of our blog series continues to explore the problems that come with imposing boundaries and limits on the Future of Work.

Let’s put recent developments and decision-making about the Future of Work in the context of COVID-19. Any attempts right at this moment to declare what the final outcome will be—what the future holds or what it will look like—is certain to be wrong. Remember the National Post’s bold, attention-grabbing headline that “the office is over”?

Attempting to make these types of permanent, definitive pronouncements will have two very concerning consequences. First, it will create those edge pieces to a puzzle that is neither useful nor accurate. And, second, everyone looking to the future will start to believe those puzzle pieces are solid and unmoveable. Boundaries go up, possibilities are lost, imagination and innovation become constrained. We start down a path without realizing a choice has already been made for us.

When these pronouncements are made, we lose the opportunity to shape the future into what we want it to actually be for ourselves. This isn’t about Twitter or Shopify announcing that they will be redesigning their real estate into a ‘digital by default’ framework and mindset that makes space for permanent remote work models. This is about blindly following in their footsteps solely because they made the decision to do so. This is about adopting a technology (whatever that may be) because ‘everyone’ else appears to be doing the same. This is about locking yourself into a future because the zeitgeist of the moment is trying to sweep you up and away.

As the saying goes, one size does not fit all—and that’s equally applicable to the Future of Work.

The Future of Work is a process, not a moment in time. I find it frustrating to see dozens of commentators and analysts each day declaring the “Five Truths” or “Six Trends” about the Future of Work that are inevitable or proven. This pushes us back to solving puzzles. It leads us to think, “well, if those are the trends, how do the pieces of my business, sector, industry, etc., fit into them?” We end up trying to fit our puzzle pieces into a picture that someone else has laid down for us.

There is no certainty that the same truths or trends dominating the discussion right now, in the midst of a crisis, will still be accurate in a couple months, next year, or five years from now. They might. They might not.

We’re seeing clues to what the Future of Work might hold. Companies and individuals are adapting to new uses of technology and space configurations. Work is no longer defined so rigidly as a place. Productivity and collaboration are being tested without face-to-face connection, and what’s harder and easier to accomplish in these new set-ups is being noted.

There’s a recognition that not everyone is in the same boat, even if they work for the same organization. There’s a new spotlight on those among us who have long been ignored or fallen behind. We’re thinking creatively because this crisis has forced us to do so with greater urgency.

Some organizations are pivoting quickly—usually those with very engaged and highly communicative leadership. Other organizations are stalled or, worse, floundering. Sectors are being redefined, with shifts from thinking and acting in silos (such as the automotive industry) to thinking and acting on cross-sector problems and solutions (such as the need for a strong Canadian supply chain for critical equipment).

We each feel more or less connected to our work, and we’re being prompted to reflect on why that is.

None of these things should serve as a proof-test for what will be. But they all give us hints to what we may want to take from this moment as we capitalize on the BIG RETHINK moment that’s coming, when we can go “back” to work or, instead, shape a new Future of Work that’s better than what we had. This is about creating a new and better normal, rather than returning to the familiar of the ‘before times’.

To do this, each one of us needs to take up the mantle of changemaker and activator. Leaders, especially, need to stay close to the ground and connected to the people and communities around them. We need to set our own hypotheses, test them, and embrace trial and error. We need to sense where shifts and changes are occurring, and where there are risks for backsliding. We need to explore our values and the foundation that we want to build on as we get ready to make the hard decisions—after the crisis is passed and we’ve started on the road to recovery.

Interested in initiating future-focused conversations with your team, right now, while career, team, and workplace development seems unclear? Consider the Career Development and the Future of Work: A Conversation Guide – Second Edition currently available for PDF download for a short period of time. Check it out.