If you’re among the lucky people who are now fully vaccinated, you might be starting to think about a future in which you’ll be heading back to the office. If that thought fills you with dread, you can relax. In a blog post last month, I offered my opinion that remote work is here to stay, and that the companies of the future will have no choice but to be digital by default. If my prediction proves true, the onus will be on employers to create a culture in which a remote workforce can thrive, one that offers WFH and in-person staff an equal amount of trust, support and opportunity.
How will that culture arise, and what will it look like? Well, for starters, it’s going to take more planning than we saw with the panicked stampede of 2020. You’re going to need to think carefully about what your most talented people need to do their best work, wherever they happen to be. You’ll also need to think about what it will take to keep those people from porting that talent over to your competition.
For success with a hybrid enterprise, giving folks permission to work from home is just the beginning. I have 10 predictions about how this cultural shift is going to express itself over the next couple of years. Let’s begin:
1. Employers will push for vaccinations.
There’s been a whole lot of drama around the issue of vaccines, and most employers have tried to stay out of it. I believe this will soon change. There’s a long history of mandatory vaccination in schools, and many U.S. colleges are now requiring that students be fully vaccinated before returning to campus this fall. I predict that employers will soon follow suit. Employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace, so I expect mandatory vaccination will soon become the standard policy for in-person work.
2. Introducing the “workation.”
A while ago, we surveyed the staff at Tehama, and we asked if our people could see themselves wanting to work while travelling. A full 80 percent said yes. How might that work? Well, instead of booking a week in Costa Rica, for example, an employee might book a full three weeks. During the first week, the employee would clean up some work projects online while getting familiar with the best restaurants and beaches at their destination. During the second week, they would be fully on vacation, with the benefit of already knowing exactly how they want to spend that week. During the final week, the employee would ease back gently into the workflow while still being immersed in that amazing vacation experience. Right now, this might sound like a dream. But I predict it will soon be normalized as an entitlement. Already, Apple has added a 2-week work-from-anywhere benefit in an effort to attract and retain employees in the new hybrid mode.
3. Tech innovation has just begun.
After 18 months of remote work, the jokes about terrible video calls have gotten pretty old. But as we move toward a digital-by-default future, that technology has to improve, and I predict it will. One simple fix: To address the annoying echoes that seem to be a part of every videoconference, let’s have a system that automatically realizes multiple parties are in the same room and mutes the mic of everyone but the relevant speaker. My other prediction about technology is that short-form video will expand from its social media origins into the new, asynchronous world of business. The type of video content we see on TikTok and Instagram has a lot to teach the corporate world about communicating simply, effectively, and asynchronously.
4. The rebirth of the written word.
The written word remains the gold standard for asynchronous communication, and I predict the move to hybrid work will force leaders in every industry to up their writing game. Amazon famously led the way here with a meeting culture that has banned PowerPoint in favour of detailed memorandums. These memorandums are required reading for every executive, and they clearly outline the business case for any decision being considered.
5. The war for talent heats up
The pandemic gave millions of people the chance to test drive a different way of working. They will be expecting their next job to deliver on their newfound preferences. Top talent will be able to dictate terms — including whether the job is remote or in person. In the midst of this war for talent, it’s clear the ranks of freelance and contract workers will continue to grow.
6. An even greater focus on Millennials and Gen Z
Business leaders are naturally inclined to build the kind of workplace that they find most comfortable. But if you’re still building for Gen X, you’re doing it wrong. The job of leadership is to attract the next generation. I predict the best performing organizations will be the ones that future-proof themselves by optimizing their culture for their youngest talent.
7. Expect more turnover.
As the war for talent ramps up, we’ll see fewer and fewer workers settling for jobs they don’t love. Many employers feel they have the power to dictate a return to the office, and in this free market for labour I predict many will simply job-hop to the employer that delivers the experience. Good people know they have options, and I believe we’ll see employee musical chairs as a result.
8. Cities are for culture, not business.
As the digital-by-default ethos expands, cities will lose some importance as business hubs. Air travel will return with ferocity, but this time more for reasons connected to tourism, culture and relationships. Business travel will be for conferences and retreats more than for sales meetings.
9. Remote retreats replace business travel
I predict the business retreat of the future will look very different from today’s model. Instead of choosing a location that’s ideal for meetings, tomorrow’s leaders will pick a place that’s built for team building and after-hours fun. It could be Las Vegas or Jamaica or anywhere else the team wants to go. The point is that this precious in-person time will be devoted to building the social connections and trust that are so vital to remote work. The pandemic taught us that most types of business can be conducted online, but rely heavily on those personal relationships that are best established in real life.
10. Suburbia moves even farther away.
Being close to any company’s head office has become prohibitively expensive for today’s emerging talent. While new graduates might sometimes prefer the social and learning opportunities presented by in-person work in the big city, I predict employees entering into their most productive years will opt for affordable homes in towns that might be an hour (or even hours) away from their workplace. The logic is pretty straightforward: If I’m able to work remotely, my once-a-week commute into the city will still take me way less time than I was spending in traffic before.
The move to remote work has been underway for years, of course. But the pandemic created a tectonic shift in attitudes about how much business really needs to be done in person. Now that the ground is starting to settle, it’s time to build the structures that will make the hybrid workplace live up to its potential. I predict the necessary changes will happen. In fact, I don’t think there’s any way of stopping them.