Flexible, Hybrid, On-Demand—The Future of Work Holds Opportunity for Leaders Who Accept the Challenge

We’ve all had the feeling—You click to leave the Zoom meeting and your brain needs a refresh along with the computer screen. Here’s some not so surprising news. Zoom fatigue is real.

A study from Microsoft’s Human Factor’s Lab demonstrates that brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork are higher during remote than in-person collaboration. But there is an interesting twist. The reverse is also true. People who first collaborate online seem to register more stress when they begin working together in person.

Enforced change is almost always uncomfortable. Work, an activity which for decades has been characterized by predictability, has gone rogue. And many of us feel the anxiety. If your goal for the next year is to leave the disruption behind and downgrade the virtual world to a second-class substitute for the “real thing,” I urge you to rethink that notion.

With unpredictable players like AI and automation, the future of work is anything but certain. However, revisiting the analog business model is not a solution to cultural uneasiness. Looking back is reaction, not strategy. Don’t waste this opportunity to strengthen your digital muscle, and recharge attitudes and behavior.

Consider Hybrid Possibilities

Association leaders should be thinking as seriously about a hybrid workplace as they are about hybrid meetings. Why? Because old styles of working are not well suited to the digital marketplace or a new generation of employees. Over the next few posts, I’ll share some of the pros and cons of variegated employment strategies, along with recommendations for helping you and your team adjust to new work configurations. Insight.com describes a hybrid workplace like this: A rapidly emerging work environment that promotes business agility and growth through a mix of on-site and remote employees, modern digital experiences, and on-demand access to software and solutions.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, the number of people who work remotely has increased 140 percent since 2005. Despite the growing trend, associations have not been early adopters of alternate work strategies. Some reluctance may stem from the fact that many groups represent industries, like healthcare, where in-person work is the norm. Leaders may also hesitate because experimentation isn’t common in association cultures, and there are no blueprints or rules to guarantee success.

Google hybrid work, and you’ll find a variety of opinions about the wisdom of mixing remote and in-person employees in one organization. Technology has created unique structures, and we are still learning to live inside them. The future workplace will also require shifts in behavior and culture. Although the adjustment may be challenging, there are compelling reasons to explore how your association could benefit from adopting new paradigms. 

Attract Top Talent

Millennial-friendly attitudes and values will be increasingly important in the workplace.

You can’t talk about organizations in the next decade without recognizing the influence of millennials. By 2025, they are predicted to make up 75 percent of the workforce. It’s no secret that this generation’s views on work/life balance are impacting trends. The Internet is filled with statistics and articles describing their preference for choices about how, when, and where to work.

Leaders we interviewed for our Association 4.0 books: Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption and An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation frequently cited their thoughts on recruiting and retaining from this talent pool. The following millennial-friendly attributes and values will be increasingly important in the future workplace.

A Compelling Vision and Mission

In addition to options, younger workers are seeking purpose. They want to have a personal impact on the future and to be directly connected to a mission. MatchBox Virtual Media CEO, Arianna Rehak’s, thoughts on recruitment mirror this idea. “We want employees who get energy from making the world a better place. When we do our jobs well, we’re making a positive impact and being enriched by the process.”

Professional Development and Career Advancement

Millennials take an entrepreneurial approach to their careers. Along with employment, they look for a path to advancement. Amith Nagarajan, Chairman of the Board of AssociationSuccess.org, described why his company supports this idea. “When you grow people, the by-product is that you grow your business. That’s really where the fun is. Your purpose statement and core values become the foundational layers of culture. They provide an agreed-upon set of behaviors.”   

Work/Life Balance

According to a Deloitte study, nearly 75 percent of millennials believe that a work-from-anywhere policy is important. Younger workers want to be evaluated based on outcomes, not attendance. They want the emphasis on results over rules, and they prefer managers who mentor more than they supervise. Traci King, Chief Learning Strategist, InspirEd, notes, “My role is not to micromanage. It’s up to me to open space for my team. I am the buffer and the problem solver. I protect them so that they can feel safe and motivated to bring their best work forward. Coaching is a big part of our culture. We are a learning organization.”

Connectivity and Co-Creation

Employees, who have grown up in the digital era, are comfortable with connectivity in all shapes and sizes. They expect to work across functions, platforms, geography, and hierarchy. Aggregating feedback and information from a variety of sources is second nature. Rehak, explains her enthusiasm for co-creation like this, “When you bring people together to solve a problem, the result is so much more powerful than an individual could accomplish.”

Incorporate Specialized Skills

Don’t let your organization’s growth be limited by talent.

Don’t let your organization’s growth be limited by talent. In addition to being cultural influencers, millennials are also leading the freelance revolution. A 2017 annual freelance study by Upwork found that nearly 50 percent of millennial workers were already freelancing, and 7.8 million Americans would be working on-demand by 2020. It has never been easier to hire temporary workers. These are some of the advantages to be gained:

  • Specialization—You can find and hire a freelance expert in almost anything. Talent pairing platforms that make the recruiting and hiring process easy are springing up like mushrooms. There are sites dedicated to IT, communications, design, and a myriad of other skills. .orgFreelancer is a platform where leaders can find experienced association talent.
  • Commitment—Freelancers are entrepreneurs. They need to be at the top of their game on every job. As the customer, you are their priority for repeat business.
  • Scale—If you want to expand product lines but not your footprint, freelancers might be the ticket to that growth.
  • Geography—Can’t find a 3D designer in Indianapolis? Try Ireland or India. Cloud computing, file sharing, and teleconferencing make remote work seamless. Freelancers in another time zone can be working while U.S. employees sleep.

Save Costs and Boost Productivity

According to Market Watch in 2015, office space in New York City cost an average of $14,800 per employee annually. Although arguably one of the country’s most expensive urban areas, there is no doubt that remote work offers savings. While some of that revenue must be invested in equipment, software and other accoutrements employees need for a home office, there is also an opportunity to reallocate funds to staff development or other morale and culture-boosting activities.

Gains in productivity may offset any expenses for equipment. Employees who work from home are less likely to take unexpected time off because their hours can be flexible. Provided they have an adequate home work environment, they are less likely to be distracted by noise or interruptions to the workflow.

Be Flexible

I won’t pretend that initiating new work strategies is a walk in the park. Over the last few months, the remote work experience has been less than perfect for some. The negative issues have to do with the sudden, unexpected, and enforced conditions. With foresight and planning, these problems can be eliminated.

If you asked me to summarize the future of work in a word, I would say flexibility. Being adaptable, exploring options, and experimenting with possibilities are defining characteristics of work in the digital era. Every initiative need not be perfectly executed. Open space and learn from experience. Like the Microsoft study, stress exists at both ends of the spectrum. But growing pains offer a much better return on investment than the inevitable deterioration of standing still.