The workplace revolution

I will confess to being one of those who has been lucky enough to really enjoy some aspects of lockdown, however I really worry that we are at risk of sleep walking into a massive skills shortage, putting organisations at risk of failure.

I also get it; this has been far from idyllic for everyone. For some, working at home has meant juggling childcare and home schooling with work commitments, not to mention additional worries over job security and finance. Others though have seen an improvement in wellbeing – ditching the daily battle on public transport, having more time to see loved ones or maybe even taking up a new hobby.

I believe that long term we will settle on a middle ground – a more ‘blended’ workplace – reducing (but not eliminating) office space, lowering numbers on public transport and hopefully stress levels. But hang on, this isn’t new: technology has been taking us down this path for a while; anyone who lives in commuter belt sees station car parks 30% quieter on a Friday as people work from home. COVID has massively accelerated this change though and that means we now need to carefully think through the wider impact on our organisations and our people.

Even before the pandemic we have been drifting towards a skills shortage; the type of skills that help our people thrive – those human skills. These are the skills that help with problem solving, that enable our team members to flourish, that transform innovation into solutions, that help leaders inspire their teams and our people to feel supported.

So, as we prepare for what the workplace of the future will look like, let’s not just think about the ‘tangibles’ – the tech platforms, the new hot-desking and how meetings might work. Let’s really focus on what leadership will need to look like in the new normal, what skills will be needed to thrive (not just survive), and also on how our people will acquire those skills.

Over the last month I have spent time discussing this with senior leaders in both the corporate and education world and 4 common themes have emerged…

  1. When lockdown initially happened, people turned to those leaders sitting at the top of the tree for clarity on ‘what’s next?’ But the truth is over the last few months, leadership is no longer exclusive to those with a ‘chief’ or ‘senior’ title. In fact, it’s become an every man job. It’s relied on every person throughout our organisations to step up and lead themselves and others; to have the courage and skills to make decisions, rather than stand behind processes and to become leaders who are capable of making steps to drive our businesses forward every single day.
  2. In a world where we no longer sit next to each other, observe behaviours and overhear conversations our people also need to be far more autonomous and self-led, taking more ownership for asking questions, sharing their thoughts and sometimes just having a go. 
  3. Although there are lots of examples of brilliance, humour and innovation, many of us don’t find these new ways easy – we are having to adjust the way we do daily tasks (at work and at home) as well as cope with massive cultural change.  And the truth is even the most motivated and engaged staff are finding it challenging. Finding ways to improve staff motivation, engagement and wellbeing and maintain culture are absolutely critical.
  4. And importantly, it is probably the least experienced in our teams that will be the most impacted – how do new hires learn from more experienced staff? How will we on-board a new graduate intake? I know that I learnt so much as young wide-eyed new hire in finance, not from the courses I attended and text books I read, but from listening and watching, observing those senior people that seemed to know all the answers.

Therefore this ‘shift’ in leadership and change to our culture needs focus.  Both need to be a key part of our future strategies. We also need to recognise that the critical human skills that are needed aren’t just going to appear – they don’t come on Amazon Prime.  They can’t just be picked up by osmosis, or learnt by forcing people just to have a go. We need to invest in people’s development.  We need to give them the skills to lead themselves, be authentic leaders of others and take care of their wellbeing.

Finally, let’s also recognise that corporates, although ecosystems in themselves, also sit within a much bigger ecosystem of our society. If the workplace of the future requires a greater emphasis on human skills, then let’s put a greater emphasis on these within education – we also have a real opportunity to redesign education places of the future. We know that Gen Z will have longer working lives than any generation before them, and be doing jobs that none of us have even heard of today, so surely we must arm them with the types of human skills that gives them every chance of thriving?

At Ivy House, we put game-changing leadership and life skills at the heart of how we develop every generation. Are you ready to be part of the revolution?

By Kate Lander, Ivy House
10th August 2020

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