Business leaders are questioning the future of work. Both the immediate future, which includes getting people back to the office safely, and the longer-term future as we re-imagine work in general. Ordinarily, companies would have figured these things out over the course of months or years, as we slowly-and-steadily made the transition to new models of work. But these aren’t ordinary times, and we just accelerated through two or three years’ worth of change. Suddenly the longer-term future of work is here. This isn’t a back-burner question any longer.
The time to crack the complexity of work 2.0 is now.
The future of work will involve many considerations that have surfaced since companies rapidly shifted to remote work at the beginning of the pandemic:
These themes come up again and again as we talk to leaders about how work has changed during, and as a direct result of the pandemic. David Burkus thinks the days of 9-5 are gone, as leaders realize that salaried work isn’t about getting a certain number of hours out of people, but rather, getting “important work done, which takes whatever time is necessary.” Dr. Ivan Misner predicts that demand for commercial office space will decline but not disappear completely, as we realize that virtual work can work, but certain activities are still best done in-person. And according to Laurie Cooke, distributed workforces could create more opportunities for people who don’t live in major cities to work for large companies.
TACKLE THE COMPLEXITY
Work 2.0 presents both tremendous opportunities and complex challenges. Cracking that complexity is the job of leadership.
What makes this complex?
With the sheer volume of books, research, and thought leadership on the nature of work and the workplace, one would think there is a checklist for - as David Burkus puts it - creating “a place where work doesn’t suck.” But there isn’t a science or a checklist available, and no expert consultant can make it happen for you, because the nature of work and the future of work is not merely complicated, it’s complex. Work is multi-faceted, and its many moving parts are interconnected in ways that can’t easily be seen or understood.
The key components of work – how we work, where we work, productivity, collaboration, engagement, culture, compensation, health, safety, and well-being – are all deeply intertwined. Each of these facets change constantly. Work today is radically different from three years ago, or in the case of the pandemic, even three months ago. And each of these facets is highly dependent on place, local laws, customs, and populations, urban vs. rural settings, and other elements like available transportation and technological infrastructure. Work here is distinct from work there.
Complex challenges are highly interconnected and look different depending on the time and place. This means they defy one-size-fits-all, preconfigured solutions. What works for one company probably won’t work for yours. To figure out what work 2.0 looks like for your organization, you must take into account the unique complexity of your situation and engage the right variety of people in creating the solution.
START WITH A QUESTION
To find a solution to a complex challenge, start by constructing a really, really good question.
The question is key because it provides clarity, bounds the challenge, calls for action, sets a goal and timelines, and compels and catalyzes people to answer it.
ENGAGE THE RIGHT MIX OF PEOPLE
With your question in hand, the task becomes thinking about who to engage and involve in answering it. In our book, Cracking Complexity, we offer some tools to help you think through requisite variety, the necessary and sufficient mix of people who can collectively find and execute on answers to your question. Effective groups aren’t just composed of the right people, but the right mix of people; groups that collectively hold all of the necessary perspectives, experiences, opinions, ideas, functions, influence, stake, and so on. A small company might achieve requisite variety with just 8 people, while a large organization might need upwards of 40. The number of people isn’t as important as the variety.
START WITH THE TOUGHEST CONVERSATION
Having assembled this group - whether physically, digitally, or both - what’s the agenda you should give them so that they can answer your question about the future of work? That’s easy. Don’t give them an agenda at all. Just give them your question, a set of objectives that you’d like them to achieve, and maybe a few unbiased pre-reads to get them started in their thinking. Let them set their own agenda. Assuming this is the right group to answer your question, only they know what needs to be discussed in order to do so. Let them at it.
CONNECT AND COLLIDE PEOPLE
Once you have convened your requisite variety group (whether digitally, physically or both), you need them to incorporate and combine what they collectively know, see, understand, are excited about, are concerned about, and ultimately reach consensus on a vision and plan for your organization’s work 2.0.
The best way to get there fast is through high-quality, high-speed, high-impact interactions we call collisions. A well-designed collisional process will take the eyes, ears, hearts and minds of this high-variety mix of people, and systematically drive them through the co-creation of a holistic plan they all believe in - a plan that reflects the specific challenges and opportunities that are unique to your (and their) situation. Effective co-creation leads to deep and durable alignment and ownership, and sidesteps many of the common failure points of top-down, large-scale, long-term transformation agendas.
You can’t deny or wish away the fact that the nature of work has changed radically and permanently over the last few months; complex challenges like this one don’t just untangle themselves. That makes it even more important than ever to get a handle on how best to deal with complexity, and to flex that muscle on work 2.0.
Before you are left in the dust by employees that no longer want to work the way they used to, and by competitors who get ahead of you in creating a far more attractive ‘workplace’ for their people (and yours).
Original article posted on Forbes on July 15, 2020
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