Transitioning to the future of work and the workplace
Embracing digital culture, tools, and approaches
A Deloitte survey (sponsored by Facebook) asked C-suite executives for their perspectives on the future of work. Their responses reveal six themes about the future workplace—and six lessons to help leaders ease the transition.
The more things change…
Digital technology is having a profound effect on the 21st century organization. It is fundamentally changing the way we work, the way we manage, where we work, how we organize, the products we use, and how we communicate.
With all this change, some things remain constant. Organizations, filled with people, still exist to unite around a common purpose, common values, strategic objectives, and to get things done. People remain the most critical asset of most organizations—but are increasingly in the shadow of machines and in a maze of technologies. Individuals are still bound by hours in the day and their mental ability to process information. Work (done by computers and people) must be coordinated to create maximum value.
Organizations still need great leaders, managers, and employees at all levels to get things done in an efficient and effective way. We believe there is tremendous unrealized value from this new era yet to be claimed in how we communicate and collaborate in the future work environment.
C-suite perspectives on the future of work
To better understand how executives are thinking about these changes, Deloitte (sponsored by Facebook) conducted an anonymous survey of 245 C-level executives in September 2016.
The results of the survey confirmed that the C-suite leaders surveyed do see the future of work and workplaces as a crucially important topic and are aware that new technologies will lead to changes in how work gets done as well as to their roles as leaders.
Our survey identified six themes that the C-suite needs to give attention to.
Culture is critical
Our survey showed that C-suite executives across geographies and varying company sizes have a shared vision of the future of work. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of those surveyed believe that company culture, especially transparency in internal communications, will have a critically important impact on their organization’s ability to realize its mission and vision.
Surprisingly, in contrast, only 14 percent of our respondents felt that culture has no, little, or neutral impact on their ability to realize their vision and mission. This is skewed to smaller companies, where scale may not yet have focused attention on this need, but the response suggests that as they grow, they will need to address it.
Lesson 1: Pay attention to culture; help ensure leaders actively participate in its development and dissemination.
Culture is critical, but leaders recognize there is work to be done. A cultural transformation will be needed over the next five years, as only 14 percent of leaders are completely satisfied with their organization’s current ability to communicate and collaborate. In addition, leaders are actively monitoring their progress, a sign of culture’s strategic importance.
For surveyed leaders, putting in place more efficient decision-making structures and tools (42 percent) and allocating more employee time and resources to innovation by making current processes more efficient (41 percent) were the two most important changes in culture they expect to see within the next two years.
Lesson 2: Companies should be proactive in creating greater transparency in communications and new systems, and policies and reinterpreting their corporate culture around digital in the workplace, or they risk losing employees, productivity, and, potentially, customers.1
Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of focus on the influence of Millennials on the way talent is recruited and developed, given that by 2020 they will constitute 50 percent of the workforce. But we also cannot ignore the fact that Baby Boomers are working longer, often into their 70s and 80s. So, the need to manage across generations remains as important now as it ever was, if not more so.
Almost four in five (78 percent) of executives surveyed believe, for example, that generational differences in employees’ expectations will drive an increased emphasis on devolved collaboration.
This is particularly important given only a third of Millennials feel their organization is making the most of their skills and experience,2 and 66 percent expect to leave their employer in less than five years.3 The priority executives give to this topic is a recognition they are aware of the problem and see it as a real challenge to find and retain top talent, particularly in the Millennial population.4
Lesson 3: To keep Millennials, companies should place greater emphasis on nurturing and developing their people, creating interesting and purposeful work, and building an environment with career flexibility and tools that enable employees to collaborate and exchange ideas transparently.
Business benefits are real—this is about getting things done
Communication, collaboration, and connectivity are at the core of much of what the C-suite believes will drive the major changes in the future of work. The reason for investing heavily in these aspects of work is the belief they represent hard business benefits for their companies.
When asked to identify the most important benefits from greater levels of collaboration, 57 percent of executives cited identifying and exploiting new business opportunities, while 48 percent cited increasing rates of innovation. These were followed closely by accelerating time to market (42 percent) and improving customer loyalty (41 percent).
Another survey shows that 65 percent of employees responding believe opportunities for growth and innovation exist outside the office location—further emphasizing the need for providing tools that enable networks and collaboration across locations.5
The culture required to support the future of work will demand more efficient processes, particularly different decision-making structures and carefully selected tools. Almost half (48 percent) of executives surveyed predict increased levels of collaboration will enable better attraction and retention of top talent.
The future working environment will require a shift in how we communicate and collaborate, with 76 percent of executives surveyed predicting a move away from email and toward more sophisticated digital tools. These digital tools will be critical enablers for increased cross-cultural teaming. In fact, 72 percent of respondents see virtual teaming capabilities across cultures as becoming significant and normative in the next five years. Collaboration strengthens relationships, so the choice of technologies should ideally allow for relationship-building activities as well as efficient communications.6
But tools alone are not the answer. As companies move from email to other tools for communicating, collaborating, and connecting, they will need to develop the right cultural context and adapt workplace policies and processes to help ensure the environment and expectations are set up to enable successful adoption of whatever digital capabilities are implemented.
Lesson 5: Start the shift to new collaboration tools, but help ensure workplace practices and employee expectations are aligned with the new capabilities that are available.
Leaders increasingly lead networks, not hierarchy
We have seen that expectations of leaders are changing not only in terms of how they interact and engage with their employees but also in how they see their role changing.
Our sample of C-suite executives showed that just over 40 percent of respondents expect they will increasingly place more focus on facilitating the flow and exchange of ideas and providing greater autonomy at team and individual levels. This shift from “top-down” to what we might see as “alongside” is a crucial component of the equation.
As we noted earlier, and is now commonplace in management literature, unless leaders are role models of the target environment, limited or no progress will be made. The shift to facilitating an empowered network after years of being in a more directive mode is a big one. As Jeffrey Joerres said in his interview on the future of work, “As we look to the future, role modeling of behaviors is going to be more important than training.”7 In the highly networked, more fluid organizations of the future, leaders from the C-suite down will need new ways to communicate with employees and keep a pulse on their organization.
Lesson 6: Leaders can often underestimate the benefits of social tools at work8 and need to be educated in how to use collaboration and business social tools for improved communication, collaboration, and connectivity.
This survey suggests that at the top of companies, executives, particularly in larger companies, recognize both that the future of work will be very different from the way things have happened in the past and that their roles need to adapt to the new organizational environments they will be leading.
At its core, how we work in future will be more networked, more devolved, more mobile, more team- based, more project-based, more collaborative, more real-time, and more fluid. The challenge will to be make sure it is not more complicated, confusing, or overwhelming. This will require better and different ways to communicate, collaborate, and network. Large multinodal fluid networks will rely increasingly on new pathways for information to be exchanged and lessons shared, leaning heavily on new, enabling digital technologies. Equally, if not more importantly, it will require leaders to act increasingly as network architects and role models for the new ways of working. Done well, the future of work offers the opportunity to provide the most engaging and motivating environment we have yet experienced and, after decades of aspiring to the idea, to become truly learning organizations.
1 Jennifer Buchanan, Beth Kelley, and Alicia Hatch, Digital workplace and culture: How digital technologies are changing the workforce and how enterprises can adapt and evolve, Deloitte.
2 Christie Smith, Ph.D. and Stephanie Turner, Ph.D., The millennial majority is transforming your culture, Deloitte University.
3 The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Winning over the next generation of leaders, Deloitte.
4 The 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce, study commissioned by Elance-oDesk & Millennial Branding.
5 The Future of Work: Cultivating The Next Generation of Leaders, a PSFK report.
6 Shea Bennet, “Social Media Increases Office Productivity, But Management Still Resistant, Says Study,” Social Times, June 26, 2013.
7 Amy Bernstein, “Globalization, Robots, and the Future of Work: An Interview with Jeffrey Joerres,” Harvard Business Review, October 2016.
8 Shea Bennet, “Social Media Increases Office Productivity, But Management Still Resistant, Says Study,” Social Times, June 26, 2013.