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3 Ways to Prepare for the Workplace Culture of the Future

The workplace experience as we know it is evolving and changing into something new and wholly different. It’s becoming increasingly diverse, digital and virtual, flexible, and automated. Generational differences are driving the pace of change—especially the emerging millennial demographic—including the tools we use and the workplace culture.

According to a Great Place to Work study, the workplace culture of the future will be defined by three key trends:

1. A fairer workplace for all employees

2. Increased focus on developing all employees

3. A deeper sense of purpose for all employees

For organizations looking to prepare for the workplace culture of the future, here are three recommended measures to set you up for success.

Turn DE&I talk into action

While there have been several points in history where society reflects on diversity and inclusion expectations, the summer of 2020 presented a real opportunity for change. As employees worldwide engage in social justice movements, leaders are seizing this moment to consider their roles and options to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) at their organizations. The intention, however, is not enough—employees want to see results and action to back it up.

It's the entire leadership team's job—not just the chief human resources officer's—to reconsider its DE&I goals to truly achieve systemic change. If you need thousands of employees globally to change, no one person or small function will take care of that—it must be owned collectively.

Shift accountability and action for DE&I to business leaders by building healthy manager-employee relationships (e.g., personalized support, coaching for performance) and facilitating cross-company networking. Think beyond traditional unconscious bias training and permanently redesign talent processes to mitigate bias.

We've seen employee resource groups or affinity networks work well, too. The shared stories have created more robust connections between managers and employees, helping to change senior leaders' hearts and minds in terms of moving the needle on DE&I.

Although it's always been essential for driving business outcomes, in today's context, DE&I will distinguish best-in-class organizations in the years to come.

Invest in employee upskilling and development

Adapting to the future workplace culture will require organizations and their employees to equip themselves with new capabilities. According to a McKinsey report, by 2030, up to 30 to 40 percent of all workers in developed countries may need to move into new jobs or upgrade their skills significantly. You can’t always hire all the skills you need, so a better solution is to look internally and develop the talent you already have.

Start by involving employees in the process of redesigning their roles and ways of working. Instead of generating fear and resentment, the process will empower employees to shape their path—thereby creating more commitment for the change. Plus, they’ll surface and address challenges early on, creating smoother transitions.

Think about ways of engaging the best-fit internal employees in roles versus hiring from outside by creating an internal talent marketplace. Give them on-the-job learning by deploying them on project teams, stretch and volunteering assignments. Leverage iterative design as part of the process and customize the marketplace to your strategy and culture.

Also, consider ways to modernize your organizational learning function. Use exciting new technologies like microlearning, simulations and gamification to design your upskilling and reskilling programs.

It’s important to note that not all employees affected by the change will find opportunities within their current organization—and some may prefer to seek new employment than to change. Help them transition to new areas of work with empathy by helping them acquire skills likely to be useful elsewhere and develop growth mindsets.

Connect the people to the purpose

This last year has made it evident that the traditional organization of permanent employees working 9-5 from a building is shifting. The future of work comprises a hybrid workforce—people who work together from anywhere focused on a common purpose. A study by PwC found that 79% of leaders think purpose is central to business success, and Gallup noted that 41% of employees want to know what their company stands for. This is especially true among Gen Z employees (loosely, people born from the late 1990s to early 2010s) for whom the meaning of work is at the top of their preferences.

Creating a purpose-driven organization starts with identity—help people build resilient and adaptive identities fueled by their purpose, passions and creativity. Cultivate the uniquely human skills that are hard to automate, such as curiosity, creativity, imagination, social and emotional intelligence—the skills that are transferable from one job to the next.

Remember to continuously remind employees what your organization stands for—and what it pursues due to alignment—and help them understand how their work makes a difference in others' lives. Raise awareness of the corporate and social responsibilities of the organization. Use personal stories in leadership messages to illustrate how employees are addressing real-world challenges. Inspire your employees by making them feel they're contributing to something bigger than themselves—this tends to create more engagement, innovation, and creativity.

While the pandemic has forced organizations to adopt new working practices, it’s the ones that adapt the best to the wants and needs of their employees that will retain talent—and a positive work culture—well into the future.

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