Zone Digital

It’s time to redesign how we work. This is how.

Professor Lynda Gratton, global thought leader on the future of work, explains how to equip your business, now and for the future.

It’s time to redesign how we work. This is how.

The world of work is dramatically shifting. An acceleration in AI and automation has created a skills gap, while hybrid working has led to changing expectations and values among the workforce.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, a 2023 report into trust at work, says most employees want a work/life reset. Because of everything that has happened in the world over the past few years, 67% of employees are re-evaluating how they spend their time, it found, and 72% believe employers need to rethink what work means to employees.

“We’ve got an astonishing set of trends that are absolutely shaking up work,” says Professor Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, and whose latest book Redesigning Work: How to Transform your Organisation and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone is in the Financial Times’ list of best business books of 2022.

In the latest episode of the Zone Book Club, in partnership with Penguin Business and Campaign, Gratton talks to Campaign commercial editor Suzanne Bidlake about how to make positive lasting changes to get the most out of the modern workforce.

Work trends
Gratton outlines three trends shaping the future of work: demography, technology, and society.

An ageing population means people are realistically going to work into their 70s, and are asking questions about what that means for their work/life balance.

Tech has already significantly impacted low-skilled workers, and now generative AI is coming for the creative industry. McKinsey reports that “gen AI will perform at a medium level of human performance by the end of this decade.”

Younger parents look after their children more than they used to, which means a rise in general parental leave and is slowly helping to address the gender imbalance in the workplace.

“The combination of all three of these trends is that we want more flexibility,” says Gratton. “I’ve been rabbiting on about demography and society for decades without a lot of traction, but then the pandemic changed everything. It showed companies that people could work from home, and they could work from home relatively productively.

“What’s happening now is a reconsidering of that, and the hybrid story is now playing out alongside another era-defining event, which is generative AI.”

Test and learn
There are two important questions that aren’t going away: how does the C-suite approach remote working? And how does it best use the rise of generative AI?

Gratton stresses there’s no right or wrong answer, but there should be room to experiment.

“We’re all learning together,” she says. “There isn’t a correct answer to hybrid, and there isn’t a right answer to generative AI. So we have to be bold and experiment, and we’ve got to ask ourselves questions such as ‘do we need the expensive office when it sits empty for two days a week, or is it vital for teamwork and teamwork is at the heart of your values?’

“Especially in creative businesses, it gives you a great opportunity to trial different ways of working.”

There’s a lot more choice out there now: employees can join an organisation where they’re in the office five days a week, or where they’re hybrid, or entirely remote. Employers have to be attuned to this and find the right balance.

“There are loads of companies out there that are experimenting with how they work in really exciting ways,” says Gratton. “So, if you’re not changing your approach to work, you’re not going to attract many talented people, and the talented people you do attract will leave.”

A four-way process
To help get to an answer that best aligns with an organisation’s values and objectives, Gratton has set out four key steps.

1. Understand what matters: know your people, network, and jobs to fully understand productivity, needs, and knowledge exchanges.

2. Reimagine new ways of operating: is the current way of working producing the best possible results? If not, how can it work better?

3. Model and test new ways of working: experiment to test what works and what doesn’t.

4. Act and create: ensure changes aren’t just fads but embedded in the culture.

“You have to find something that works for everybody but is not unfair,” says Gratton. “For me, fairness is not about treating everybody the same; fairness is about doing what’s right in terms of your organisation's values. So if collaboration is one of your organisation's core values, then you’ve got to think really hard about how you build that need for collaboration into how you’re redesigning work.”

It is essential the C-suite doesn’t do this in a vacuum. Employee voice is crucial to effectively redesigning work, so the workforce should feel empowered to come to senior leadership with changes they think would be suitable for the company. “I think it’s really powerful when employees set out their vision for companies, and ask senior leadership if they’ve thought about doing things in a certain way, and giving examples of how that might have worked at another company.” 

If companies fail to listen and act on employee suggestions? They’ll quickly lose talent.

5 tips for redesigning work

Think about roles, not people
“The best way a company can categorise people is to think about their job, not the person they are. An example is a company with people on reception: they must be there to do their job. But the same company also has people working the telephones in a sales role: they don’t need to be in an office to do that. So you’ve got to ask yourselves what is the job, and what gives that job the best chance of success?”

Embrace generative AI
“As an individual, you should be all over generative AI. It’s early days, but data suggests ChatGPT can move medium performers into high performers. As a company, you should look at what areas will be most impacted by generative AI, and anything to do with marketing and content creation is right at the top. So you should consider how it can add value in those areas.”

Invest in work-flow management platforms
“The manager is crucial in redesigning work. But it’s hard managing a team of hybrid workers. Management platforms that help you manage workflows are important to  keep everyone on the same page.”

Keep the CEO in check
“The biggest mistake companies make is they let the CEO’s preferences dominate. The company then becomes an echo chamber – which happens too often in the creative industry. You have to ask, ‘What is best for this company?’ not ‘What would the CEO most like to see?’. The CEOs I admire most are those who ask questions, are curious about the world, and look at what other companies do.”

Accept that age is just a number
“Marketing does a great disservice when it goes on about Gen Z, Gen X and Millennials, and tries to categorise people into age ranges. We have to stop thinking like that. No empirical evidence shows that people have the same thoughts and characteristics just because they are in the same age bracket. Because of this, companies often fail to engage people over 50, and we let too many people go who have a lot of wisdom.”


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