Future of Work

One future of work plan doesn't fit all

The future of work is no longer clear. So how do you plan for the unknown?

The world of work is changing fast—not only the work organizations do, but how they do it.

There are new and increasing pressures on the workforce: remote working, increased collaboration, digital transformation and more. To stay ahead, most businesses will need to transform its workforce to meet these demands.

The truth is that there is no one future of work. No single solution that fits every company and every situation. The only certainty is that we will need to do different work differently. But we can learn from the lessons learned and take inspiration from those organizations seizing the moment.

Future of Work insights

FAQs about the future of work

What is the future of work?

Given the disruption of the last few years, the future of work is unknown — and it’s evolving every day. There’s also no single future because there’s no universal solution that will work well for every company or every situation. The only thing we do know is that we’ll need to do different work, and we’ll need to do that work differently than we have before.

But, while there’s no one-size-fits-all blueprint for the future of work, our research and experience tell us that organizations that are poised for success in the future share certain characteristics that enable them to transform more efficiently.

1. They commit fully. While there’s no silver bullet for success, organizations that transform fully ruthlessly examine their principles and commit to different ways of operating. To do so, they challenge their people to think outside the box and do more complex work. They also adopt a working model that follows an agile, test and learn approach. And finally, they make meaningful structural changes to their organization. They consciously strike out on their own path, refusing to follow what other companies have done just because it’s easier to copy others than come up with their own ideas.

2. They think holistically but prioritize ruthlessly. Leading organizations recognize that the decisions they make about work, and where people work, have a number of interdependencies. Rather than make a lot of small changes in many areas, organizations successful at transformation focus on two or three of the following levers:

  • What people do you need to be successful? 
  • How do you need people to work?
  • What do you need people to do?
  • When do you need people to work?
  • Where do you need people to be based?
  • Why does your organization exist, and what is its purpose?

3. They act for the greater good, keeping the interests of both employees and the world in mind. Aligning the interests of the employer, employee and society is essential to long-term business success. Our research shows that employees who believe their jobs help satisfy the greater good are more likely to engage in innovative activity, which in turn raises the capability of their workforce and ensures sustainable change.

How can organizations prepare for the future of work?

We recommend that organizations follow a three-step process to get to the future of work: imagine a future vision; architect key structural, capability and talent decisions; and transform to bring your people on the journey.

  • Imagine: Consider a variety of workforce futures that address both fast and slow change. Define future-facing capabilities, which means understanding what human and tech capacity you need to drive your vision. Then compare your vision of work tomorrow to your reality of work today using a data-driven approach.
  • Architect: Determine how essential skills should flow through the way work is planned at your organization, from high-level structure down to the nitty-gritty of jobs. Then build a holistic plan to close any gaps, from reskilling and upskilling your people to changing your physical workplace and updating your rewards strategy. 
  • Transform: Ensure you have the talent needed to meet your capability needs by reskilling and upskilling existing talent and hiring new talent. Build an engaging, inclusive employee experience through change management. Encourage and support new ways of working through culture shaping and building new capabilities and infrastructure. And realize that change is an ongoing process, so shifting needs and contexts will require regular recalibration and new solutions. 

As your organization starts thinking about the future of work, take these steps:

  • Listen to your people: It’s important to understand your employees’ and leaders’ needs. Create a feedback loop by sharing regular updates, holding virtual town halls, surveying your employees regularly and opening other lines of communication so your employees feel engaged and heard.
  • Think about what’s next for your organization: What capabilities will your organization need to thrive and compete in the future? Forecast what roles and skills you’ll need in the next 5 to 10 or more years.
  • Ensure you have the right tools and technology for enablement: Confirm that you’ve given your employees the most current technology, which will improve their productivity, increase their engagement and encourage innovation.
  • Analyze how your work is currently being done: Understand first how your work is currently being done, then think about how you can better shape and structure it to improve its efficacy using a data-driven, benchmarked analysis.
  • Identify gaps in future workforce needs: A skills assessment can help you determine where you need to train and develop your employees. Implement upskilling and reskilling programs as necessary to address gaps and limit the need to recruit new talent.
  • Strengthen your employee value proposition: Talent retention is a challenge. To maximize your training and development investment in your employees, give them the fulfillment and enablement they crave.
  • Adapt to remote work practices: Make sure you’re building the skills and competencies necessary to evolve to a hybrid working environment that enables remote workers to be as productive as possible and that enables leaders to better manage a remote workforce.
  • Review your total rewards: Think about whether your current compensation and benefits reflect your employees’ preferences. Intangible rewards matter more than ever. For instance, consider flexible schedules and benefits that focus on employee wellbeing. 

Is working from home the future of work?

Having enjoyed the flexibility and freedom of working from home during the pandemic, many employees would prefer not to return to the office. Here are some of the reasons why.

  • They save time. Not only can employees avoid the headaches of driving or taking a train to work each day, but they also gain a significant amount of time back that they can use for other purposes, whether work-related or personal. 
  • They save money. By working from home, employees save money by buying less gasoline, putting less wear and tear on their vehicles and avoiding the need to buy subway or rail passes. They also don’t have to invest in business clothes.
  • They feel more productive. Some people experience fewer distractions when they’re working from home because their coworkers aren’t constantly popping by their office to interrupt them. They also feel less stress when they work from home, freeing their mind to be more creative.

Businesses are also realizing the benefits of a remote workforce, including these:

  • Reducing employee turnover
  • Recruiting scarce skills and competencies from different locations
  • Obtaining greater access to more diverse talent pools
  • Lowering costs with less overhead and smaller office footprints
  • Fulfilling sustainability goals and environmental mandates

Is a hybrid workplace the future of work?

Our research shows that people want flexibility when it comes to where they work. One study found that 82% of US professionals would prefer to work remotely at least some of the time. They don’t want to feel like they have to come to the office every day or work a standard 9-to-5 business day. Less than 10% of employees want to return to the office full time.

Yet many of these employees don’t want to stay home all the time either. Many people miss the interactions with their colleagues in meetings and near the water cooler. They need the social connections that offices create.

A hybrid workplace allows organizations to meet the diverse needs of their workforce and to develop a performance culture that’s inclusive of everyone. It builds in the agility required to help employees perform their work when and where they perform it best. And, most importantly, the research shows that hybrid workplaces are productive and effective. 

We expect the most successful organizations will adopt a hybrid model. But organizations should keep in mind that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work. 

Organizations should ensure their model is designed to meet their business needs. How can they best meet client needs and build strong team dynamics? How can they grow social connections?

For some organizations, the future workplace will be primarily remote with one or two days per week in the office. Others will opt for an on-site arrangement that allows employees to work one or two days from home. 

Whatever model you choose, measure your employee performance, survey employees to gather their feedback and monitor relevant workplace trends and safety concerns.

Is remote work the future of work?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations were reluctant to consider a remote work model. But now, having experienced the benefits of a remote workforce, these organizations have changed their mind. Quite a few organizations are shifting at least some of their employees to permanent remote-work status. 

With the advent of high-speed internet and collaboration platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, remote employee productivity has remained high. In fact, in a recent Korn Ferry survey, more than half (58%) of the professionals surveyed said they were more productive in a remote setting because they control how and when they respond to distractions and interruptions.

Likewise, satisfaction among remote employees is trending more positively. Nearly three-quarters of professionals (74%) reported having more energy and focus when they were working from home. And employees feel as if they can be more authentic at home, and thus bring their best selves to their work.

What are common remote work models?

Different organizations may benefit from different remote work models. Here is a list of popular remote work models along with a key challenge for each. 

  • Fluid hub and spoke: This model clusters talent in key locations, with some flexibility to go on and off site. A key challenge is deciding who is onsite or offsite at any given time.
  • Periodic culture infusions: People generally work remotely but come together to socialize and share their purpose. A key challenge is making onsite time feel worthwhile.
  • Onsite at minimum: Only those workers who must be onsite are onsite. A key challenge is managing the disparities between onsite and offsite populations.
  • Team-driven: Teams decide on their best onsite or remote collaboration model. A key challenge is giving teams guardrails to make sensible, more inclusive decisions.
  • Remote-only: All collaboration is virtual because there is no real onsite presence. A key challenge is maintaining engagement, especially over the long term.

In deciding which model is the right one for your future workplace, consider how you would answer these questions:

  • Who: Who can work remotely? Who wants to work remotely?
  • What: What jobs can employees perform remotely?
  • When: How many hours should employees reasonably work? How can your employees manage work-life balance? How can you help your employees avoid burnout?
  • Where: What should a workplace look like? Is your office built for collaboration? What are the requirements if you’re working from home?
  • Why: How do you maintain purpose and engagement with a remote workforce?
  • How: How does your organization define how it does work? How do your people collaborate? How do you measure your employees’ performance?