How to Craft the Future of Work

Between ages 5 and 14, I was asked 1,278 times what I wanted to be when I grew up.

My stock answer was “a veterinarian, because I love animals.”

Never mind (as I’d later discover) that I’m haunted by anatomical byproducts; that I love intellectual (human) debate more than furry comfort; that I prefer a blazer to a lab coat.

Few of us grow up to become that thing. And many of us will be many things in time.

And it’s because discovering the thing requires time to discover; to explore and experiment; to make bad decisions followed by better ones. Think more crafting than defining.

Similarly, the Future of Work (FOW) will likely be many things for us over time…and it too requires discovery, experimentation, and space for bad choices to inform better ones.

As I work with leadership teams to define their FOW, I'm leaning on some core principles to help us lay the bricks ahead as we go.

1. Define an experience (not a policy manual)

Many companies are leading with policy. I'd like to shift that focus to experience.

Rather than asking who may be remote, how one’s day must be structured, and how meetings are to be run, we’re challenging leaders instead to ask themselves what experience they want team members to have.

For some, the focus is on community and collaboration. For others, it’s efficiency and fast experimentation. There is no one right experience to deliver – but the act of defining that experience with intention will shape the choices you make regarding your FOW.

So, begin here with your executive leadership team. Take them through a visioning exercise, inviting them to rally around an ideal experience they want to own.

2. Provide flexible guardrails (not rules) that align with that experience

Hard-and-fast rules just aren’t the thing right now. These past couple of years have put our collective resilience on display. We’ve demonstrated an ability to do hard things. Our ingenuity has been empowering. So let's not strip it away.

Wherever possible, lean away from rules and mandates, and instead, offer guidelines that inform individual choices.

So for example...

If the nature of your work does require a hard rule or two, do what you gotta do. But where you can offer flexibility, it’s part of your Employee Value Proposition. So don’t squander the chance to delight your employees.

Let your guardrails inform choices.

3. Invite experimentation (don’t over-rely on “research”)

You’ve defined an experience and offered some guardrails. Now it’s time to begin defining actual practices to bring it all to life.

So what’s the best way to do X? The truth is, I don’t know. Nobody does…yet. But let’s have some fun and freedom in figuring it out.

Empower people, truly, to try things and discover what works.

Invite leaders and teams to be scrappy and imaginative Let them reinvent the water cooler, the board room, the team building. We’ve added so many tools to our ways-of-working toolboxes – let’s put them all on display!

Some practices I’ve seen teams create through experimentation?

  • Hybrid-hangs: Designated times during which all team members (in-office and remote) are invited to join a virtual hang-out space. No agenda or objectives – just coming together, even if working independently.
  • Monthly “happy” hour: Nope – no mandatory cocktails. It’s literally an hour each month when everyone hits pause on work and does something to personally recharge – take a yoga class or a nap; read a book; grab coffee with a friend. Remember – energy matters.
  • Quarterly on-sites: While in-office Tuesday/Thursday can feel heavy-handed and purposeless…quarterly on-sites are less frequent and more intentional. It’s a full day – in-person where possible – designed for team building or idea-generating or collaborative learning – whatever your team needs most.

4. Codify insights as you go (don’t strive to figure it all out now)

As teams begin experimenting with new and creative ways of working, some will be wins and others not so much.

But have a means of collecting the practices that rise to the top, and share them across your organization. Not as mandates – just as food for thought.

I believe in democratizing the FOW - giving everyone a hand in its crafting; and that collective insights and experiments deliver better outcomes than executive mandates every time.

Wishing you well on this journey.

Related: Is Organizational Sludge Driving Your Talent Away?