Productivity is one of those things managers are always working to improve, and the future of work is likely to shake up the way we attain high productivity and how we encourage employee engagement.
These five prophecies from thought leaders can help businesses prepare for what the future holds.
You can see more about how email, meetings, and automation are shaping the future of work in our 2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work report.
1. Productivity Tools Will Become All Inclusive
With new technologies, work has become more and more complex. Digitization, the transfer of work to the digital arena, has lead to the creation of hundreds, if not thousands, of productivity tools.
Our State of Enterprise Work report reveals that knowledge workers are using several different tools to manage their work.
While we’ve become adept at using the tools, we haven’t necessarily become more productive. In a recent webinar, workforce innovation specialist Sophie Wade said, “Adding all these tools on top of each other in a complex world…has just made it very clumsy and has complicated things further.”
In the same webinar, Workfront CEO Alex Shootman explained:
“You’ve got tasks, collaboration, and content. I think productivity issues exist because work is complex and it’s hard to stitch together these three things that are the DNA of work.”
In the future, we’ll see productivity tools that are all inclusive. They will bring these elements together, making teamwork seamless. Communication, version control, proofing, and tasks will come together in dashboards that make work management cohesive.
2. Work-Life Balance Will Become Work-Life Integration
As this kind of seamless work becomes the norm, the idea of work-life balance will change. When employees can easily use all inclusive productivity tools to work from anywhere at any time, Wade believes it will become much more about self-management.
“We’ve had these clumsy terms like work-life balance, which doesn’t really help, and words do matter. But I do see it all being very much integrated…
"We’re looking at both how we ourselves work best—when that is, what work it is—and who we’re working with to do it.”
In our State of Enterprise Work report, we found that workers are toggling back and forth between work and personal devices, a sign that they are already embracing integration.
All inclusive productivity tools will give employees more power over the way they work. This means they will have the ability to define their own work-life balance, which may look more like a work-life profile.
Mark Schaefer, a globally recognized marketing expert, says we are entering an “Age of Workplace Purpose.”
“Knowledge workers see a day in the near future when the work-life balance is no longer an issue. The idea is simply blurred. Work is life and life is work, all organized by your purpose.”
3. More Flexible Work Will Mean More Productive Employees
With this new definition of work-life balance comes a need for greater flexibility, and our survey found that three-quarters of workers have some ability to take flextime.
In recent research, Gallup found that “the optimal engagement boost comes when workers are off-site for 60% to 80% of their time—in other words, three or four days out of the typical workweek.”
As employees are able to work on flexible schedules, their job satisfaction increases, they are more engaged in their work, and they are more productive.
Wade believes that in the future, workers will need to become more aware of what kind of schedule allows them to be most productive:
“We all work in different ways. What is productive to one person is intrusive to another. For people who want to focus on a particular project, having a meeting in the middle of that day is going to disturb them.
"Most of us haven’t been thoughtful about our processes and how each of us work most effectively.”
As businesses adopt all inclusive productivity tools, they can offer this kind of flexibility to their employees. In a recent webinar, James Wallman, futurist and author of Stuffocation, said:
“And the magic of collaboration tools…is that different people can be active and be productive and be effective in a time that suits them, so they can manage their own time.”
4. Automation and AI Will Make Room for More Niche Work and Creativity
While robots may not be completely taking over the workplace of the future, they will be making an impact. “I think what’s going to happen instead of the robots taking our jobs, I think they’re going to take our tasks,” said Wallman.
He believes we can expect to see automation and artificial intelligence actually boost our productivity because they will make room for more niche work that requires a human touch.
In other words, in the future, robots will take on mundane tasks, freeing up skilled knowledge workers to work on higher-value projects, and preventing them from being bogged down by all the things that inhibit productivity.
“As we move away from repetitive, manual work and we automate, our productivity will increase in the way you’d expect, but I think there’s going to be a flowering of creativity as well,” Wallman said.
This is in line with our State of Enterprise Work report findings: 86 percent of workers think automation will allow them to think in new and innovative ways and 69 percent of workers think it will give them more time to focus on their primary job responsibilities.
Shootman says, “The magic at work really happens when we relate to each other.”
Automation and AI may play a major role in future productivity, but that just means that human workers will become more valuable as they offer creative, niche skills that robots can’t.
5. Multi-Generational Workplaces will Drive Technological Changes
Right now there are four generations—generation Z, millennials, generation X, and baby boomers—in the workplace. With different backgrounds, experiences, and personal motivators, this group of workers will have what it takes to approach problems in new ways and take on different opportunities.
Of this multi-generational workforce of the future, Shootman said:
“I just think it’s going to be a melting pot of people. People are going to realize that all brains are grey, and if you need to win in the marketplace you need to attract every kind of brain.”
While there will be several generations working together, in 2015, millennials became the largest group in the workforce, according to Pew Research.
Younger generations, or digital natives, haven’t known a world without the technology that is making remote work possible. To them, a job that offers flextime is a natural way to build productivity.
Wade explained that this generation’s energy is helping to drive these changes forward:
“What I do see is a huge amount of energy and drive coming from younger groups because they are seeing this as a sort of logical evolution to work.”
So, while the future of work may include multiple generations, it’s likely that many of the changes we’ll see when it comes to technology and productivity will be driven by younger generations, because it’s simply second nature to them.
There are already signs that these thought leaders’ predictions on productivity are becoming a reality. Are you ready?
To see the full webinar that these insights came from, watch "A Survival Guide for the Future Workplace," featuring Sophie Wade, Alex Shootman, and James Wallma, today.
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