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CEO insights on the future workplace

When things go wild in the business world, CEOs inevitably fall into the spotlight. Everyone wants to know what they think and plan while managing what’s behind the scenes. For instance, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, CEOs and business leaders did not only have to prioritize business continuity and survival but also envision what the future workplace will look like, and start implementing new policies to ensure the business keeps running smoothly.

Alexandra Marinaki
Alexandra Marinaki

Alexandra is a psychologist with a MSc in Talent Development and Creativity.

future workplace

Considering how packed their agendas are, bringing CEOs to the same table to share their own concerns and thoughts is a challenge, especially now with COVID-19 events still evolving. But together with BambooHR, we overcame that burden and on June 25, 2020, we co-hosted a webinar titled: “CEOs on the future of remote work”. Flexibility, remote work and changing benefits were the main topics discussed. BambooHR’s Senior Social Media Manager, Tyler King, moderated and the speakers were:

Learn what the top four issues are top of mind for our three CEOs below:

Future workplace – CEOs share their thoughts

1. Flexibility will be the new reality

One of the things that stood out over the past few months was workplace flexibility – whether that’s in work schedules or location. Being flexible and agile was the only way to adhere to physical distancing restrictions. Some companies moved their operations fully remotely while others did it partially, with rotational shifts and strict hygiene measures to keep employees safe and sound.

With most businesses shifting to a virtual workplace – and in some cases a more asynchronous collaboration style – structured work arrangements, such as 9-to-5 schedules and long meetings started to fade out. Employers quickly realized that they’re not the key to productivity but rather a habitual schema they probably had to revisit.

Related: We also talked with Ørsted, a multinational company in Europe, on how they planned their return-to-work strategy. The takeaways here will be invaluable to you if you’re doing the same. Learn how they did it

This flexibility trend became also evident at a poll we carried out during the webinar; nearly half of the 562 attendees stated that they’re planning to offer more flexible work options in the future.

Take Workable as an example; Nikos explained that the company switched to remote-first amidst the pandemic. Employees will be able to explore which working style suits them best, in-office or work-from-home and freely go for it:

“The office is going to be there and everybody can choose whether they want to work from the office or they prefer to work from home, or even to change their mind”.

Nikos noted that for most businesses there is going to be an exploration stage to see what works and what not to keep employees happy and productive in the long run:

Natalia continued in the same mindset saying that the best workplace is the one that serves the best work, whether that’s virtual or in-office. The good news is that now most of us, businesses and employees, have experienced both working styles because of the pandemic and we’re more likely to create the best workstyle for us.

Natalia highlighted:

“I think we are in a unique place to blend and to figure out what we want to keep from the typical office situation with our teams, and what we want to keep from the current remote setting, so that what we design for the future is the best mixture of both – to support [the] best possible work.”

2. Remote office: pros and cons

Many companies nowadays are increasingly moving their operations to remote-first; before making that decision, CEOs weigh advantages and disadvantages to ensure maximal productivity and revenue growth with minimal impact on business operations.

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Natalia gives a high score to the remote-first office. She believes that it allows employees and employers to concentrate their full energy on what matters the most – operational efficiency and discipline:

Nikos supports the remote office as well, especially in terms of productivity compared to the typical office which can come with distractions:

“There is some fluff and there is some distraction, some waste of time. We all know that companies like ours, due to many physical constraints, have open offices. These are not ideal for concentrating [on] your work.”

On the flip side, with remote work, it’s not always easy to set boundaries between work and personal life:

“To be able to regiment routine and create those boundaries, you know, the meaning between family and work is not easy,” Nikos said. “And not everybody experienced it the same way. Some people were stuck in a small apartment alone. Somebody had to take care of another person in their family.”

For those who experienced remote work for the first time during the pandemic, Nikos stated that this is not the most representative remote work sample to draw from as an ideal example. The lockdown created some constraints that will not always exist – and in many cases, happened in an unprecedented situation. Once the physical restraints are limited, maybe employees will need this shared space again to thrive as teams.

Lee also shared his remote office pros and cons and got straight to the point – remote work allows business owners to save a good deal of money they would otherwise spend on facilities or transportation.

Lee unveiled his thoughts further and also talked about the bystander foe which we’ll call employee burnout:

3. Access to global talent

As Lee stated in the video above, one of the biggest assets of being remote-first is access to a “massive talent pool”. You can attract top, diverse talent from all over the world, not just your restricted area.

Natalia agreed and added:

“The talent pool became global. We all figured out that we can do our work from wherever and we can do our work well. If work can be done remotely, you can also hire remotely, so you don’t even need to meet the person to make a hiring decision.”

But this remote work arrangement can also cause a shift in compensation arrangements: “What does that mean to compensation, if we had localized compensation in the world based on talent pools and local job market conditions?” Natalia suggested as a question.

Nikos had a word on that:

“If we get to the point where we really are paid for the output of our work, you may have a completely different employment relationship sometime in the future, maybe in five or 10 years. They have to face things like comp was tied to location. And it should be tied to location, it makes sense. If you didn’t, you would destabilize the world economy.

“Suddenly,” Nikos adds, “you have a lot of people replaced, earning disproportionately from the people around them as well.”

There are numerous logistics business leaders should take into account when adopting more flexible work arrangements, such as localized compensation and employment laws. HR and people operations teams will have plenty of work to do to fine-tune all these elements and bring on best results – hopefully the output will reward the struggle.

4. Re-inventing benefits and culture

What will benefits look like in the future workplace? Following the flexibility and remote work trends, they will have to cater for new employee and workplace needs. With many companies switching to remote work, employers have already adapted some of their benefits to help employees prepare a home office. Lee and Natalia, for instance, offered allowance for equipment, Internet and phone calls.

“We offer our team equipment allowance to make their work settings most comfortable to them,” said Natalia. “We gave the teams a chance to take stuff from the office that might actually help them”.

But how can you be sure of what each employee needs when they work from home? Some of them may already have a catered home office and may prefer other perks, such as babysitting or internet supply. That’s exactly why it’s best to offer a more “vague” allowance as Nikos suggested to cover all types of needs. With a workforce all around the world this will be handy, as well.

Apparently all these changes will impact employee expectations and employment relationships in the long run. Nikos elaborates:

So the culture that companies have tried to nurture all these years, with cool offices and perks – especially in start-ups – may stop existing at some point. But, says Natalia, this is not going to happen at a glance but will be an ongoing process that the employer will have to re-evaluate and update regularly:

Future workplace – a two-way street

“Employees and companies will have to work together to figure it out,” Nikos said. “We all need to be prepared to make some mistakes or to change our mind, which you know is very hard to do recently, so check that out. We need to be a little bit patient.

“I don’t think there’s many people who have a single answer – maybe it’s not the same for all companies. So everybody will have to figure out their way.”

According to our speakers, these “future workplace trends” that have already started to gain ground are here to stay. The future workplace will be more flexible, remote-first, globalized and, in short, different from before. As long as we’re agile, open-minded and patient, employers and employees will make things work – together.

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