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Leading Off
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The future of work isn’t a new concept, as organizations have been implementing aspects of it—automation, reskilling, flexible staffing—for years. Following the pandemic, though, the need for solutions to address the future of work has become more pressing. Workplace transformations that were expected to take years are happening in months. As leaders envision what their teams and organizations will look like in the future, it may be helpful to cut through the clutter and pinpoint the developments to watch. This week, let’s explore how the major trends—including the growth of the ever-evolving metaverse—are likely to play out.
Illustration of three yellow balls on red pillars
Define the three basics of work
In the ongoing debate over hybrid and remote work, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in the specifics of who spends how many days in the office. Instead, think about the three basics that shape organizations: the work, the workforce, and the workplace. What is your company’s value agenda, and how do you plan to deliver on it? Ask yourself which parts of your organization’s work are temporary and which are transformative. The answer to that question defines what work your organization does, where it does it, and the talent and skills you need for it. For example, your company might focus on generating value by building an e-commerce platform. That would require investment in technical software and skills, but the work wouldn’t necessarily have to be done on-site. Examining and optimizing the three factors will enable your company to function better in the postpandemic world, regardless of the style of work you choose.
That’s the percentage of respondents to a McKinsey survey who are looking at workplace factors, such as reconfiguring their office spaces to save on real-estate costs and improve office environments for on-site employees. Measures include renegotiating lease terms, letting leases expire, and setting up flexible desk arrangements. With much of knowledge work moving off-site, you could seize the opportunity to completely reinvent your physical and virtual work environments.
“We’re not necessarily looking at a negative future in terms of jobs, but what we are looking at is a major shift in terms of the set of skills within each job and the types of jobs that will exist in the future.”
That’s Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum (WEF), during the launch of a new workforce reskilling initiative at WEF’s annual meeting in January 2020. Zahidi could not have predicted the pandemic that broke out just two months later, but she was prescient about the radical change in the talent landscape that would follow. Recognizing that the postpandemic workforce is vastly different from the prepandemic one, leaders need to go back to basics—assess the talent you have, the retraining or hiring you may need to do, and the new expectations your team will have of you. The latter may prove the most challenging: employees expect inclusion, a sense of purpose, and a positive experience at work, and leaders will need to meet these expectations in deliberate and tangible ways.
A drawing of McKinsey’s Richard Ward
Like the future of work, the idea of a metaverse has been around for a long time—since 1992, in fact, when the author Neal Stephenson coined the word in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash to describe a virtual universe that parallels the real one. Today, the metaverse represents the convergence of our physical and digital lives, mostly through immersive technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and many others. It already has numerous practical applications in the business world and promises many more, says McKinsey’s Richard Ward in this podcast. For example, a worker can learn new vocational skills—such as repairing a truck or helicopter—with virtual-reality goggles that simulate each task. “If you need to do something that is very manual or requires you to move around a lot, metaverse tools can be very helpful,” says Ward. “That’s one of the key elements of the metaverse: you can move around, you can walk places, you can see things, you can do things.”
A photo of a person sitting at a desk with a laptop, and a bulldog sleeping on the floor
Employees may well have the last word when it comes to deciding the future of workplace models. Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom warns of conflicts between companies that insist—to the point of threatening pay cuts or firings—on getting people back into the office full-time and employees who will quit if forced to give up working remotely. “It’s a perfect storm,” Bloom says. “You have executives pushing for a return to the office, employees wanting to work from home, and a tight labor market.” New research from McKinsey suggests that to stem the tide of workplace exits, executives need to create an inclusive, hybrid work environment and may even need to scale work-model personalization, tailoring it to the needs of individual employees.
Lead by looking to the future.
— Edited by Rama Ramaswami, a senior editor in McKinsey’s Stamford office
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