“Start spreadin' the news, I'm leavin' today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York.”
Perhaps I miss living in NYC, but each time I say New Work, I can’t help but smile because my mind just automatically gravitates to the “New York, New York” song by Frank Sinatra.
Thinking back to easier times, like the end of 2019, we were anticipating the continued shifts in trends we had been monitoring about how, when, and why we work. Hierarchy was getting a bit flatter, people were inquiring more on the values held by organizations, remote work was gaining in popularity and the expectations for rewards at work broadened past compensation and benefits. The shifts on work and workplaces that were taking place while the world seemed busy working didn’t necessarily rise to the level of urgent national news. Perhaps that is how trends work, they just show up and it is now how we do business. Work and workplaces are often written about, but perhaps all these changes did not stand out because they seemed incremental.
Until they weren’t.
When I was preparing for this year’s hot topics, I wanted to demonstrate the speed in which the workplace was changing. I was planning on sharing a futuristic story about an employee packing up their work laptop and driving for two hours outside of the city, to set up in a designated spot in a campground. This employee would unpack the equipment to set up home office in the woods, sheltered by a solar-powered tent that provided a great space to work while glamping.
While we are not working from a solar-powered tent in mass amounts, COVID-19 forced many of us to work from our homes, garages, basements and living rooms. Before the pandemic, despite digitalization, many organizations still were reluctant to offer a more flexible and remote environment, mostly based on fears of decreased productivity and lack of control.
With COVID-19, most have seen those fears disappear. In a recent WorldatWork survey, 89% of respondents reported the same or higher levels of productivity working from home. In the global field, a survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group in the United States, Germany, and India showed that 75% of employees were able to maintain or increase their productivity on individual tasks, while 51% were able to maintain or increase their productivity on collective tasks.
What We Mean When We Talk About New Work
Pre-pandemic, we already had seen rewards elements — other than salary — quickly increasing in perceived value among employees and influencing their decisions whether to accept or stay in certain job opportunities. The pandemic is not responsible for New Work; it was already unfolding in front of us. And while we had expected to continue modifying how we work in 2020, the jolt showed us what was possible. It gave us a fresh look at the future of work.
New Work will be more human. It will be all digital. Less reactive. Super-fast. Data-driven. Consumer-friendly. Values-laden. Less personal and more personal at the same time. Redefined. Anti-complexity. Socially aware. Equity-focused. Intensely networked. Less political. Very transparent.
COVID-19 accelerated the changes and value people place on things like well-being, flexibility, non-traditional benefits, leadership, purpose and meaning, culture, and belonging.
Particularly during these times, safety and well-being have become more important. Health insurance has been ranked as the most important benefit by most employees, followed by paid time off, ability to work remote, and mental health programs. Individual fears for physical, emotional, and financial safety have changed essential employees’ priorities.
While comfort used to be perceived as professional growth opportunities and on-site perks (snack bars, meditation corners, ping pong tables), today, comfort means one thing: safety. Preliminary results from the WorldatWork Talent Currency survey show that 56% of respondents will not work somewhere that does not make them feel safe.
Closing the Culture and Connection Gaps
Leading through the pandemic is crucial to the success of organizations moving forward. Yet, we should not let it be what defines 2020, as there are things we will lose and gain which will help us in the future. This includes being faster and more aware of how people need to be cared for and engaged. As we better understand the new ways the world is working, we are better able to successfully navigate tough times and lead our organizations. The concept of leadership has significantly increased in importance during this pandemic, and its value is changing although it is here to stay. You will need to earn it more transparently and genuinely, reducing reliance on things like titles and power. Only to the extent that leaders create meaningful connections and well-being in this disrupted and digital world will we be able to increase our employees’ potential and ability to sustain.
Purpose was already acquiring a heightened sense of importance in the last decade. If anything, COVID-19 has reminded us that leading with purpose is a critical differentiator in the workplace. With Millennials making up almost 40% of the workforce and Gen Z making up another quarter, it is not surprising that on our recent survey, 67% of respondents reported it being very or extremely important to work for a leader with similar social beliefs. Purpose and alignment become critical, and looking deep into our organization’s core values to make sure we live and breathe by them has become fundamental.
As we continue to operate in a heightened digital era with limited human and physical interactions, these values will close the culture and connection gaps while working from home, or the solar tent for that matter.
Is New Work Here to Stay?
New Work is here to stay not because of COVID-19, but because it had already been manifesting itself within our workforces and organizations. For the past seven months, we have demonstrated that we are perfectly capable of working and connecting from any place in the world. We have been able to deliver results with flexible schedules and without the normal levels of oversight we thought we needed. We have prioritized people and well-being, their safety and the safety of their loved ones. And because of that, New Work is the currency that will both shape and engage workers.
And we should not retreat.
COVID-19 has certainly proven that long office hours for a robust paycheck is not all that matters. People are redefining their careers and the things that truly matter to them. They are looking to enjoy themselves as they place a higher value on their well-being, because they now realize that it can all be taken away by an external force such as COVID.
As we plan for the upcoming months and years, whether we are back in the office or have opted for a reduced onsite workforce, we will have an opportunity to maintain momentum. We will have options to extend trust or utilize control. I hope you choose trust. Take the time now to learn about the newly defined currency of what matters to people who work — it isn’t all about title, pay, and moving up the corporate ladder anymore. We were already starting to aim higher before COVID, and I hope we can embrace New Work and help the world be a great place to live and work.
About the Author
Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP is the CEO of WorldatWork.