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The State of Work: Experts Debate What’s in Store

As 2019 begins to wind down, organizations are shifting their focus to a new decade. And employers have a workforce that is ready to move forward, eager to engage in high-impact, strategic efforts, but at the same time, they are struggling and frustrated in their efforts to get work done.


This was the key takeaway of Workfront’s “State of Work” report, which surveyed 3,750 knowledge workers across the United Kingdom, United States, the Netherlands and Germany.

In conjunction with the release of its research, Workfront, an enterprise software project management platform based in Utah, hosted several research analysts and business leaders for a lively dinner discussion on Oct. 29 at the Quince in downtown San Francisco. The conversation centered around the status of work as we head into 2020: what are the challenges and where is progress being made — and where things are headed in the future.

The report found that 89% of respondents believe their role matters, while 78% said their job represents more than a paycheck, and 91% said they are proud of the work they do.

“If you’re proud of the work you’re doing, you’re probably getting those dopamine hits,” said Steven ZoBell, chief product and technology officer at Workfront. “If you’re not proud of the work you’re doing, you’re probably getting those serotonin hits and that effects how you do the work and ultimately the culture of the company.”

Additionally, 65% said they wish they were rewarded more on results instead of just deliverables. Dinner attendees, which included leaders from Nike and Google, reacted to these data points and discussed the importance of culture at an organization and how powerful of an effect it can have on the business.

“I think people choose companies because they’re inspired by the mission,” said Jennifer Schonher, technical director at Google. “However, if you take the perspective of that mission on a meta level, you get inspired and that channels into being inspired while at work.”

ZoBell added that there’s a general misunderstanding when people discuss the culture of a business and what it entails.

“Culture is how you think and act to get things done,” he said. “That is the culture of a company that’s a great company.”

Todd Geiber, a marketing operations delivery director at Nike, said a great culture is what has led to him staying at the same company for nearly 30 years.

“Being with an organization my entire career with no plans of leaving it, culture is everything,” Geiber said. “Nike isn’t a job — it’s a way of life. My loyalty and what I do each and every day, it’s without compromise.”

A point of curiosity for some in attendance was how does an organization as large as Google or Nike effectively build culture? And, how do organizations achieve culture in a world that is becoming increasingly digital and flush with a remote workforce?

“The world is small these days and you have to think it’s broader than your local office,” Schonher said. “Your remote workers are a part of your innovation and what you’re building.”

The Technological Advancement Conundrum
An interesting dynamic at play that was revealed in the survey is that despite continuous technological advances that are designed to lead to more work productivity, respondents don’t feel that’s being achieved.

Global spending on IT will pass $5 trillion this year, according to the IDC, but there’s little evidence that spending is actually improving business productivity — and it often has the opposite effect. Workfront’s research found that employees said they spend only 43% of their day on their primary job duties, which is consistent with the prior six years of results from the survey.

Respondents blamed too many hours in pointless meetings, answering too many emails and a lack of standard processes for workflow due to unnecessary interruptions. The study found that on average, workers are interrupted 14 times per day, which means the very tools being deployed for improved communication and collaboration are actually interfering with productivity.

Coinciding with this, employees are expecting more from their employers, especially from a technology standpoint. 86% of survey respondents said the next generation of employees expect workplace technology that looks more like Amazon and Instagram, with 94% saying searching at work should match the ease of Google. Additionally, 87% said they think leaders should reconsider the way they think about technology and 91% said they crave modern technology solutions.

“The speed of technological change that is in turn driving cultural and societal change can be frightening,” said Paul Tasker, director of marketing technology & demand operations at Sage. “The expectations of someone joining the workforce today versus their mother or father plays into everything from a platform design or UX to the company’s ways of working. Companies that fail to recognize and adapt to this dynamic environment will quickly be left behind.”

According to the survey, one desire of employees is having a “Chief Work Officer” in the organization who coordinates people, work, content, process, performance and oversees the complete experience of working for the company. While 66% of respondents said their organization does not have anything like that in place, it could be a futuristic approach to work management.

“While we are still on a journey, we have experienced significant revelations toward making work more strategic,” said Phil Oster, vice president of information technology at John Paul Mitchell Systems. “When we started, the norm was to see departments managing the same ‘project lists’ as their own version of the truth. This resulted in dates, tasks, and even in some cases deliverables being out of sync. By elevating work to a more strategic level and platforming it, we are gaining the ability to align complex, cross-department projects around one common goal — say a launch for example — and minimize the management overhead. This enables leaders to focus on results — not just being busy managing lists of tasks.”



The Promised Pay Land

Crafting the perfect pay structure is no easy feat, writes Brad Hill in this feature for Workspan magazine, but as workforces grow and employees demand more equity and transparency, there may be a solution that can benefit all. Hill identifies a variety of problems with pay structures and what the solutions for them are in 2020.

The Future of Employee Engagement

Organizations hoping to ramp up their employee engagement need look no further than their well-being and benefits programs, writes Lorna Borenstein in this feature for Workspan magazine. Borenstein asserts that employers need to think differently about their approach to attract and retain the best and brightest — and to support the well-being and livelihood of every employee.

Four Workplace Trends HR Should Understand

The future is coming to your HR department, writes Jeanne Meister of TechTarget. Meister explains how HR is becoming more critical to the organization, particularly with how the future of work is developing, and highlights four future workplace trends that HR teams will contend with in 2020 and beyond.

The New HR

In the coming years, organizations will see a massive change in the roles they require to service clients and deliver products, writes Robert Dvorak in this article for HR Technologist. Dvorak asserts that as organizations prepare for the future of work, they will need to make sure their strategy aligns with people management in order to achieve success.

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is a staff writer at WorldatWork.

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