We are all on edge. Covid-19, its variants, slow vaccinations, and the surge of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have all brought us to the edge. We are also on edge because of the deep political, racial, economic, and cultural divisions which are amplified by the pandemic. It feels overwhelming. We are living from day to day or week to week, feeling largely out of control. Our kids may be home as we work from there. Our loyalties may be divided between helping them, keeping everyone healthy, and what we must do to earn a living. We may feel isolated, depressed, or stressed by this new reality. We are Covid-fatigued, Zoom-fatigued, and want a return to “normal”, whatever that is. We are all on edge.
Will it ever end? Is there a “post-Covid new normal”? Will we ever return to January, 2020? What does our future portend? Where do we go from here?
The bottom line is that there is no “new normal”. We will not be returning to January, 2020. We will, however, see an evolving patchwork quilt of leadership and human resource practices that will vary by geography, culture, and risk tolerance, as organizations respond to this new reality. The most effective solution will be one that is based on the principles and practices of true people collaboration.
5 Drivers Shaping the Future Workplace
It is always risky to be a prognosticator, but here goes. Let me suggest five drivers that are shaping the future workplace and how we work together.
• Pandemics & Climate Change Are the New Reality: Covid-19 will never go away. Like malaria, once the world reaches “herd immunity”, it will still lurk in the shadows. Also, over 100 new coronaviruses have been identified around the world. We must learn to adapt. Furthermore, as a sizable chunk of Antarctic ice sails on a collision course with an island off South America, with California on fire most of the year, and with 2020 as the hottest year on record, climate change’s ravages affect all aspects of our lives, work, and futures. We have no choice but to adapt.
• A Divided Society: Racial injustice, economic inequality, and cultural divisions will continue to be amplified, with impacts on how we lead and manage. How will we redress these divisions and create a more inclusive, tolerant, and empathic work culture in the face of this hostility?
• The Demographic Imperative: By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be Millennials or GenZers. These generations grew up collaborating and expect to continue working that way. The demographic imperative is the necessary evolution of leadership cultures from the 20th Century power paradigm to the 21st Century collaboration paradigm.
• The Technological Threat: With technological changes accelerating at a pace faster than human absorption capacity, the key threat is to our humanity, privacy, and how we work. Technology-enabled megaforces like digitization, virtualization, and robotization are rewiring society and transforming the workscape. Human relationships are being subordinated to digital processes.
• The Virtual Zoomplace: Covid has forced those of us who can, to retreat to the safety of the Zoomplace. It has become normalized for some companies. Organizations are being redesigned before our eyes, with some predictions that even a “return to the workplace” may only be for 20-30% of workers. Additionally, the Zoomplace has flattened the hierarchy—after all, all the boxes are the same size.
A Clear Vision for the Future Workplace
All is not lost. There is reason to be optimistic. In spite of these overwhelming forces, we have an opportunity to assert our humanity, to create a vision of the workplace that is fit for the human spirit. This vision is where our focus is on the physical and psychological safety, trust, ownership, and productive energy of the workforce, where people can be their best selves and do their best work. Only then can our organizations innovate and grow.
5 Guidelines for Getting There
Achieving this vision is all about creating a leadership culture grounded in the principles and processes of collaboration.* Here are 5 guidelines to help get us there.
• Ethics Above Reproach: It starts with leadership committing to and behaving with integrity, being ethical above reproach, infusing the company’s culture with that expectation and accountability.
• Principle-Based: Apply the principles of people collaboration to all work practices: trust, honor, respect, full responsibility, ownership, and accountability.
• Create a Culture of Ownership: People take care of what they own, they don’t wash rented cars. The workforce needs to own the organization’s values, mission, vision, their work, and any change process to ensure they are fully realized.
• Collaborative Teams: Teams are how we get work done. The members need to play by the same rules. The Collaborative Team Governance Process(sm) ensures they do, resulting in psychological safety, respect, and trust.
• Flatten the Hierarchy: Collaborative leadership is about trust, facilitation, and empowerment, not power and control. By eliminating layers of hierarchy, a culture of full engagement will accelerate growth and productivity.
We are at a transformative moment, a crossroads, where every leader gets to make a conscious choice. if there is any “new normal”, it is that collaboration is how people naturally want to work. It is through collaborative leadership that organizations will reach the vision of a workplace fit for the human spirit. Carpe diem!
*See Edward M. Marshall, Ph.D., Leadership’s 4th Evolution: Collaboration for the 21st Century, Cognella Academic Publishing, San Diego, CA, 2021