Friday 28th January 2022
Time, trust and capacity

It seems like every day we hear in the media about ‘change’. But the concept is so broad that it can be hard to understand exactly how it affects us, both personally and professionally. How is the world of work changing, and what does it mean for employers – and for employees?

To find out, the latest episode of our podcast series ‘A Week in My Flexible Working Life’ (available on Spotify and iOS) we spoke to Heather McGowan, a future of work strategist, thought leader, keynote speaker, author and advisor. In it, she draws on her extensive experience to explore several areas where changes in working models, workplace technology and the impact of the pandemic are influencing what we do in our professional lives.

Knowledge is power

Heather predicts a major shift in what employers look for from employees. Perhaps somewhat later than it should have occurred, managers will look beyond the CV and the exam certificates towards the more practical contributions that prospective talent can make.

“With many of the jobs we’re going to have in the future?” Heather asks.

“It’s not going to be about applications based on past skills and credentials. It’s going to be who can learn in the flow of work and who can be humble enough to say what they don’t know.”

Understanding differences

While it’s clear that everyone has been affected by the pandemic over the last two years, Heather stresses that it’s vital for everyone to remember that experiences have varied enormously for different people. As a result, there shouldn’t be a uniform approach to supporting employees who need help.”

“People have been through a lot of trauma,” she says. “Some people have lost loved ones; some people have been in isolation. We have huge increases in mental illness that we weren’t addressing before the pandemic, and it exploded in the pandemic. So first and foremost, we need to understand where people are. And we’ve all been in the same storm, but we had very different boats. You can’t just put people off the ladder and tell them to grab the next rung. You have to provide the safety net.”

The value of people

Heather feels that many employers are finally recognizing that their workforce is ultimately their most important asset. As a result, she believes a change is on the way, where employers start treating their employees with the care that they deserve, but which hasn’t always been forthcoming in the past.

“Humans are the source of the greatest value,” says Heather.

“If that’s the case, how do you treat your most valuable asset? You make sure it’s well-rested, that it’s well-educated, you make sure that it has good mental health and wellness. This is a huge shift that I think we’re going to be seeing over the next decade or so.”

Old tech, new approach

Although technology has driven the move towards flexible work over the past two years, Heather is at pains to remind people that the tech involved isn’t new. What has changed, she feels, is that employees are finally being given the opportunity to use that technology.

“There’s not a sector I haven’t spoken to and they’re all trying to figure this out,” she explains. “People kept asking me to give a talk on what work is going to look like and where it’s going to take place. I said we’ve been using tools and technologies that are a decade or older. What really changed was behavior, because we were forced to. So that’s why I say digital transformation is simply human transformation.”

Asking questions of change

Heather also explores the idea of being more inquisitive in the world of work, especially as tasks that don’t require such thinking will be increasingly automated in the years to come. She similarly highlights the historic reason why the nine-to-five exists, and implores companies to break the mould.

“We train people at university to be individual contributors, largely doing routine and predictable work, treating people to answer questions, not ask them,” she says. “And increasingly, technology is going to take over those routine and predictable tasks. We work eight hours a day, 40 hours a week because Henry Ford discovered in 1949 that all the accidents happened on the production line in the ninth, tenth and 11th hours. So he kept work at eight hours a day, doubled pay, productivity and engagement went up, and we’ve kept it for over 100 years.”

To explore Heather McGowan’s views in more detail, including how different countries are looking at different options for more flexible working models, listen on either Spotify or iOS

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