Future of Work

What’s the future of remote working? And hybrid?

COVID-19’s spread flattened the cultural and technological barriers standing in the way of remote work. The pandemic sparked a structural shift in where work takes place, at least for some people. But will it last?

Our analysis of the potential for remote work to persist looked at 2,000 tasks used in roughly 800 jobs in eight focus countries. It showed that 20 to 25 percent of workforces in advanced economies could work from home in the range of three to five days a week—which is four to five times more remote work than pre-COVID-19.

It’s worth noting that more than half the workforce has little or no opportunity for remote work. For example, jobs that require on-site work or specialized machinery, such as conducting CT scans, need to be done in person. Of these jobs, many are low wage and are at risk from broader trends toward automation and digitization.

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Moreover, not all work that can be done remotely should be; for example, negotiations, brainstorming, and providing sensitive feedback are activities that may be less effective when done remotely. As senior McKinsey partner Bill Schaninger observes in an episode of the McKinsey Talks Talent podcast, “We were all amazed at how much we could do working fully remotely. However, it has started showing some withering of the ties that bind in the culture [and] the social connectivity.” The outlook for remote work, then, depends on the work environment, job, and the tasks at hand.

Hybrid work setups, where some work happens on-site and some remotely, are likely to persist. And organizations will need to refine their operating models in response. To unlock sustainable performance and health in a hybrid world, organizations can build strength in five areas:

  1. Expand executives’ focus on strategic clarity, coaching, and empathy. The leading driver of performance and productivity isn’t compensation or stretch goals but rather the sense of purpose work provides to employees. Be more intentional about interactions, especially those that happen in person.
  2. Foster outcome-based management of small, cross-functional teams. This is both more human and more effective as performance management practices shift from being about controlling employees’ work to empowering and enabling teams and people to perform.
  3. Increase talent velocity, especially with reskilling. Being able to staff teams across organizational siloes is a hallmark of agile modelsMoving in this direction for talent management might entail developing internal talent marketplaces or hubs for talent redeployment that make it easier for people to discover potential projects. It will also involve reskilling and upskilling people more quickly than in the past, leaning on formal training, as well as apprenticeship and mentoring.
  4. Find new zero-cost, high-optionality ways to collaborate. It can help to define a model to increase how quickly your organization can discover and adopt better modes of collaboration, both physical and digital. Do workers need an informal, confidential channel for banter or guidelines on making hybrid meetings more effective? Be intentional about designing these interactions and communicating expectations and working norms.

Increase the rate of technology adoption. It’s imperative for companies to seek out new tech and use data to drive optimal results and make better decisions.

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