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What is the future of work?

BOMA 2023 Preview: What is the Future of Work?

May 26, 2023
Robots and AI may be the first things that come to mind when you envision the future of work, but it’s more than that—it’s about a future that’s deeply human. Learn more in our preview of thought leader Melissa Swift’s keynote address at BOMA 2023.
When you think about the future of work, are you picturing robots and AI? Or are you thinking about people?

We often think of high-tech solutions as the future, but it’s more than that, said Melissa Swift, HR thought leader and U.S. transformation leader for Mercer. The future of work is about shifting the ways people do work in this time of disruption and creating better results for companies, better experiences for people and a positive impact on society.

Swift’s keynote, “A More Human Future of Work,” will immediately follow BOMA International President and COO Henry Chamberlain’s annual State of the Industry address on Tuesday, June 27, at the 2023 BOMA International Conference & Expo. The keynote presentation promises actionable strategies for attendees “to improve how their organization works and how they attract and retain the right talent,” Swift said. “The goal is that everybody walks away with something concrete they can do.”

Work in an Age of Disruption

It’s safe to say that the emergence of COVID-19 disrupted many aspects of work life. The pandemic brought up some fundamental questions around defining work and processes, Swift said.

“What is productivity? Across so many jobs, what are we supposed to get done in a day?” she asked. “We’re dealing with changes in worker preferences. We see people dropping out of the labor market and reducing their work hours—that brings down the labor market participation in aggregate. And we’re seeing changed preferences around things like rest and recovery at work, which has ramifications around shift work.”

The future of work will have to resolve these issues and may center around a workforce that looks different than it did in the past, Swift added.

“We may be in a long-term constrained situation where the kind of previous access we’ve had to tons and tons of workers may not be the case going forward,” Swift said. “What do we then do, and how do we reshape work for a world in which work gets done differently and probably with fewer people?”

5 Strategies for Dealing with Continuous Change

Some organizations are responding to today’s hybrid workforce by ordering everyone back to the office, while others are creating high-functioning, high-performing teams by “doubling down on management basics,” Swift explained. “For front-line managers, can they communicate effectively both verbally and in writing? Written communication becomes paramount.”

Swift offers five top tips for enabling teams to do their best work amid this season of change.

1. Embrace asynchronous work. “At the height of COVID, we went into meeting overload and that’s been the curse of the hybrid workplace,” Swift said.

Instead of striving to replicate in-person get-togethers with a surplus of Zoom and Teams meetings, embrace the fact that workers will complete some tasks asynchronously. “Let’s say you and I work in a shared document together, and we’re in different time zones, so you wake up and see my changes and input yours,” Swift said. “We don’t have to get on Zoom; we’re just doing the work. Asynchronous work is one tool of high-functioning hybrid organizations.”

2. Focus on what your organization does well. “What are the essential things you have to get done?” Swift said. “One strategy in my book [Work Here Now: Think Like a Human and Build a Powerhouse Workplace] is about doing less. In a time of change when everything’s all over the landscape, being locked on the few things your organization really needs to do well is absolutely critical because that’s your North Star in the storm.”

3. Understand how the customer and employee journeys intersect. Many industries have developed a laser-focus on customers, only to tax human workers to the max. “Then we don’t even deliver to customers right because we over-strained our employees,” Swift said. Think about your customer’s desired experience and how it impacts the employee experience. Developing this understanding is about “doing great stuff for your customer and not driving your employees crazy,” Swift added.

4. Ask your employees about their day-to-day experience. You can find interesting ways to increase productivity if you ask your employees about even the most banal aspects of their daily lives. “That’s where some of the most interesting unlocks happen,” Swift advised. “Maybe it’s an offhand comment about ‘I’m getting so many messages in different channels.’ Thinking about that comment and saying, ‘Are there actually ways we could work differently that would change that employee’s experience for the better and enable them to be more productive?’ It starts with the leader honing in on boring and banal ways about the day-to-day experience of work.”

5. Quiet your “suck it up” voice. “Employees come to us with concerns, and we say, ‘Suck it up, this too shall pass,’” Swift said. “But if we treat that as another data set, there’s a real power to that because you’re getting information that you might want to use to tweak how work gets done, which could be really powerful.”

Strategies like these are bound to change the way we work for the better. When we focus on the human aspect of work, we enable better work.

“What would really change work in profound ways would be these small, everyday changes about things like making sure all the activities we do in a day add up to business results, or making sure technology is working at the pace of humans and not the other way around,” Swift said. “That’s true in both knowledge work and physical work—both have a challenge around making sure humans and technology are working in sync with each other and not just technology driving humans in inhuman ways. How do we communicate with each other? How do we develop and progress? Those changes add up to a more exciting future of work than just robots and AI.”

Check out Melissa Swift’s keynote at the 2023 BOMA International Conference & Expo by registering today!

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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