Discover what the findings from a large, metro-level study mean for companies as they consider employee benefits, ways of working, and attracting the next generation of workers. This article serves as a follow up to “Laying the Groundwork for HR Management Analytics” from the January/February 2022 issue, which discussed the evolution of people analytics and how it can support and further grow business strategies.
Top Five Insights on the Future of Work
In March 2022, one of the fastest growing metros in America measured aspects of the future of work across the knowledge working population and used that information to inform the future of metro development. This research sought to address the evolution of a downtown core that could no longer depend on a daily inflow of 80,000 daytime workers as it once did in the past.
The “DSM Workforce Trends and Occupancy Study”1 collected information about behaviors, engagement, mobility patterns, cultural perceptions, and more. The results were first analyzed and presented at a holistic, metro level to determine similarities that would influence the community’s public planning.
Next, the results were broken down by each organization to visualize and monetize the workforce’s impact on their own businesses.
Respondents were shown a list of 19 activities (programming, coordinating, brainstorming, writing, etc.) and asked to indicate which they spend most of their time on and how they carry them out. They were then asked to rank the activities based on level of importance in order to achieve success in their role.
1. Deep Work
Workers place high value on deep work — activities that are more complex, collaborative, and judgment-based. With that in mind, what can be done across job design, education, and talent development arenas to enable workers to engage effectively in these efforts?
- To what extent is your data shared across systems? Or are people spending time processing information multiple times to accommodate platforms that don’t speak to each other?
- What other behaviors and tasks can potentially be automated to free up their time to devote to this work that they deem most important to creating value for clients and stakeholders?
Of the 19 activities workers selected and ranked based on business value, formal meetings were ranked as the second lowest, yet the fifth most frequent. The study estimates (based on the responses from the 5,200 workers in the study) that the participating organizations are investing $1.7 million weekly on time in meetings — or $81.6 million per year — on an activity that workers say is not demonstrating value.
Furthermore, a recent Harvard Business Review study showed that a 40% reduction in meetings could boost productivity by 71%.2 To help improve the financial performance of a business, measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the company’s largest line item: labor.
3. The Total Package
After inquiring about the most important attributes of organizations, participants were then asked about their satisfaction with those things. The most important aspects to surveyed employees included salary, work-life balance, and employment benefits. In the minds of knowledge workers, these are the most important elements of the employee value proposition. An emerging trend compared to past studies was that satisfaction with salaries was much lower than that of the other elements.
Compared to other markets and timelines, this may indicate a shift due to remote work’s impact on wages (bigger markets paying for remote workers in smaller markets). All employers should continue to reflect on their compensation strategies and clearly communicate the value of their total employee value proposition package rather than the individual components (e.g., salary) separately.
4. A Needed Shift
Culture evolves with a company’s strategies and life cycle stages, but greater alignment between current and future states correlates with better financial performance against peers. According to these knowledge workers, the current organizational cultures in the community mainly emphasize stability, control, and performance above all else.
In contrast, workers at all levels — from executive leadership to individual contributors — also believe that enhanced innovation and teamwork will be crucial for continued future success. The results indicate that executive leaders will likely have the biggest adjustment to make regarding their current and future leadership and communication styles.
Leadership teams should reflect on whether they are responding to generational and market shifts in how they communicate what is important and how they align with emerging opportunities. Are your leaders talking about the importance of failing fast and experimenting to drive innovation, or are they talking about avoiding risk?
Subtle thematic differences shape the way employees view what is important and where they invest their effort.
5. The Future of Hybrid
Mobility and new work arrangements were central to the study. Participants were asked where they worked before the pandemic, where they work now, and where they feel they’ll be most effective working in the future. Pre-pandemic, these knowledge workers were in the office about 85% of the time with the remaining 15% at home. This year, the ratio is closer to 40% in the office and 60% at home. And, overall, many think it should remain this way.
Top executives, vice presidents, and directors diverge from the overall population and believe they would be most effective if they worked in the office 60% of the time. This supports their working patterns involving more impactful meetings and time spent coaching and mentoring.
Ultimately, the data reinforces the belief that hybrid work is here to stay. Employers will need to determine how this shift is approached and the different preferences within their own organizations. A key takeaway is that employers should expend more effort creating in-person office experiences that are more meaningful and focused on socialization (in an effort to make on-site the new off-site) rather than trying to determine policies around mandated hours or days per week in the office.
The Top Five Implications for the Future of Downtown Spaces
Informed by these workforce trends, the following sections highlight the top five implications for the future of downtown spaces as presented in the study.