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The future of work

Leadership

Why Big Brother should not be watching you at work

Published 15 July 2022 in Leadership • 11 min read

The future of work remains hybrid. But tracking every keystroke, mouse movement and email is not the best way to manage the more fluid boundaries, argue Ali Aslan Gümüsay, Sonja Köhne, Thomas Schildhauer, Martin Krzywdzinski and Hendrik Send, as they offer practical steps for organizing the office and company of the future. 

What will the future of work look like? Of course, for many, in-person work is essential. But for a large part of the workforce, the need is more ambiguous, and companies have developed fundamentally different approaches. Our research builds on several sources including 34 case studies in six industries (automotive, chemical, mechanical and plant engineering, logistics, health, financial services) complemented by a standardized survey of 540 companies in these industries.  

We also analyzed 100 commercial people analytics software that analyze employee-generated data and offer actionable insights to employees and managers, for example through personalized performance feedback, automated task allocation or comprehensive team dashboard.   

Shifting boundaries 

The breakdown of boundaries between professional and private life started long before COVID-19, but has been accelerated by the pandemic, creating far more fluid boundaries. We see three types of boundaries becoming more fluid: spatial, temporal, and cultural. As a result, while a variety of highly individualized work arrangements that popped up during the pandemic will stay, others will emerge. Some people want or need to work in the office. But often, they are unlikely to do so five days a week, nine-to-five. Others will come in occasionally and seek a desk-sharing arrangement.  

Where possible, people will adjust their work schedules to fit their personal circumstances, from early birds and those who want to chop up their work time into short focus hours with long breaks in between. Some will continue to identify closely with their company, while others will value the opportunity to detach from it. 

The impact of space and time on culture 

For employers, blurring boundaries mean their direct reports suddenly move outside their spatial reach, which some compensate by granting employees autonomy and others by increasing control through digital technology. As boundaries dissolve, employees will experience organizational culture very diversely. An employee’s experience may suddenly significantly differ from that of a co-worker who previously shared an office.  

Collective experiences and collective organizational memories, central for a flourishing organizational culture, are thus much harder to achieve. With the increase of remote work, office work will change – and with it the construction of workspace, time and culture – resulting in new architectural requirements and new managerial challenges. 

Given that some workers transcend the spatial boundaries of their companies and come together in co-working spaces, it is much harder for an organization to create a wholesome organizational culture. Similarly, with temporal flexibility, time together to form a cohesive identity is much more limited. As a result, leadership needs to rethink how to create an organizational unity despite spatial, temporal, and cultural distance, separation, and diversity. 

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