The future of working is unfolding before us, and it's clear that the workplace of tomorrow will look very different from the past. To thrive in this new landscape, leaders must adapt and make changes. The time for transformation is now, and organisations that embrace this change will lead the way forward.
To prepare for the future it is important we reflect on the journey so far. To illustrate this I would like to share Samantha's experience spanning 10 years. Her journey is across four stages which showcase the evolution of the workplace. It brings to life the speed in which the world of work is changing and will continue to do so.
Samantha is 30 years old. She works for a large biotech company in Europe.
Samantha is a persona we have been researching for the past three years. While Samantha is a fictitious character, she is a representation of thousands of real people we have listened to and analysed through a mix of qualitative interviews and quantitative research.
Here is a glimpse of her journey so far from her own perspective.
It’s 2015 and I just graduated, having landed, what I believed then, to be my dream job. New to the world of work, the office was the centre of my work life. I had my own desk and computer and could work independently in a quiet space. Collaboration was limited, and team meetings often took place in conference rooms. Flexibility and work-life balance were terms that were less frequently applied. Working from home for me was only allowed under exceptional circumstances.
However, I loved that the office was a place where I could connect with my colleagues, build relationships, and develop a sense of belonging. There were opportunities for career development through face-to-face interactions with my colleagues and mentors, and I had access to all the necessary technology and tools to do my job.
When I left the office, I was finished work for the day. Life felt relatively good. I knew how to navigate my role and the networks i needed to do my job.
Fast forward to 2020, I just started another, great new job at a new company and suddenly the pandemic hits and I find myself working from home. Although it was a challenging time, I was grateful for the opportunity to work remotely and avoid the risks of catching COVID-19 by commuting and being in the office. I found that technology allowed me to stay connected with my colleagues and maintain a sense of collaboration, despite being physically apart.
On the positive side, the flexibility allowed me to balance my workload and personal life a bit better. I found that I was more productive in my own space and appreciated the trust and ability to work from anywhere I wanted. The lack of a commute also gave me more time to pursue hobbies and interests outside of work.
However, the lack of a physical workplace left me feeling disconnected from my colleagues and my new company’s culture. I missed the sense of belonging that came with being part of a team in a shared physical space and found it difficult to build relationships and connect with my colleagues on a personal level. Additionally, the isolation of remote work sometimes left me feeling unmotivated and uninspired.
In a way, I never wanted to return to an office permanently. I appreciated the flexibility. However, I missed the human connection the office afforded and I often worried about my growth and career progression. Would I be considered for new roles opening up? Who really other than my manager and direct team knew me and my potential?
It’s 2023 and I’m happy to say goodbye to the pandemic. My company started to slowly begin transitioning back to the office and I was excited to be able to connect with my colleagues in person again and immerse myself in the company culture.
However, as I settled again into the office, I quickly realised that the company's culture was not what I expected. The level of flexibility to decide where and when I worked quickly shifted to a mandated return-to-office policy of 3-days per week. I began struggling to balance my workload and personal life and feel like we are not using the learnings from the pandemic. I found the office environment to be filled with negativity, as people were there because they had to be rather than being given the choice. I started to question the trust leaders had in us.
On the positive side, I appreciated the opportunity to collaborate and connect with my colleagues in person, which I found to be more effective than virtual communication, at times. I also enjoyed the sense of belonging that came with being part of a physical workplace community, and the office provided valuable resources and support for my career development.
The Future of Working
After much debate, I decided to prioritise my wellbeing and seek opportunities in companies which afforded more “hybrid” and less “policy”. So here I am today, it’s 2025 and I am in a new company which I am amazed by. Unlike my previous experiences, I discovered an organisation that embraces innovation and technology, fostering a culture of collaboration and creativity. The office is no longer the central hub of work, and hybrid working is the norm.
My manager is really inspiring. The only policy we have is a policy to be empowered to come together regularly and discuss how we should organise ourselves around the work to be done. The focus is never on where and when but how. Therefore, my outlook on things have changed - the role of the office has shifted significantly and is now less essential to the day-to-day operations. Apparently, we had 8 floors in our building?! Now we only have 3 and it is viewed as a space only for interactions, collaboration, and team-building. I also use some very smart furniture sometimes when I need to focus for a couple hours. And thanks to cutting-edge metaverse technology, I can feel as connected and productive when working remotely as I would be in the office.
What’s changed for me is the intentionality. If we want to have that sense of belonging, team culture and get creative work done I have to be intentional about meeting in the office or a café or park or wherever it makes sense. We are collectively responsible. If I want to grow and develop, I must make intentional efforts for interactions with colleagues and managers.
Today we had our annual results global town hall, and our Group CEO announced that our performance has continued to increase while our belonging has increased too. He reminded us that our culture of peak performance allows us to find the best balance of working at our edge as teams, and giving us also opportunities to recover from the intensity of the work. That is so refreshingly different.
Reflecting on how much the world of work has evolved since I started, I am struck by the incredible transformation that has taken place. My company today has set the standard for me in terms of what I would expect from all organisations. I feel fortunate to be part of a company that has fully embraced change, and I’m excited to see how work will continue to evolve during my lifetime.
It's time for leaders to start getting real about the future of working
The talent of today and tomorrow are no longer seeking to work for organisations that are set in the pre-pandemic, pandemic or “return-to-office” scenarios. They are demanding to work for organisations which are empowering teams to determine how they work collectively, without strict rules around where and when. Not enough companies are taking the appropriate steps to get there. And this is typically driven by out-of-touch executives and threatened leaders.
What are leaders waiting for? An invitation?
One thing for certain is that the organisations that are willing to adapt and put their people first will win the talent race. Now is the opportunity for organisations to re-think their workplace strategy for the better.
The 5 things companies need to draw their attention to
The future of working is hybrid Organisations need to move from individual to team choice, where teams are encouraged to adapt their work environment and practices around the work to be done. Today we see either individual choices or company-wide, “set day” policies.
Innovate or stagnate Organisations must invest in innovation to support the rapid evolution of employee and customer needs. The organisations who embed an innovation mindset within their workforce will set themselves apart and see new levels of growth and performance. And it starts with experimenting, setting hypothesis, validating, researching and prototyping.
The office as we knew it is dead The traditional office is no longer the sole hub of work, and its role is evolving. Organisations might need to reduce space and rethink the physical layout of their workplaces to create spaces that foster collaboration and connection while also accommodating individual work styles and preferences.
Lead differently, or get left behind Leaders need to embrace new ways of working and learn something they are not used to: they are not expected anymore to drive the productivity of the team, however they are expected to hold the creative tension and space for them. That’s a fundamental shift in leadership behaviour. Once they do this well, the secondary priority for leaders is to provide the right tools and technology to their teams to enable effective communication, collaboration, and performance in a hybrid working environment and also ensure that their teams have the necessary skills to thrive in an ever changing work environment.
It is time to really start listening I don’t mean “pretend” listening or “tick-the-box” listening. I mean actually taking steps to spend time understanding your employees needs, challenges and pain points. Listening is critical for success – it will improve talent retention, engagement, performance, and workplace culture.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed preparing it. Actually, it’s a team effort between Ruairi and I. We both experienced the impact the pandemic had on the workplace and its people as we led the overall award-winning transformation of a large pharmaceutical organisation. That transformation resulted in the future of working strategy. We also went through a deep experimentation-based approach, which has generated millions of insights. These insights helped discover which ways of working acted as multipliers and which one should actually be discouraged.
Through these years of research and scaling leadership capability, we learnt that the best organisations really focus on their ways of working through practices rather than theory.
We look forward to hearing your reactions, thoughts and experiences.