The new world of work is here. The pandemic accelerated a plethora of changes that were already in the making long before parts of the world shut down and forced organizations to rethink how they do work. Pre-pandemic workers had already been experiencing a slow drip of workplace changes — a new software application here, a new process there, and more. We were already all on a slowly undulating cycle of disruption that gave us a reasonable amount of time to go through the stages of change.
In March 2020, though, those small waves became a tsunami of workplace disruption in a single moment. Within a few weeks, or in some cases days, the “future of work” approaches that were being written about became reality.
The global pandemic is tragic. Yet, in the midst of tragedy, we’ve learned a lot:
- We learned that we could navigate massive disruption.
- We learned that we could trust each other even if we couldn’t physically be with each other.
- We learned that our co-workers are real people who take care of pets and kids and deal with chores and deliveries.
- We learned that some of our co-workers are real people who don’t have pets or kids yet are just as impacted as those who do.
None of us has a crystal ball as to what the details of tomorrow’s work world will look like. But there is one word that perfectly describes what work today and tomorrow is: dynamic. This new dynamic ecosystem of work is made up of four components.
Dynamic workplace. Most of us have thought of the workplace as the place we literally travel to in the physical world, to deliver our services in exchange for a paycheck. Pockets of employees have been working from a remote workplace for years. During the pandemic, it’s estimated that up to 71% of U.S. employees worked remotely.
Although many organizations are bringing employees back into the traditional definition of a workplace at least a few days a week, it’s clear that many people will continue to work from their in-home offices, better known as the kitchen table, at least a few days per week.
Dynamic work. When was the last time you looked at your job description? Current, clearly articulated knowledge-worker job responsibilities don’t really exist anymore. Meanwhile, employees are contributing their skills and talents and creating value for their organizations. The activities that occupy an employee’s workday are fluid, agile, and dynamic.
Dynamic worker. Today, the people who are doing the work at organizations are not necessarily employees. Some are, but some may be contractors, consultants, or temporary workers. Many actual employees are in essence internal gig workers, moving from team to team contributing their expertise in a much more agile fashion. When the work is dynamic, how that work gets done needs to be dynamic as well.
Dynamic work structure. We’ve been conditioned to think about an organization’s design in top-down, org-chart-like pictures. The leader is at the top, and below the leader is another group of leaders, and another group of leaders below them until there are no more layers.
The traditional org chart is helpful when we need to understand who is responsible for approving things, but that no longer translates into an accurate picture of who is leading the work. If the work is dynamic, and the people doing the work are dynamic, then the work structure is also dynamic, flowing and flexing.
How do we effectively and efficiently accelerate productivity, quality, and engagement in the new, dynamic world of work? There are many ideas and models and apps. But the single most powerful approach to a successful transition to the new way of working is frequency — more specifically, simple, intuitive, light-touch frequency of attention from the people at work who are most important to you.
Business used to rely on annual or even semi-annual strategic plans. While long-range plans are helpful in providing employees directional guidance on where the organization is headed, the work itself happens on a much faster cadence. Therefore, we can’t rely on an annual announcement or even a twice-a-year town hall to communicate priorities to the workforce.
For real alignment of an individual’s work to the organization’s strategy, the connections must happen with radical frequency. Nobody wants a town hall every week, but there is someone who’s well-positioned to communicate and shift and roll with the dynamism of the organization’s needs: the team leader. That’s where agility lies — in that the team leader provides radically frequent attention to each team member.
By the way, the good news is that data shows that such attention is really effective. When team leaders have weekly connections with their team members, those team members are two times more likely to feel confident in the organization’s future and two times more likely to feel enthusiastic about the organization’s mission. They are also three times more likely to be fully engaged.
There are many things that might help create alignment in the dynamic world of work. But we know for sure that frequent attention does create alignment in the dynamic world of work.
Connecting weekly creates clarity and certainty. Adding a strengths component to these weekly check-ins — the “I see you for the best of you” intent from a team leader to team member — creates confidence and a sense of humanness that is often missing from work.
Focusing on the most important work happening right now creates urgency and focus and supports alignment. Additionally, relevant, real-time work priorities must be a collaborative partnership between team member and team leader.
The most beautiful aspect of radically frequent attention is that team leaders don’t need to be co-located with their team members. Team leaders also don’t need to be extraordinary leaders. Anyone — anyone! — can have a check-in. It sounds like “How are you feeling? What are your priorities this week? Do you need any help from me?” Even the most reluctant team leader can ask those three questions.
And when your organization’s team leaders ask those questions of each individual team member every week, your organization becomes agile, aligned, and engaged. If you’re going to invest in people at work, start with the practice that supports the new, dynamic world of work.