How employees are shaping the future of work

What is the future of work? If you want the answer to that, you have to ask employees, not employers, because it is employees who will drive changes in the workplace in the coming years. The pandemic has shifted perceptions around the importance of employee experience, and businesses around the world have realised that it’s paramount to their success.

Employers wanting to tempt the best and brightest talent will find themselves embracing ideas that might have been previously unthinkable, such as a four-day working week, meeting-free days or employees who work to their own schedules. To nurture employee happiness and retain staff, businesses need to continue innovating and updating their ways of working, with technology playing a key role in enabling this.

Zoom’s recent research has highlighted how important it is to deliver what employees want. In fact, 69 percent of respondents wanted to decide where and how they worked, rising to 85 percent among people who are already working remotely. Employers who choose not to deliver this way of working – or answer other demands – could well face a shock, with 45 percent of respondents saying they would look for a new job if they are not able to work where and when they want.

Work to your own schedule

One flexible option destined to increase in importance is ‘asynchronous work’, where employees set their own schedules. For many of us, the pandemic has changed where we work, with people around the world discovering that we could be just as productive working from our homes as we can be in the office. But when we work could be even more important to the future of the workplace. A recent study involving 10,000 knowledge workers around the world found that while 76 percent of respondents wanted flexibility in where they worked, a huge 93 percent want flexibility in when they work.

For employers, offering flexibility on when people work will be increasingly essential, so what does an asynchronous workplace look like? In part, it’s about a focus on goals, rather than when they are achieved. Many platforms will allow asynchronous employees to work together effectively; for example, meeting software will offer functions to allow employees to replay videos and leave a response when they are at work. But it’s also about employee trust and a focus on the employee experience.

Employees now expect greater autonomy. Post-pandemic, workers want to be permitted to have a hand on the steering wheel. For people with families, or for those who need to travel abroad, for example, asynchronous work is a way to marry up their personal and work lives. That’s why asynchronous work is becoming a reality in knowledge-based industries, in every part of the world.

Leaders should engage with this, and rather than relying on monitoring tools to ensure productivity, make sure that each employee has a manager who actually knows what they are doing and is able to judge output. Complement this with surveys, town hall sessions and two-way reviews to ensure team members are happy.

Greater autonomy

With improvements to technology happening all the time, many vendors have now acknowledged that the multitude of apps and tools in disparate locations can make employees feel inundated. They are now developing solutions to help tackle this, ensuring their services meet the changing needs of users. Bringing various apps and tools into one overarching platform can help to combat these issues: for example, Zoom Whiteboard and Zoom Chat, which help employees collaborate regardless of where and when they are.

Moreover, apps to help improve productivity or wellbeing are also available and easy to integrate into the platform. They can be used at any time during a call for all participants to use together. When apps are easily and seamlessly integrated into meetings, collaboration, productivity and entertainment are all enhanced, while also allowing for more opportunities to work asynchronously.

Days without meetings

At Zoom, we encourage our colleagues to take ‘Meeting-Free’ Wednesdays. It might seem an odd stance for a company famous around the world for enabling meetings, but it was an initiative that came directly from them. In a company survey, we found that our teams needed more time to focus and plan, and it has been implemented with great success – in a later engagement survey, we found that 84 percent of us wanted to carry it on. Days without meetings have been shown to improve productivity, too. Research has found that by allowing for one meeting-free day a week, productivity can be improved by 35 percent.

At Zoom we encourage each other to think carefully about meetings and only schedule them when necessary: for instance for a brainstorming session, the start of a project or a meeting dealing with sensitive information. To ensure meetings are an effective use of everyone’s time, we also follow a ‘Triple-A approach’ devised by our head of sales ops and enablement, Hilary Headlee. The three As are Agenda, Attendees, and Action Items. That means having a clear agenda before the meeting, carefully choosing attendees who genuinely need to be there, and creating clear action items for teams to pursue afterwards, which will be defined during the meeting.

When meetings do need to take place, technology can dramatically improve the user experience to ensure that the time is spent as productively as possible, with new features being introduced regularly to upgrade the experience. The latest hardware and AI technology can offer remote participants a clear view of all in-person participants with optimal audio quality, even if there is background noise or if the colleague speaking is simultaneously walking around the meeting room.

Advancements in transcription and translation technologies also mean that employees across borders can collaborate, regardless of where they are based and what language they speak. When used correctly, technology and video communications platforms facilitate collaboration and let people feel more motivated by their time together, whether that be meetings in person, online, or in a hybrid setting.

Four-day week

An employee-led approach to how people want to work has been shown to be highly effective. Workers who are able to choose whether they want to work in the office, from home, or somewhere in between are happier, and more productive. In the future, could we all be embarking on a four-day working week?

In Britain, the world’s largest experiment in a four-day week is currently underway. It will see more than 3,300 workers at 70 companies working for four days per week with no loss of pay. Will it work? And will businesses warm to the idea? This may be up to employees, not employers. What employees want and need has reshaped the way we work already.

In a world where the workforce is increasingly calling the shots, offering a four-day working week may offer an advantage when hiring employees, and in helping to retain them. Companies which have adopted a four-day week, such as digital insurance broker IGO4, have already said that it improves both employee wellbeing and even productivity.

The future of work

The one certain thing about the future of work is that employees will be the ones in the driving seat. Keeping employees happy is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for businesses – it’s central to the way they operate.

The employee experience is not separate from the customer experience, and both of these are essential for the success of any business. By choosing the right technology to enable employees to work where, when and how they want, and creating the right company culture to retain the top talent, companies can forge their own future of work.