Future of work: Rethinking the digital workplace event takeaways

Whether we use the terms ‘flexible’, ‘hybrid’ or ‘agile’ working, the future of the workplace has been a hot topic for our clients and many of their customers in recent years as companies have been forced to innovate and digitise at an unprecedented rate.  

In order to help shape content ideas, this week, I attended an event hosted by the Financial Times on the Future of the Workplace. I learnt more about how companies can ensure their workforces are equipped with the right skills and technology as the world of work confronts change.

I’ve summarised my key takeaways from the event – grab a cuppa and have a read.  

The event opened with a keynote interview with Julia Hartz, CEO and Co-Founder at Eventbrite and Malcolm Moore, Editor at the Financial Times.

He asked Julia, ‘How do you build a fully flexible workplace?’ 

Look to the future and try to prepare for anything. Implementing new systems and teaching new skills can help to make a business move faster. 

When considering the future of work, Eventbrite has three core principles: 

  1. Everyone should be productive 
  2. Everyone should feel connected to each other 
  3. Be thoughtful to the person – people-centric.  

Eventbrite changed its thinking about the future workplace.

It has given its employees the choice of flexible working. It’s created ‘hubs’ for people that want to work in the office sometimes but also it’s focussed on fully remote working.

The Eventbrite team has been testing new ways of working, including cancelling all meetings. Eventbrite employees are now choosier about why they arrange an online meeting, they define clear objectives for what they intend to get out of meetings.

When meeting up in person Eventbrite leaders spend more time defining why it needs to get the team together, what the business needs to get out of it and what the employees will get out of it. Julia recommended reading Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering. 

By reviewing its core working hours globally, Eventbrite has identified the bands of times when the majority of the global team is online, and by simply adding the time zone next to employee names in Slack, it has made it easier to collaborate.  

Tools that Eventbrite has found useful are audio-visual communication tools, Zoom and Google Meet, Figma and FigJam and it has launched a new intranet where it hosts video content which is popular with its employees.

Julia suggests all business leaders should look at how to produce great short-form videos for their company. 

Advice from Julia: It’s an important time to listen to what your team is saying. How are they feeling most empowered, where are they most productive, and what are the challenges they are facing? And remember to have a little bit of patience – it’ll take time to work out the perfect blend for your team. 

Crafting a new leadership style for the hybrid and virtual world 

Being able to engage with employees and connect with colleagues is a skill that has become more challenging with the rise in remote and hybrid work. Employers are now having to do more to communicate with workers who aren’t in the office to ensure they feel valued, and heard and continue to be productive.  

How employee attitudes have changed

Speakers from Novartis, Citrix, McKinsey, and Zurich Insurance discussed the recent changes in employee attitude: 

Employees are reevaluating priorities; they are looking for more purpose from work. With remote working people are not feeling a sense of belonging.  

 30-60% of employees plan to leave their current role in the next 3-6 months.

The driver behind discontent is employee expectations are not being met for three reasons: 

  1. There is a lack of career development and opportunities;
  2. Compensation is not adequate vs the value the employee is providing to the company; 
  3. The work employees are doing is not purposeful to what the employees values.

Employees that are not looking to leave their job cite the main reason as a flexible workplace and flexible working. 

How technology can be used as an enabler and aid interactions between colleagues: 

There are reports of inequality in the experience between the home and workplace.

In some situations, people are finding the tech they use at home is better than the tech available in the workplace. To ensure equality of experience for employees, many businesses are investing in enhanced tech to attract and retain employees and ensure consistency in productivity wherever teams are working. 

Technology can strengthen social capital – by using meeting chats you can encourage quieter employees to contribute and participate in the discussion. 

What techniques can managers use to enhance employee experience and keep them engaged and connected to company culture and values when working from home? 

Businesses should look at Social Capital – connectivity, sense of belonging, sense of trust – it’s the glue that bonds employer and employee.

Businesses that invest in social capital with managers and spend time on developing and coaching employees will retain employees and see higher productivity.

There needs to be a step change in the amount of time managers spend engaging with employees. What managers used to do – focus on operations, commanding and controlling – should now be reduced by 50% to make time for coaching, engaging and developing talent.  

 What will work be like in 2035? 

  • Meeting in the Metaverse – the 2D meetings we have today are lacking emotion. The Metaverse gives the ability to feel.  You can virtually engage with people as you would in person like shaking hands or high-fiving – your brain is tricked into feeling the high five.
  • AI and Machine Learning – middle management roles may be eliminated if the way we engage with employees doesn’t change.
  • Workplace – the way we will use workplaces is changing. People want to be able to achieve something in the workplace that they can’t do on their own.
    We won’t see it as back to the office in a traditional sense, moving forward the workplace will be seen as a culture of innovation.
    We’ll have a collaborative reason to meet in person for tasks that benefit from physical interaction, like problem-solving tasks that involve a number of people in the thought process.
    We’ll see a restructuring of the workplace with the removal of desks and more spaces that allow connection and collaboration.

The New Agenda Debate: Are meetings more productive than email, or is an asynchronous work model more effective? 

What was once a passing comment in the hallway or a conversation around the coffee station, has now become a 30-minute video meeting and employees are struggling to find sufficient time in their diaries to focus on tasks and most importantly, get the job done.  

Speakers from Passion to Lead, Chartered Management Institute, Energize, Cimpress and Vista debated the motion; ‘This house believes that most meetings are no longer necessary and asynchronous work models produce better results.’ 


Advice: Take a look at ‘Stop the meeting madness’ from Harvard Business Review and the research from Reading University ‘The surprising impact of meeting-free days.’  

Determine if you need a meeting. Have the right meetings. Have better meetings.  

Top Tips from the Chartered Institute of Marketing to help you have better meetings: 

  • Before: Why do you need it? Is a meeting the best channel? Who needs to be in the meeting? Only join a meeting when it’s clear what you’re needed for and only join for the duration you are needed. 
  • During: Be a good chair, stick to the agenda, keep people on the topic and finish the meeting on time.
    Include all attendees to ensure you get relevant views from everyone.
    Don’t have back-to-back meetings.
    Create space around meetings to give yourself time to think, prepare and reflect. 
  • After: Circulate summary actions and follow up on any points raised in the meeting. 

Remember if your meeting has no agenda then your response should be no attender! 

Human vs Machine: The skills employees need to stay relevant in the digital revolution 

The digital revolution is permeating the world of work and research shows that demand for digital skills is growing faster than any other skills.

As AI and digital technology advance, the reality is that some roles and tasks will be entirely taken over by machines. Therefore, the socio-economic skills, creativity and emotional intelligence which separate us from machines will become increasingly important in future labour markets.  

Speakers from Ranstad Group and OECD shared findings from a recent Skills in a Digital Transition Report. Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and cloud computing are reshaping the way we work.

The rapid adoption of these technologies in everything from manufacturing to healthcare is opening up new opportunities for workers with the skills needed to thrive in the digital economy. 

80 million jobs carried out by humans will be replaced by tech and we will see 100 million new jobs by 2025. 

The jobs and skills that are most in demand across the globe are digital skills, IT infrastructure build and maintenance and eCommerce. 

 Employers can equip talent with the skills to be relevant in both present and future jobs by  

  1. Prioritising learning at all career stages 
  2. Shape policy to encourage studies in future skills 
  3. Embrace the new social contract with employees 
  4. Meet employee needs and double down on flexibility 
  5. Find out what kind of training different people need – we have six generations active in the workplace right now. 
  6. Use tech to deliver tailored and more flexible training opportunities.
    IBM uses an AI tool that analyses where employees are in their careers and actions to take to improve, upskill, develop or progress.

Advice from Sander van ‘t Noordende, Ranstad: Take charge of your own destiny and start to look for opportunities.  

Advice from Stefano Scarpetta, OECD: Plan how to adapt for potential new job opportunities. 

Perfecting people analytics to drive business transformation 

People analytics, when done right, has the capacity to drive better decision-making, help identify and retain top talent, transform business processes and optimise employee performance. At the same time, employers must ensure they comply with governance around how employee data is collected and used. 

Speakers from Lego, Coca Cola and AXA talked about: 

  • How businesses can perfect people analytics by investing in HR teams so they can get the best value from the data collected. 
  • The importance of aligning strategy and culture. 
  • Get basics right – insights are only as good as data. If you have poor-quality data, or unclear information it can skew outputs and ultimately decisions. 
  • Use facts to help make decisions – the facts can be simple by using the data you already have. Before creating a more advanced digital data dashboard or putting analytics or algorisms in place, look at what business insights you already have. 
  • How businesses should be curious about finding something new in their data as opposed to using the data to back up or prove what they assumed or think. 
  • Data literacy competency. 
  • The use of AI in this space and the risks – can machine learning and AI help to hire the right candidate? 
  • More diverse workforces working on technology so different thinking is considered. 
  • How technology can be used to bolster the human experience. 

 Should all businesses migrate to the cloud? 

Cloud technology continues to evolve and many businesses will feel the pressure to convert to cloud-based solutions. Speakers from Radisson Hotel Group and Bank of England answer these questions: 

Can businesses survive without it, or will companies need to embrace the journey to the cloud to ensure long-term success?  

If you haven’t already moved to the cloud or you’re not planning to move, you’re seen as being behind the curve. 

Is the cloud necessary for a successful digital workforce?  

Yes – you can operate faster and it’s more cost-efficient. 

Do the benefits of moving to the cloud outweigh the potential risks?  

There are many risks, especially if businesses are simply lifting and shifting. Systems, Processes and People must be addressed in tandem for a successful migration. And the cost isn’t just the technology; it’s also changing behaviour – both people and process. 

If people, processes and systems are considered and a change management plan is in place, businesses can start innovating and realising the benefits. 

Can all businesses move their services online or do we need to reconsider the importance of physical products and services? 

If you can, you should. The majority of businesses can benefit from moving to the cloud. There are great opportunities but it’s not for everything and everyone. For example, for hospitality businesses, it’s a must to keep ahead of the competition.

However, for banking, there are certain data where it is not possible due to risk.  

Disruptive tech set to shape the workplace in 2023 

Whilst digital transformation can often be seen as a costly process, it can lead to rapid business growth and positive workplace change. Companies must be prepared for ongoing innovation and continually assess their own digital strategy against new digital offerings.

Speakers from techUK, U.S bank and Capgemini Invent answer questions from Financial Times Technology Reporter, Christina Criddle:

What innovations are you excited about? 

Blockchain and automation.  

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and changing buying behaviours. 

Web 3.0 Third Generation of the internet. 

What digital technologies are on the horizon and how can businesses prepare for them? 

DIY technologies and combining digital with humans. The balance between digital and human needs and people-centric policies must be front of mind. Human interaction is important for the experience.

We should give peace of mind to customers and staff that robots are not going to take over. But we also need to free up people so they can do more of the value-added work.

Use AI to improve the employee experience to serve customers better. Once technologies and tools have been implemented, training is imperative. Employees need to fully adopt any new technologies to see the best returns on investments. 

How have AI and robotics shaped the workplace so far?  

Recruitment – AI has helped with fairness and removed discrimination and bias.  

Banking – helped with product offerings, modelling and fraud detection. 

 Is technology evolving at a faster rate than employee skills? How do you find an equal balance? 

Skills gaps have prevented companies from achieving goals and we need to see more employers training staff. It will help with staff churn too. 

There’s a perception technology will replace people so it’s important to explain how technology can support and enhance people’s roles. 

What innovation/disruption are you predicting for employees’ ways of working? 

A lot of change is happening – employees are not wanting to sit in front of a screen in an office – what’s the point? This will drive change in the real estate space. We’ll see AI being used to help space be utilised in the best possible way. 

Quantum computing: how far away are we from this technology and its practical uses? 

Quantum computing has been identified as a key emerging and transformative technology that will have an impact on the UK’s long-term digital and economic future.

In the coming years, Quantum will have the potential to enable smart cities, revolutionise healthcare systems and drive innovation in key industries. To prepare for this future techUK believes now is the time to bring the wider technology sector into the discussion.