THE WORLD IS SPINNING FASTER AND THE FUTURE IS NOW. TALK OF 2030 BACK IN 2013 SEEMED SO FAR OFF, SURELY IT WOULD BE A PROBLEM FOR THE NEXT WATCH? HYBRID AND REMOTE WORKING – NOT TO MENTION A FOUR-DAY WEEK – LOOKED LIKE SCI-FI CONCEPTS, BUT THE FUTURE FANTASY TABLEAU HAS BECOME A REALITY. CLOCK WATCHERS REJOICE AS AI MOVES IN TO TAKE PEOPLE OUT OF MUNDANE TASKS, FREEING THEM UP TO HAVE MORE FULFILLED AND DIVERSE ROLES AND CAREERS. INDEED, PREDICTIONS ARE THAT MILLIONS OF “DIFFERENT JOBS” ARE BEING CREATED AND NEW SECTORS ARE EMERGING, BUT WHERE IS THE TRANSITIONARY COHESION AND FUTURE PLANNING?
Many businesses are moving forward to a digital-hybrid workplace with some innovative approaches enabled by digital technology and, as we move on towards 2030, the agenda is very likely to broaden out. But although technical advancements will still dominate, if employers want people with the right stuff to join them, to contribute their best, to collaborate purposefully and effectively and to remain loyal, they will need leaders who can create a climate that recognises and works positively with the human factors.
The winners in 2030 will have workplaces that bring the best out of people in all four areas. This will mean focusing on the broad idea of flourishing, which is more than a traditional idea of wellbeing. The concept of feeling good incorporates not only the positive emotions of happiness and contentment, but also such emotions as interest, engagement, confidence and affection. So, the digital wellbeing strategy of the future will be much more than addressing mental health issues, it will be the art and science of helping people have optimal experiences in their daily lives and contribution. It will be about how to feel good and be their best, experiencing more positive emotions, happiness and contentment, the development of potential, control over one’s life, a sense of purpose and experiencing positive relationships at work and at home. Achieving this outcome is more than serving up a menu of corporate-wide programmes, it will be a deliberate process of helping people learn how to connect with themselves and each other in mutually enhancing ways. When people feel encouraged to be their best selves at work, it makes a more profound difference to longer term performance and retention than talking about company values, or just doing a standard induction.
This insight also highlights an important agenda when it comes to selecting and developing team leaders, ones that can help people flourish – more than operational managers who can do their bit with mental health issues if they arise. If we are to create the climate where people feel they can express themselves authentically, then a priority is to upgrade the quality of all human interactions inside and outside the organisation, online and in-person. In hybrid workplaces, this will become even more critical than before. When you are being mindful, you are doing more than just using your mind. You are fully engaged in the present moment and at the same time, you are able to calmly acknowledge and accept how you think and feel – emotionally and physically – as well as what’s happening with other people. You may also learn to experience a spiritual quality – or soul – in your daily life and a connecting with a deeper sense of ‘why’. The psychological impacts of our modern digital, information-rich, mega bandwidth world will also need to be managed. If work is only characterised by the experience of digital devices, there may be an erosion in the quality of human interactions. So, how mindful are you and your people? When I’m not using my phone in a café or on public transport, I can’t help noticing how deeply engaged many people are with their communication devices. I see people walking along the street looking at phones. In audiences at conferences, a hefty percentage of people are scrolling through phones, while speakers are presenting to them. Research in 2022 in the USA by Reviews.org found people saying they were basically addicted to their phone. Social media check-ins, the endless videos and funny memes, all stimulate us mentally and emotionally and another research found people are spending an average of two hours and 54 minutes on their phones each day. That is over six weeks (44 days) on just their phones in a year. Then there are laptops, iPads and televisions, which collectively poses the question, is this a good way to become mindful and fully-focused on the present moment?
As 2030 approaches, is it inevitable that we will become slaves to technology? Surely, if we’re to fully engage with another person – whether it is online or in-person – we need to be able to have a clear mind and be adept at engaging emotionally, as well as intellectually. Distractions also have been found to threaten our work output. According to a University of California Irvine study, when we are interrupted, or when we interrupt ourselves, our concentration takes a long time to return to full capability. One study of knowledge workers showed an average interval of just six minutes between communication tool check-ins. When we consider that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to gain full and proper mindful concentration on an important task, we can see some of the emerging challenges with bringing the best out of people in this digital world. So, can we find a balance between hi-tech with hi-touch?
As 2030 approaches, the reliance on technology will no doubt increase. Indeed, the ‘new’ world in 2023 already feels quite different and presents its own challenges such as, reduced opportunities for quality human connection, handling exponentially higher volumes of screendriven information and distractions from multiple communications devices. People may experience greater mental overload, stress and isolation, which can lead to disengagement and burnout. With the high number of functional leaders operating in the organisation development space of the organisation – Head of Engagement, Wellbeing, Transformation, HR, L&D, D&I etc – unless there is a cohesive approach, there is a potential to try to make a better soup by piling in more and more ingredients from a wider variety of cooks, each with their own vision for what great tastes like. It’s vital to keep focused on the internal customer experience of all these change initiatives. Organisation developers can just as easily over-communicate as fail to communicate enough, in their attempts to make things happen.
With such a massive amount of information available through all the digital channels now available, it’s easy for this hi-tech approach to become a curse too. Sarah Hood, Global Head of Engagement at Bupa, shared her experiences of working in a modern, digitally enabled workplace: “A massive chunk of my job is looking externally and making recommendations to our executive team about what we do with employee engagement and employee listening going forward. I must be able to sift through all this stuff and then make sense of it, decide what’s useful and what isn’t useful and, even this week, for example, writing a proposal that’s going to be discussed next week, I’ve had to be really focused on that and I’m still receiving emails and calls all week with, “these are the best HR trends for 2023…” “no, no, no, these are the best HR trends for 2023.” So, being more mindful as a communicator means knowing when to say, ‘just stop, be present, work with what you have…’ I find it hard not to have an emotional reaction to the overwhelming onslaught of information.” Addressing these challenges will take more than generic organisation-wide initiatives, more apps – yes, even more time on the phone – and other new technologies and data collection programmes. There remains the basic human need for intimate and personalised connection, development and support. We need to learn to be in touch with ourselves and each other, in body, mind, heart and soul to be able to contribute our best, especially in our new hybrid workplaces.
Nicholas Brice is the author of The Mindful Communicator Published by Soul Corporations®