Our new world of work: 5 fresh ideas from MIT Sloan Management Review.

Posted: 19 January 2022

By Luke Upton

As you’ll be all too aware, between ongoing digital transformation and COVID-19, the way that many people work has changed rapidly and dramatically in recent years. As part of the response to this, Brian Eastwood, one of those workplace experts at MIT Sloan Management Review has published a fresh view on our new world of work and how business leaders can support their teams, from supporting remote working, matching employees’ expectations on their work-life balance, and emphasize how corporate values range from visibility to cybersecurity.

Enable collaboration to help remote teams succeed.  

Even prior to the pandemic, executives worried that employees working remotely would struggle to collaborate and build meaningful and productive relationships. A literature review by MIT Sloan professor Thomas W. Malone and several co-authors, spanning 22 separate studies over the course of the last decade, suggests that this fear is overblown.

According to Malone, the collective intelligence of remote teams is little different to teams that meet face to face, he argues simply that it’s because where people work matters far less than how the work is done and who does it.

It’s not however to say that supporting remote teams does not involve changes to business processes. For example, constant communication may not be as effective as bursts of rapid communication followed by periods of silence, which encourages both high-energy collaboration and focused time for work. This may disrupt the way companies have traditionally operated, but Malone indicates it’s worth considering given the range of benefits of remote work — especially the ability to assemble a diverse team when physical location is no longer a constraint to recruitment.

5 assumptions about work that leaders should reconsider in our new world.

While digital transformation has led executives to question their assumptions about what customers want, the response to COVID-19 has forced the rethinking of what employees want. As expectations have shifted, MIT Sloan’s George Westerman encourages leaders to rethink five assumptions about how employees work:

  1. If people aren’t in the office, they aren’t productive. The return to the office shouldn’t be binary. Certain tasks are more amenable to remote work — those measured by output, such as coding or writing – while some employees are better motivated outside of direct supervision.
  2. The same rules should apply to everybody. Exceptions that used to be granted in special circumstances, like flexible hours or remote work, should be the standard for everyone. That said, leaders and HR departments must strike a balance between fairness and autonomy.
  3. We need to locate where the talent is. When it’s possible to work from anywhere, companies don’t need physical locations in prime (and expensive) locations. But they must consider what this means for talent acquisition, compensation, and cross-industry collaboration.
  4. When they’re working for me, they’re not working for anyone else. When employees are remote, it’s hard to gauge why productivity is falling — whether they have a side hustle or a sick family member. Leaders must find transparent ways to both measure output and motivate employees to work when they can.
  5. Employees will work the way we tell them to. In all industries, employees are questioning work conditions that cause stress. Leaders must incorporate the voice of the employees, not just the executive, in reframing how work is done and how business units are organized.

Read more of MIT Sloan’s insights on this new world of work by clicking here.