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Evolution of the Workplace for a Changing Demographic

Changing worker priorities accelerates companies' adoption of easy-to-use technology for the hybrid workplace.

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Impact of changing demographics

The number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. The 65-and-older age group's share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent. This demographic trend will impact the younger generation who will have to take care of their aging parents. This will of necessity force the working population to seek more flexible work arrangements. There was an expectation that while this change was unavoidable there was still time to prepare for it. Unfortunately, the once-in-a-century pandemic hastened this change.

Pandemic induced changes

Instead of taking 15 years, the pandemic forced companies to move an entire workforce to a remote model in 15 months. As the pandemic slowly recedes, companies are experimenting with various work models to see what works best for them and their employees. Having experienced the flexibility from working from home, employees are reluctant to return to the office. Many employers however believe efficiency and collaboration can be best achieved when everyone is in the office. Employers need to take a long-term view of balancing the needs of their employees and their own business needs.

The great resignation

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 4.5 million Americans left their jobs in November 2021. This has been dubbed the Great Resignation. Many employees resigned because of fears of contracting the virus. But many more left because they had to take care of children as schools and day care centers were still closed. Some needed to take care of older relatives who needed help dealing with the pandemic. Employers are coping with the problem by paying more wages, forcing employees to work overtime and in some cases using expensive automation. But this is not a sustainable, long-term solution.

Evolution of the workplace

While painful, this rapidly unfolding change does provide employers an opportunity to understand and adapt to the evolution of the workplace. Force-fitting existing ways of working in the new normal is no longer acceptable. Employers need to have empathy for their employees and take a personalized approach to each employee's needs. Companies will need to consider creative and flexible work models where each employee has a different workplace or work schedule. They will have to lean on technology to keep everyone on the same page.

Hybrid work approach

The hybrid work approach is rapidly gaining traction as a compromise between employees working from home full-time and working from the office. Employers are providing employees flexible schedules where employees come to the office some days of the week, and work from home for the rest. This work schedule permits team meetings at the office at least once or twice a week so everyone is on the same page. It also provides freedom to work from home part of the time, which is what employees have now come to expect.

This approach results in cost savings as companies need to spend less on office space and other office expenses. However, without the right technology in place, the hybrid approach can quickly descend into chaos, missed deadlines, duplicate work and unhappy employees and employers.

Technology to make the hybrid approach work

When the team is dispersed geographically and sometimes even in different time zones, communications become a big problem. Employees need to be in touch with their managers and other team members regularly, and this cannot be accomplished without using the right technology.

Some of the technology that became must-have to work during the pandemic while maintaining social distance included audio and video conferencing, screen sharing, online chatting, cloud documents and the trusty email. Tools like Zoom, Skype, Slack and Dropbox became very popular.

Many other tools have since come to the market to facilitate remote work. While in some ways they have made communication easy, they have also created communication silos. These silos increase employee stress as they have to connect all the pieces of information from various sources in their head to keep on top of their work.

Related: 5 Digital Trends That Are Here to Stay. Time to Embrace Them.

Problems with communication silos

Imagine that a sale person receives an email from a client asking for a proposal. The salesperson calls her boss to discuss the opportunity. She then chats with her technical team to come up with an implementation plan. She creates a proposal and stores it as a cloud document. She then shares the document with her boss for review and approval. They both discuss the proposal using phone calls and screen sharing before finalizing it. She then emails her client the final proposal and makes a to-do in her calendar to follow up after a couple of days.

You can see that in this workflow, which is very common, she used multiple apps. She used emails, calls, chats, cloud documents, screen sharing and calendar to do her work. Each app created an information silo, even though all the actions were related to preparing and sharing the proposal requested by the client. She now has to remember in her head who said what, when and why, and refer to separate apps each time to thread the story together. Very stressful.

Unified communications

To alleviate the problems that come from communication silos it is important to invest in a unified communication tool. This tool combines all the different modes of communication in a single app. There is no need to waste time switching between different apps or browser tabs. There is no learning curve from getting used to disparate user interfaces. There is no need to incur high costs from licensing multiple apps. Most important, once all the communications are in one place it is easy to see the context behind each action. Rather than trying to recreate the information thread in memory by connecting all the dots.

Human element

The evolution of the workplace is not just about technology. It is not finding a way to recreate the office in the virtual space. It is about having empathy for people and finding ways to make them feel that they are always part of the team no matter where they are located.

Remote employees experience isolation, loneliness and feel left out of casual conversations. Conversations that occur spontaneously in the office hallway should be shared with remote employees to avoid leaving people out of important communications.

Employers must adopt a human-based approach to managing employees in order to retain them in this competitive marketplace.

Related: Flexible Work Is Not a New Concept, It's Just Evolving

Thinking ahead

While the pandemic is slowly receding and will soon be a thing of the past, the impact on the workforce due to demographic changes is long-term. Employees will increasingly need flexible work arrangements, both in terms of time and work location to achieve a healthy work-life balance. A truly evolutionary workplace is guided by a mix of easy-to-use technology, flexibility and a genuine interest in the well-being of the people in the organization.

Related: 4 Trends That Are Shaping the Future of Work

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