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“The future of work — it’s an exciting frontier where, more than ever, innovation and collaboration will be keys to success. And it’s coming to an enterprise near you at breakneck speed. Not to mention a café, home office, or shared workspace,” begins a recent report by tech-giant Cisco on the “borderless, lightning-fast, and highly creative” future of work.

In the preliminary findings of a recent Cisco survey of more than 1300 knowledge workers across nine countries, 93% believed that their organizations are making changes. Most of the perceived change (69%) is coming from new technology, such collaboration tools, devices, applications, mobility, and automation. Followed by worker-focused solutions (55%) like knowledge-sharing, learning, and productivity, and “how work is accomplished” (52%) through greater collaboration and better meetings.

The lowest ranking changes to work offer more insight in to the current situation. ‘Work space (optimizing for creativity and/or collaboration)’ was bottom of the pile, with just 39% of firms making progress in that area. Work culture, with just 41%, also lags behind on issues like respecting values, diversity, work/life balance, and individual growth.

The results of this survey question suggests employers may still be too focused on basic productivity, rather than buying into the recent idea that focusing on the health and wellbeing of employees in the best path to sustainable productivity.

On challenges, the survey showed that the number one issue organizations face today is “diminishing employee satisfaction” (34%) supporting that idea. However, with 9% separating the biggest and smallest challenges it is difficult to make strong conclusions. Slow decision-making and attracting talent were joint second (32%), while information sharing and data security were joint third (25%).

“Emerging technologies like AI and robotics inspire glaring headlines about humans being replaced by machines. But in disruptive, fast-changing marketplaces, innovation and agility rule — and those arise from human talent and creativity. New ways of working enable a nimble, innovative, efficient, and powerful new workforce, empowered by technology,” states the report presenting the survey results. “Yet in Cisco’s survey, the three most significant challenges for organizations today relate to people,” it highlighted.

People want freedom. From a traditional perspective that may seem to conflict with the productivity of workers and the very nature of work itself. However, new approaches and technologies are not only demonstrating that “flexible work” affords employees freedom but that it also increases productivity. 83% of business leaders consider freelance contractors more productive than employees, as highlighted in our article Freelance Work Culture is Laying the Foundations for the Virtual Office. The Cisco survey suggests employers are still getting used to this kind of location-independence but change is coming.

“The future of work is about what we do, not where. Today’s technology can make almost any place a workplace, allowing modern workers the freedom to decide how and where they contribute the most value,” states the Cisco report that showed only 23% of knowledge workers currently have the freedom to choose where they work, but another 44% expect to have that choice within the next three years. “Ending place-ism empowers more people to contribute their skills and passion, while giving organizations access to more and varied top talent,” it continued.

Cisco’s study demonstrates that driving the right cultural and technological changes paves the way to serious dividends for any organization looking to compete in the digital age. “When the right collaboration tools are combined with a forward-thinking culture, teams can reach their full potential,” the report says, in a section entitled ‘Driving Engagement, Productivity, and
Innovation: Where Culture and Tech Meet.’

The future of work is technologically rich but it will not reach its potential if employee needs not central to design and strategy. We are moving from an era of process-focused work to an age or worker-focused work, not because of labor rights or a power shift, but because results suggest that a happy worker is a productive worker.

As increasingly intelligent machines take over manual jobs, the workforce slowly becomes more and more focused on creativity, innovation, as well as other mental and emotionally dependent activities. It therefore makes sense to make Work more human-centric, by prioritizing employee wellbeing and empowering workers with flexibility.

“Workers see a clear path to a better future, with effective meetings, better work-life balance, and highly creative collaboration. Business leaders must respond in kind if they want to attract and keep the best talent,” the Cisco report concludes…

“Technology change — ensuring a strong, secure, and modernized infrastructure foundation to support the kinds of collaboration and effective meetings that workers demand — is part of the challenge. Culture change — encouraging trust, flexibility, and respect across highly dynamic and far-flung teams — is another. It’s not just the right thing to do, but the wise thing. These capabilities drive clear benefits in productivity, creativity, agility, and engagement.”