How to Craft a Highly Effective Future of Work Strategy

Image credit: iStockphoto/MissTuni

Gartner defines a future of work strategy as a set of initiatives to address the uncertainty and implications of future events that lead to changes in how, when, and where work is done; who or what does the work; and even what is considered work. These changes can be driven by an organization or by trends in external forces such as emerging technology, market shifts, and demographic changes. Sometimes, these trends present existential threats to an organization’s business model, operations, labor force, or supply chain. Because new trends are forcing organizations to change more frequently than ever, a future of work strategy is a living document, and developing a future of work strategy is an iterative exercise.

A future of work strategy has several elements, including:

  • A description of the organization’s current state and desired state for how, when, and where work is done; who or what does the work; and what is considered work
  • A prioritized list of future of work trends
  • A roadmap for implementing future of work initiatives the organization will pursue to reach the desired state

The Process of Crafting a Future of Work Strategy

We recommend a comprehensive process to develop a future of work vision and strategy for your organization. This process has three phases, each comprising several steps.

Copyright: Gartner

Phase 1: Trends Analysis

This first phase entails scoping, understanding, and prioritizing key trends and potential disruptions.

Identify Trends

There are two approaches to this, both of which can impact your organization or create opportunities in the future:

  • Source trends from external sources (e.g., outside experts, press reports, industry-specific trend reports, search engine alerts) and internal sources (e.g., progressive business leaders, talent analytics, board and executive meeting minutes, employee and customer surveys).
  • Derive trends from a multistep process by envisioning a potential future and working backward to what must take place for that future to happen. There are several techniques for envisioning a potential future, including a premortem, “science fiction writing,” analyzing competitor behavior, and cross-industry analogs.

Interpret Trends

We suggest using one or both of the following lenses to understand the relevance and implications of the identified trends:

  • Trends uncertainty involves assessing trends on a spectrum of low to high uncertainty. The four categories along that spectrum are trends that are a reality today, predictable trends, unpredictable trends, and transformative trends. This will help you understand the implications of these trends for your organization’s goals. You can further ascertain trends’ relevance by comparing the degree of uncertainty against the time horizon your organization considers in planning for the future of work.
  • Trends impact involves assessing trends based on the influence of external factors, such as technological, political, economic, social or cultural, trust or ethics, regulatory or legal, and environmental factors (TPESTRE or “tapestry” analysis). This will help you uncover which trends have the greatest potential impact on your organization. You can further understand the relevance by identifying organizational factors that will accelerate or inhibit each trend’s impact.

Prioritize Trends

The next step is to prioritize those trends with the greatest potential impact or opportunity for competitive advantage. Two organizations offer examples of how to do this effectively:

  • NASA’s three-filter approach includes longevity, alignment with employees and/ or talent pool, and opportunity as evaluation criteria for narrowing down the list of trends and shaping the organization’s future of work vision. After filtering the trends, NASA groups them into themes based on end-state goals (e.g., designing for sharing and security), to leave room for achieving each goal in a variety of ways.
  • John Deere’s megatrend assessment filters approach includes an impact screen (testing the relationship between the trend and the company’s core business and capabilities) and an opportunity screen (ranking megatrends and identifying those fit for focused time and resource investment). These screens help filter and prioritize future of work trends.

Phase 2: Scenario Creation

The second phase involves an adaptive approach to predicting and testing future business scenarios using the prioritized future of work trends.

Develop Future Scenarios

Identify critical uncertainties for your prioritized trends that can lead to a range of future outcomes. Then, combine an extreme range of future outcomes to create future scenarios.

Once your scenarios are developed, identify the business implications of each, and use storytelling techniques to build simple and relatable narratives that illustrate the business impact. Finally, assess the quality of the crafted scenarios.

Test Scenarios

Identify possible events that must or must not happen for each scenario to unfold. This will help lay out an event path from the current state to future scenarios and enable you to monitor whether the future is evolving to favor a particular scenario. You can then assess the likelihood of possible events to prioritize the scenarios with the highest probability of occurrence and degree of disruption.

Phase 3: Future of Work Strategic Planning

The third phase involves developing a roadmap or a strategic plan to identify, implement and track future of work initiatives. The strategic plan should also have the ability to respond to shifts in trends.

Identify Initiatives

Conduct gap analysis of current business strategy and future scenarios in order of priority to identify gaps in your current and future objectives. Use this analysis to select the most relevant future of work initiatives to plug the gaps and shape your organization’s future based on the most likely, highest-priority scenario.

Design Programs

Break down your future of work initiatives into programs with specific objectives and timelines, and assign teams based on the capabilities required. Determine the resource investment required to implement each program and successfully deliver the strategic plan.

Measure Progress

Select metrics and monitoring mechanisms to track your organization’s progress on the future of work initiatives, and course correct if required. This step also includes identifying and monitoring shifts in trends that might affect future scenarios and trigger a review of your initiatives.

A Unified Approach to the Future of Work Strategy

Many organizations’ preparations for the future of work are happening in silos of individual business units with more strategically minded leaders. This informal and fragmented approach to the future of work raises significant risks, such as conflicting business unit priorities, redundancies in processes and efforts, and misalignment with organizational goals. These risks can have severe cost implications.

An organization-wide, unified future of work strategy is the most effective approach to preparing for and shaping the future of work. It can provide a competitive edge in the industry and labor market, surface innovative ideas, accelerate action during times of disruption, and enhance employee engagement and employer branding. A unified approach also provides a central framework for individual business units by creating shared accountability and responsibility toward a single goal.

As more organizations start to invest in planning for the future of work, HR leaders must lead the effort to develop a centralized future of work strategy at their organizations. Having a robust strategic plan will enable organizations to remain competitive in an environment of continuous disruption and uncertainty.

This article by Cheshta Dora can be found here. This article originally appeared in HR Leaders Monthly. Download the full issue here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/MissTuni; Chart: Gartner