The Future of Work
Learnings and predictions from the largest ever workplace experiment
The Covid 19 pandemic forced office workers to adapt to different ways of working nearly overnight, creating an unforeseen experiment that tested our assumptions about productivity, co-location, engagement, equity, relationships, learning, and more. This series will lay out a forward-looking view of the knowledge workplace based on learnings from 2020 and the decades leading up to it. It will also explore dynamic working models that incorporate a blend of in-person and remote work and flexibility.
My team at IBM is responsible for delivering an experience and environment that attracts and retains top, diverse talent and building a culture of innovation. Our methods are based on experimentation and research to track our progress and ensure we’re learning and evolving our approaches.
For the few decades leading up to Covid-19, many thousands of IBMers around the world worked remotely but in recent years, IBM had been bringing people back to the office to lean into agile work practices, accelerate innovation, and lead the company toward transformation. The transition back to the office was a challenge for many but collaboration and culture thrived. My team and others thought a lot about the physical environment and how it affected productivity and engagement. We considered the full range of in-person experiences that people expected and needed — including learning workshops, hackathons, wellness programs, community-building activities, and amenities.
I clearly remember the day that the executive of my IBM office in New York City told us to start working from home in March 2020. “It’ll be just for a few weeks” we all said. Not really thinking about what we’d need at home for longer than a fortnight, we absent mindedly stuffed cables and a few notebooks in our backpacks that evening and didn’t look back at our desks when we left, having no idea of the journey that lay ahead and that we likely wouldn’t be back to the same working environment for well over a year, if ever.
IBM is the world’s largest IT company and I work for the Chief Information Office, IBM’s IT department. In an astounding feat, thousands of my colleagues enabled the entire IBM workforce of over 300,000 people around the globe to start working remotely nearly overnight. With a vast IT infrastructure and a plethora of communication tools like Webex, Slack, Jira, Mural, and more, we opened our laptops one morning in our home offices and started working through our new reality in a way that appeared to be technologically seamless.
The work experience wasn’t so seamless, of course. How would agile teams used to working shoulder to shoulder to develop applications deliver at the quality and pace they did in a remote environment? How would collaboration happen at the speed and fluidity we’d grown accustomed to in beautiful workshop spaces and open office environments? How would we maintain the culture and sense of community that established the underlying relationships needed to drive innovation? And how could we support a global workforce through an unprecedented global crisis?
Over the coming months, I’ll share what we’ve learning from the more than a year of remote work, and what the future could hold as workers demand a new kind of flexibility after having proven that in this remote environment, they can be highly productive, innovative, and adaptable. It’s not all good news, and much will need to be figured out along the way along every dimension of knowledge work, including:
- Career progression
- Diversity and inclusion
- Attraction and retention