What Will Work Look Like in 2022? (Hint: Not the Metaverse)
Here’s what industry leaders think about the future of work, from changing office hours to, yes, staying in the meatspace.
Photograph: Liyao Xie/Getty Images
WIRED started this Work Smarter column in the hopes of helping you navigate the complex changes happening in the world of work, from hybrid working to diversity and inclusion and even bringing your pandemic pup to the office. So, for the last edition, I’ve spoken to industry leaders about what they think will be the trends that shape work in 2022.
But after hearing from so many business and leadership experts—recently and over the past few months—I naturally have a few thoughts of my own. Here’s what 2022 looks like to me.
Forget the metaverse. Though aspects of it may drip into our daily working lives to make Zoom calls and online collaboration slightly less awkward, when we want to get together in the same space, we’ll do it in the good old-fashioned meatspace. Sorry Zuckerberg.
Hybrid working will become the norm, with those holding out (without good reason) looking increasingly out of date—as they should—especially as the benefits to recruitment, diversity, and work-life balance become ever more clear. However, hybrid friction isn’t over, and while 2021 was about convincing bosses to let people choose where to work, 2022 will focus on when we work. Inevitably this will lead to a rise in asynchronous collaboration, requiring serious effort to avoid damaging productivity in the confusion over who’s working when.
Perhaps the most intriguing trend is the death of hustle and the rise of looking out for yourself at work, be it through refusing long hours or joining unions. Younger generations of workers have been criticized for opting out of a cycle of breaking themselves to make their careers, but they’re right—productivity and success shouldn’t require giving up your personal life, family, or daylight hours. Technology should help us work less, and smart managers will understand that workplace wellness has nothing to do with yoga and mindfulness apps and everything to do with respecting the right to such balance.
But that’s just me. Here’s what business experts believe will drive the future of work.
Hybrid Will Become the Default—but It’ll Take Work
For most knowledge-worker companies, hybrid work will become the central model, predicts James Berry, director of the MBA program at University College London. And that means we’ll have to figure out how best to manage in-person and remote work, balancing what days people come in without reinforcing silos between teams. “Hybrid working takes planning to make sure it really works for the individuals involved and the company overall,” he says.
It's clear that for some innovation work we’ll need to be back in the office rather than on Zoom, but retaining talent will require flexibility. “Overall, be intentional about how you set up your hybrid environment so you’re not only benefitting from the output and productivity of your teams but you’re also continuing to develop a flexible culture that will help to retain your talent in the next year,” Berry says.
Addressing Proximity Bias
One specific, longer-term concern with remote working is that those in the office benefit while those working from home are forgotten about. Coordinated hybrid working, when some days are in office and others elsewhere, can help address this, but it’s a concern managers should keep in mind for those working fully remote in particular, says Janine Chamberlin, head of LinkedIn UK.
Chamberlin says LinkedIn’s own research shows that nine in 10 European businesses will offer flexible working of some sort throughout the next year, but it needs to work fairly in practice. “For instance, nearly three-quarters of workers in the UK are concerned about the impact of ‘proximity bias’—a trend where employees in the office are valued above those who work remotely,” she says. “Over the next year, we can expect to see businesses taking action to ensure that all employees feel included, regardless of where they choose to work.”
Virtual Meetings Will Get Better—and Shorter
During the pandemic, office workers switched to Zoom rather than in-person meetings by need rather than desire, sparking a sharp learning curve in how best to communicate via camera. With hybrid working set to continue, we’ll have to get better at video calls, says Prezi CEO Jim Szafranksi.
“In 2022, producing better remote meetings will begin to be a skill that leads to promotion, leadership opportunities, and success as a worker,” he says. “Gone are the days when you put ‘proficiency with Excel’ on your résumé, and instead you will talk about proficiency in key hybrid work skill sets such as creating engaging content and facilitating inclusiveness and participation.”
That doesn’t have to mean everyone talking at once. Instead, Szafranksi predicts, we’ll all learn to make better use of text responses and questions to take part without interrupting the speaker. We’ll also learn, he says, to book shorter, more focused meetings, helped by knowing when people are at their best for such tasks. “The prime meeting time will be Tuesday through Thursday, between 10 am and noon,” he says, with other tasks and discussions pushed to non-concurrent working rather than at-the-same-time meetings.
Time Will Matter More Than Place
The nature of offices will expand to accommodate our new way of using them for hot-desking, collaboration, and social activities, says Andy Wilson, director of Dropbox UK. But our working hours will also be reshaped, with staff given the autonomy to structure schedules around the rest of their life.
“Next year will mark a step away from traditional hours to nonlinear days,” he says. “This means introducing policies such as core collaboration hours, which is time reserved for live meetings.”
To help that, workplace software will need “live collaboration” features beyond video calls, letting colleagues work together on documents at the same time, he adds.
Companies Will Have to Be Better to Avoid the Great Resignation
The “big quit,” as Tara Ataya, chief people and diversity officer at Hootsuite, calls it, will force a reckoning—but the outcome could be positive, finally driving companies to put their people first. That includes reimagining traditional working models in order to let people choose where and how they work, she says.
“Workplaces of the future will address talent shortages by focusing on diversity, equitable practices, and purpose,” Ataya says. “They will drive better benefits and encourage talent mobility to drive retention.”
Remote Work Will Become Strategic
Remote working will no longer be seen just as a temporary solution to pandemic lockdowns or as an employee benefit but as a hedge against future crises, says Jessica Reeder, senior all-remote campaign manager at GitLab. “Just as organizations are currently expected to have succession and security plans, having a remote work strategy will be critical to business continuity,” she says.
Because of that, companies will need expertise in remote working and dedicated leadership positions focused on their future-of-work strategies, she adds, in order to design organizations that will attract the best talent.
No One Is Sure About the Metaverse
Nick Hedderman is the director of modern work and security at Microsoft UK; the software giant unveiled its own “mixed reality” version of the metaverse workplace after Facebook’s grand announcement, so it’s no surprise he’s all in on the idea as a way to create better virtual spaces.
"This could be things such as conference rooms and offices that are designed to enhance camaraderie, spark creativity, and foster water-cooler connections in a hybrid environment,” he says, “Moving from 2D to 3D environments can allow more to be done, but people will need easing into 3D interactions.”
Leanne Wood, chief HR officer at Vodafone, notes that plenty of companies are already using technologies core to the metaverse, though it may not look the way Mark Zuckerberg described. “Without doubt new technologies like 3-D environments, AR, and VR are going to transform the way we interact and live our lives,” she says. “I suspect that, like lots of big trend predictions, the reality will take a slightly different form to the one that made the headlines, but the impact of technology on the world of work is going to continue to be significant.” That’s one prediction that’s sure to hold true.
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