Over the past year or so, the concepts of leadership awareness, emotional intelligence, and employee mental health became a central topic for EX and HR professionals worldwide. We saw first-hand how COVID-19 and other social events around diversity and inclusion reshape and develop the EX-field. As a team determined to deepen our understanding of what will make the future of work great, each month CXM meets with experts from all around the world to discuss some burning questions.

This time, it was only logical to reach out to a workplace futurist, bestselling author, keynote speaker, and founder of The Future of Work University – incredible Jacob Morgan.

Jacob, so much of what you wrote in your books on the future of work became highly applicable over the past 12 months. Did you expect the ‘future’ to come so soon?

an illustrated image showing a female and male character surrounded with different shapes indicating a playground for the future of work.

The future always comes sooner than we think! While the predictions from my previous books are gradually becoming a reality, the last 12 months have certainly speeded things up. I sometimes joke that we live in 2021, but when we show up for work, we are instantly being teleported back in 1990. This year, finally, our work and life are starting to align. Still not quite there but soon.

In your book Employee Experience Advantage, you wrote that employee engagement is the short-term adrenaline shot and employees experience the long-term redesign of the organizations. Do you think this difference between employee engagement and employee experience became clear to leaders after such a challenging year?

Absolutely! Leaders are finally realizing that they should create a place where people actually WANT to work, not where they NEED to work. This requires changes from the inside out as opposed to just focusing on the superficial layers. I would also add that it’s easy to create great experiences when things go well. What matters the most are the actions your organization does during tough times.

Organizations usually emphasize their cognitive level of culture. We rarely see them invest in emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and psychological safety. Considering the dramatic challenges employees faced recently, do you think there are any improvements in this field? 

Yes! Certainly, both are important but the level of emotional intelligence all of us have had to practice has increased by 10 times. It definitely pushed leaders out of their comfort zone. During the pandemic, we were working from our kitchens, closets, or bedrooms and we had our kids, dogs, and spouses running around in the background during our conference calls and meetings. COVID has certainly shined a light on the importance of being human at work. This change has pushed leaders to get to know their people as human beings, not just workers. I hope this trend will continue.

As the first author who structured the EX-framework, you explained that employee experience is the combination of three distinct environments: physical, technological, and cultural. Do you think the pandemic brought disarray in these fields? 

an illustration showing three persons collaborating and finding solutions on the workplace culture.

Thanks for calling that out. The three environments are still relevant, so nothing has changed there. On the other hand, as your question suggests, there has been a tremendous disruption in each of them.  On the technology side, organizations are scrambling to upgrade their tools and platforms to enable a more flexible work environment where people and information can be connected anytime, anywhere, and on any device. Work became something you can take with you. Something closer to a state of mind or a mode you are in vs. a place you have to go to.

When it comes to the physical environment, organisations are increasingly considering the safety and comfort levels of their employees. On the cultural side, we see tremendous disruption as employees want to be a part of an organization that puts people above profits. All of these changes include movements within the strategies of purpose and meaning, growth and development, coaching and mentoring, and employee health and wellness.

Leaders are about to face a new challenge: employees getting back to the office. What questions do you believe leaders should ask their people before they bring any decisions on how the future of the physical workplace is going to look like?

Most of the people I have talked to are actually excited to get back to the office in some capacity. We are social animals focused on the sense of community, trust, psychological safety, and emotional intelligence. There is still a place for in-person work, though, and leaders should ask their employees a few questions:

  • Are you comfortable coming back to the office, why or why not?
  • What can we do as an organization to make sure that your voice is being heard and needs are being met?
  • How would you like to see your work and schedule evolve and adapt as a result of the pandemic?

Along with these three, leaders should acknowledge they are most likely going to make mistakes. You won’t be perfect and that’s ok. Encourage feedback and suggestions, be open to ideas, and acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. The important thing is to do your best to put people first.

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