Rich Curtis, Chief Executive Officer - FutureBrand Australia, considers if this is the future of work we've all been waiting for.

We’re a few months into 2021.

Quite obviously, this year started differently to any other.

While the global pandemic still clouds our future, at least we have a clear picture of how our work year will start. It’s likely that we’re already back in the bedroom, the kitchen, or wherever it might be that we work at home, unable – and perhaps even unwilling – to make the morning commute and spend our working day in an office.

And, while the vaccine is rolling out worldwide, as long as Zoom continues to grow at 300% or more per quarter, then we can be sure our current work practices are here to stay.

Is this the future of work we've all been waiting for? Digital transformations that might otherwise have taken years for businesses to deliver have now arrived in a matter of months? Team coordination, communication, creativity and collaboration flipped to become 100% digital overnight?

We've all learned to adapt accordingly.

We haven't been displaced by technology, we've been enabled by it. This is a technology-fuelled future that is no longer foreshadowed by a hackneyed image of the Terminator movie franchise. It's a reality that is here and now – what’s more, each and everyone one of us is the face of it.

All the while, our offices stand empty.

In a 1960 speech to a group of HP's managers, David Packard said: "A group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively which they could not accomplish separately."

So it is that organisations have come together in Peter Drucker's 'knowledge economy', united by a common purpose. This shared sense of purpose aims to bring meaning and motivation to work. Whatever your flavour of purpose, vision or reason for being, it's the clarity that's important in helping to remove everything that is irrelevant or ambiguous and to champion only what is important to the organisation. Otherwise, organisations and their ideas can tend to sprawl, unfocused and unchecked. It’s not necessarily a question of ambition, it's a simple fact of alignment. And now that those very people have been dispersed, the need for that strategic clarity is greater than ever otherwise we risk becoming separated in more ways than one.

So, as brand and marketing teams return to wherever work happens in 2021, how will those teams and their people continue to adapt?

Physical separation has made way for more personal ways of working. We can all now explore work modes that fit around our lives and cater to our own needs in more ways than might have been possible before. The situation reminds me of the Luddites in the 18th century and their resistance to the shift to working in the factories of the Industrial Revolution – what they resisted then, we're leaving now. In part, the Luddites' resistance was driven by the benefits that came from working at home: greater control and flexibility, as well as more opportunity for those in regional and rural areas. Sound familiar? The very same benefits now espoused by those favouring a longer-term shift to flexible working.

Firstly, by adapting to accommodate the global pandemic, we have also adapted in ways that enable access to a broader, more diverse and inclusive pool of talent. What’s more, research by technology firm Slack has revealed that people working flexible hours score higher on a sense of "belonging" than those working in the office and on the clock from 9 to 5.

This is not an opportunity to be missed if brands and their marketers are to continue to challenge themselves to foster a creative community where people can think differently. Different backgrounds, experiences and ideas can and should all contribute to a broader range of perspectives as an engine of creativity. Let’s use the new-found flexibility created by the pandemic to beam these into our teams.

Secondly, our offices might have evolved into white-collar factories but they’re no longer a model of efficiency. Over time, much of office work has become routine to the point that 28% of the time is spent on bureaucratic chores like report-writing and documenting compliance, according to a 2017 research study published by the Harvard Business Review – in other words, managing the needs of the organisation itself. Subsequently, a 2019 Gallup survey revealed that fewer than 25% of employees said they were expected to be "innovative" in their role.

Digital transformation will automate many tasks or simply augment our ability to do them more efficiently. Either way, it shouldn’t be a reductive strategy, rather it’s an opportunity to help your people get back to adding value through creativity and innovation. A 2017 McKinsey study revealed that the most creative companies did better than peer firms on both financial performance and McKinsey’s Innovation Score, and the FutureBrand Index 2020 demonstrates a similar link between the role of brand-led innovation and business sustainability.

Can a shift to WFW break the office routine for good? By focusing on the quality rather than the geography of your interactions, you and your teams can ‘work from wherever’, you can be most collaborative, productive and creative.

Thirdly, creative ideas don’t necessarily fit into a strict 9-to-5 regime, they’re as likely to arrive in the bath or on the bus. In the same research study by Slack, people with flexible schedules scored nearly twice as high on productivity – after all, how many of us have the ability to concentrate solidly for half-day blocks of time? Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, take advantage of your body clock to enable your peak performance.

The future of work – or more specifically, workplaces – is not necessarily to organise ourselves in ways that mean we routinely congregate in office towers. Greater control and flexibility are here to stay, and so too a more personalised approach to work that has the potential for even greater creativity.

The future of work is ours: it's personalised to each and every one of us. And, just so long as we strike the right balance between what's personal to us individually and purposeful to the organisation collectively, then you might find your brand and marketing team feel more creative than ever.

This article originally appeared on AdNews.

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