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The Workplace Scoop Interviews: The Workplace of the Future

Tomorrow's workplace in the vision of Jim Kalbach from Mural: dynamic, collaborative, and personalized.
Jim Kalbach future of work
In this article

Hello and welcome to “The Workplace Scoop”, the interview series where we speak with workplace experts about the latest trends and forces impacting the labor market, the future of work, employee experience, and so much more.

Today’s guest: Jim Kalbach, Chief Evangelist at Mural and an advocate for imagination work, remote collaboration, creative teamwork, and design thinking. 

Jim also wrote 5 books, among which I want to mention these titles that are so related to today’s interview topics: “Facilitating Remote Workshops” and “Collaborative intelligence”.

Now, here’s what you need to know about Mural. Mural is a visual work platform where teams can plan, meet and manage their tasks.  It is trusted by 95% of the Fortune 100 (Intuit, IBM, Microsoft, Atlassian, and more).

So, let’s dive into our topics!

Navigating Nowadays Work Challenges

  1. Alina from Tidaro: From labor shortages and the “great resignation”, to generative AI, layoffs and “quiet quitting” – this is how the past 4 years look like. 

I’ve recently heard about “the great gloom” as well. It seems that employee happiness has been on a steady decline for three years, according to BambooHR’s employee Net Promoter Score.

Quite a lot to digest, right? What do you envision for the next 5 years?

Jim Kalbach: We’re in a time of great transition, and we’re all just figuring it out. I think it will take at least another 5 years until we have a direction. So in the next few years I think we’ll see a lot of experimentation and failures — but also successes — in developing new models of work and the workplace.

Take hybrid work models, for instance. They are already strained under a host of problems and are starting to go out of fashion. And so we’re seeing variations and exploration of novel approaches. Smuckers, for instance, has a unique hybrid model that doesn’t require workers on-site on a weekly basis but rather for “core week” throughout the year.  I suspect we’ll see other such innovative approaches for hybrid and beyond.

Employee well-being is critical to business success moving forward. Yes, there are a lot of variables and factors to consider, but it’s really only overwhelming against the backdrop of out-dated models of work. For organizations ready to embrace change — real, deep meaningful change — it doesn’t have to be that daunting. 

  1. Alina from Tidaro: Speaking of change, it’s funny to me to remember conversations about adaptability at work, about embracing change, and not resisting it. Now, I feel that employers are resisting change more than ever. And the biggest change employees are asking for is work flexibility. How can employers and employees meet halfway in the conversations about flexible work, hybrid work, and remote work? 

Jim Kalbach: There needs to be trust on both sides, to put it plain and simple. I believe this starts with changes in leadership. Managers need to first see the difference between being a “boss” and being a “leader.” Leaders inspire, leaders coach, leaders are vulnerable. Show your teams that you can be trusted, and they will reciprocate. Until we get out of a command-and-control mindset, there won’t be a meeting halfway in the middle. 

  1. Alina from Tidaro:  Speaking of bosses and leaders…I’ve recently seen this statement in a LinkedIn post “Managers shouldn’t be watchdogs” – what’s your take on the topic?

Jim Kalbach: I agree with this. As I just mentioned, the basic definition of “leader” changes in the new world of work. A more empathetic view is needed moving forward. That’s why we see concepts like “servant leadership” and “leading from behind” will become the dominant models in the future, I believe. It takes a different mindset, but it doesn’t have to be hard. 

  1. Alina from Tidaro: Jim, you’ve mentioned earlier that Employee well-being is critical to business success moving forward”. Now, in the past 4 years I noticed how the approach of employers towards employee experience has shifted. There was a huge focus on well-being, on granting lots of benefits, etc. Now, with this insecure economic climate, with lots of layoffs, many companies are starting to cut these benefits. Even if this might come with some long-term costs: lower employee retention, etc. Will we ever be able to look at employee experience the way we look at customer experience?

Jim Kalbach: I think we have to look at employee experience even harder. The two — CX and EX — are directly connected. 

The customer experience you create and deliver is a direct reflection of the experience employees have, for the most part. It’s hard to imagine a company that delivers an exceptional customer experience but the employee experience is dire. In fact research shows the opposite to be true: companies that invest in creating a positive employee experience see a direct correlation in gains in customer experience. 

Employee experience

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The Future of Work: Generative AI, the future of the Office, and More.

  1. Alina from Tidaro: Employee experience is also connected to another topic: productivity. Is hourly productivity still a KPI we should hang on to? Or should we focus more on goal achievement? As another interview guest of ours puts it: “We are experiencing a workplace disruptor through many tech innovations and global values changes and it feels like we are hanging by our teeth on Taylorism and other 20th century management principles”.  

Jim Kalbach: Yes, productivity needs a complete overhaul. I wholeheartedly agree with your guest’s perspective: we are trapped in mental models of the past, and it doesn’t serve us well. This is particularly true when we think of productivity for modern knowledge workers within an experience-based service economy.

What are the outputs to be measured? What are the inputs? If the output is a customer experience and the input is creativity and imagination, then the traditional productivity equation gives us infinity divided by infinity. It doesn’t add up and reflect the type of work people are increasingly doing. Passion, emotions, and imagination can’t be measured by standard productivity calculations, but these things are increasingly more important for business success, particularly in an AI-powered workplace. 

  1. Alina from Tidaro:  I love this phrase of yours: “Passion, emotions, and imagination can’t be measured by standard productivity”. I might use it as a quote in the future, Jim :).

Now, you were mentioning the AI-powered workplace. How can employees embrace generative AI, instead of fearing that generative AI will steal their jobs?

Jim Kalbach: There is a real threat that AI can replace jobs. But in most cases, I see it differently. Rather than completely taking over, I think AI will give us all superpowers to get more done and do it better. 

Most people I know have a to-do list they’ll never get through on their own. And even with AI increasing their rate of completion by 80% or more, they still might not get through everything. And that’s just the quantity of work. When we think about doing more but with higher quality, there’s a lot of room in the future for us to keep our jobs. 

  1. Alina from Tidaro: So, we spoke about work models, the future of work in an AI world. Now, let’s do a tiny imagination exercise. What will the office of tomorrow look like? You can think of sustainability, transportation, office purpose, etc.

Jim Kalbach: The office also needs to be reimagined from the bottom up. I think there is still a purpose to have a physical space for workers to use, but it won’t be in the traditional sense in the future. 

In a nutshell, we’ll likely see an inversion of use: we used to go to the office to get work done alone or with a team, and then leave for an off-site or even a happy hour to connect with our coworkers. In the future, we’ll work apart — at home or from a coworking space or while on vacation — and go to the “office” for special occasions. In other words, the on-site location is the new off-site location.

I think we’re also starting to see much more flexible use of dynamic spaces. “Space sharing” and temporary offices will become more and more commonplace. Instead of having really expensive office buildings, companies will cut costs with a range of on-demand office options. As a result, the corporate real estate market may go into a deep crisis. 

The workplace of tomorrow focusing on employee experience

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One of the things that will tie it all together is the digitally-defined workplace. Working digitally — even if in person — allows teams to move in and out of physical and remote spaces. Cloud-based collaboration tools are a game changer for what an “office” is. As they say, “your new headquarters is the cloud.”

  1. Alina from Tidaro: “Your new headquarters is the cloud”…I’m loving it 🙂

And a personal question to you, Jim. How do you work better? From the office, hybrid, or remotely?

Jim Kalbach: Personally, I work best completely remotely. I’ve been working from home for almost 2 decades now, and am very comfortable with that mode of work. In terms of my job and my ability to get it done, the pandemic had almost no impact on my daily routine and ability to produce outcomes. I now find it hard to work from an office — it’s an interruption factory of constant distractions. But I like meeting people in person and find that’s an important part of remote work. So I’m not against in-person collaboration, I just don’t have to do it on a weekly basis — a few times a year is enough for me. 

Alina from Tidaro: The same goes for me, Jim. This is my 5th year of remote work and it feels so natural to me. And meeting my colleagues once in a while is also enough. 

What we need to understand is that we are all different, with different needs. And definitely there’s not a one-fits-all working model. We live in the era of personalization: in marketing, sales, customer support, etc. So why don’t we have the same personalization conversations when it comes to employee experience?

This being said, I want to thank you, Jim, for accepting my invitation to the interview. Your answers were so inspiring, and they make me hope for a bright future when it comes to employee experience. 

Conclusions

When speaking about the future of work, Jim Kalbach believes that the next few years will be a transformative journey marked by experimentation and failures, but also successes in developing new models of work and the workplace. 

Amid challenges like layoffs, the “great resignation” or the “great gloom”, Jim champions trust, empathetic leadership, and innovative hybrid approaches. 

We totally agree with Jim’s approach to productivity. He wants to ditch traditional productivity metrics in favor of a holistic view that values creativity, passion, and imagination. In this view, AI can be an ally, magnifying human capabilities rather than threatening jobs. 

Painting a picture of tomorrow’s office, he envisions dynamic, digitally-defined spaces fostering collaboration. The heart of his message lies in the call for personalized employee experiences, acknowledging diverse needs and celebrating a future where work is not just a task but a journey of inspiration and fulfillment.

I so love this picture of the workplace of the future, don’t you?

This concludes another interview from our series “The Workplace Scoop”. Stay tuned for more!

Alina Belascu
Alina Belascu
Alina is a digital marketer with a passion for web design. When she’s not strategizing she’s doing photography, listening to podcasts on history and psychology, and playing with her 2 dogs and cat.