What does the future of work hold in store?

Talking Heads: episode 7: Talking the future of work with Cathryn Barnard

Talking Heads is the podcast from Buckinghamshire Business First that explores the business world in the ‘Entrepreneurial Heart of Britain’ through conversations with local and national business leaders and personalities.

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Episode 7: Talking the future of work with Cathryn Barnard

Cathryn Barnard, Director & Co-Founder of Working the Future, joins Buckinghamshire Business First MD Philippa Batting to discuss a few of the significant trends transforming the workplace.

Cat has a long background in building and nurturing high-performing teams for success outcomes. Her interest in human dynamics has transferred to her expert analysis of the future of work, and her insights help business leaders futureproof their commercial activities.

Key talking points & quotes

How a digital tsunami can overwhelm people

"Before the pandemic, I think most organisations were thinking about digital transformation, but not necessarily thinking about the impact of digital adoption on the way in which people work and the way in which organisations deliver products and services to their clients and stakeholders.

"It's hard to avoid the range of technology products that are coming online all day, every day, which means that as a business owner, you're constantly facing a tsunami of new possible digital products that your organisation could deploy, but as users, we're constantly struggling to keep up with those technologies, probably only using about 10-20% of the range of functionality of those technologies." - Cathryn Barnard

The stress of digital adaptation

"If you think about how often Microsoft brings out new features without ceremony, you open MS Teams and find a whole bunch of stuff has changed, which sets you back 15-20 minutes while you're having to figure out where things are and why the setup that you had yesterday isn't the same setup as you need today. It slows people down.

"So, while on the one hand, the wider business narrative is 'keep up, keep up, keep up', and digitally transforming to keep up with market competition, there's an internal cost to that which is that employees/workers are constantly experiencing a really low-lying level of stress as we try and adapt to new things." - Cathryn Barnard

Understanding what 'good' looks like and not chasing false ideals of perfection

"It's okay to be imperfect at something, and there can be no expectation that an individual is perfectly honed in the latest digital technology, but the mindset of the individual probably needs to be 'I'm just going to keep evolving with it.' You do have to buy into the end results. Do we all believe that it's going to make our lives easier? Because if it is, then obviously it's worth investing the time and the stress or the pain of going through it." - Philippa Batting

"I think that's a really good point because it comes back to the need for crystal clear communication right across the organisation as to what it is we're actually here to achieve. What actually matters in the end for every organisation is the delivery of a product or service to an audience who perceives that product or service as good. Lacklustre and mediocre is just not going to cut it. But we need to be continuously communicating within our team settings as to what 'good' looks like. I think the prevailing cultural narrative that the internet projects onto us is a sense of perfectionism, but perfectionism is just a false ideal we're never actually going to get to. So, what does good look like?" - Cathryn Barnard

"It's a world in which we're constantly absorbing the art of the possible and then looking at it and seeing whether it's viable for our organisation." - Philippa Batting

"We are all immersed in possibility all of the time, but there's only so much time available in the day. These great ideas, we have to pick and choose which of those possibilities are the most relevant for our organisation and our stakeholders, because we can't do everything. It's very easy to get caught up in fads and passing fancies. The average lifespan of an app is something like 30 days. Only a very tiny amount actually prove resilient to time and culture change." - Cathryn Barnard

Autonomy at work - how workers hold more power as they reassess their life goals

"The pandemic awoke us. We certainly had a lot of time to think about the meaning of life, what we actually wanted from life, and what we were prepared to accept and what we weren't prepared to accept.

"For all the movement that's still going on in terms of recruitment and new hiring, the labour market isn't actually growing anymore. ONS data showed the UK labour market has shrunk to the tune of 700,000 people, some of which have just stepped away and decided they no longer need to work because they're financially secure, and some of which hadn't returned to the workplace because they're clinically vulnerable, and there's the impact of long Covid too.

"We are no longer in an employer-led labour market, and it means that every single business needs to wake up to the new landscape and think as much about how you retain employees as how you retain clients and customers." - Cathryn Barnard

Involving employees in the company strategy

"I think the most impactful difference that you can make at the moment is to invite your team into the thinking and the sense-making around the direction of travel for your organisation. If you think that
through, you will always have a team of people who are in direct contact with your stakeholders, with your customers and your clients day in, day out, and they will have the best intelligence about what people want and what they're prepared to spend their money on.

"Gone are the days when all the strategic decision-making needed to happen behind closed doors. Having your team proactively involved in the strategic direction of the business is absolutely a priority." - Cathryn Barnard

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