future work scenarios

2021-2025

note

The following scenarios were created to help understand how remote and hybrid work arrangements might play out over the next few years. As I write this in mid 2021 this is a hot topic for many boards and organisational leaders. There is a clear tension between what many employers and employees would like and this is further confused by ongoing challenges with a global pandemic, intermittent lockdowns, uncertainty in the global economy and countless other factors.

The good news is that scenario planning is particularly useful when it comes to complex and uncertain problems. That being said I’m not promising that the following scenarios will give you all the answers but I certainly hope that it will help you identify better questions.

Simon

what is scenario planning

Unlike other strategic planning approaches that aim to define a single preferred future for an organisation to aim at, scenarios acknowledge that the future is complex and unpredictable. Rather than determine one future and be guaranteed to get it wrong, scenario planning helps decision makers understand the ‘boundary of the future’ through multiple scenarios that are all credible, equally probable and yet entirely different. 

There are many benefits of the scenario planning process. It results in decision makers thinking more deeply and critically about the trends shaping their organisation’s future. It encourages greater flexibility and responsiveness as operating conditions change. And it provides a basis for identifying new strategic options, as well as testing existing ones. 

Since its inception in the 1960’s by Royal Dutch Shell, scenario planning has helped leading global organisations outperform their competitors. But you don’t need to be a Multinational organisation with a full-time scenario planning team to take advantage of this approach. The scenario planning approach can be tailored to address strategic challenges of all shapes and sizes. 

To read more about how scenario planning works and the benefits it can generate, you can read more on my website

simonwaller.live/scenario-planning/

the scenario process

Define the strategic focus

Define the strategic issue and articulate the question you would like to answer.

step 01

SCAN the environment

Identify the ‘weak signals’ or emerging trends and ideas that might impact the outcome of your issue over an agreed time period.

step 02

Develop and prioritise themes

Group data from the environmental scan into themes and prioritise themes based on relative impact and predictability.

step 03

Define scenarios

Using high-impact, hard to predict (yet independent) themes, define what four possible futures might look like.

step 04

Develop narratives

Build out each of the four scenarios as a narrative, taking us from the present out to the defined time horizon.

step 05

Scenarios in use

Use the narratives to inform strategic conversations, engage stakeholders and test current and future strategic options.

step 06

The strategic focus

How will covid impact how and where people work from through to 2025?

ENVIRONMENTAL
SCAN RESULTS

50+ factors identified

The environmental scan was undertaken by myself and my research team. The scanning process identified more than 50 different factors that could influence the outcome of the strategic question. These factors were then aligned into 12 strategic themes.

12 themes created

The environmental scan was undertaken by myself and my research team. The scanning process identified more than 50 different factors that could influence the outcome of the strategic question. These factors were then aligned into 12 strategic themes.

STRATEGIC THEMES

option 1
Attitudes Towards Globalisation
Will the pandemic result in the rise of nationalistic values?
Flex Becomes Normalised
How fast will remote and flex work arrangements be accepted?
Generational Leadership Shift
Will Millennial leaders bring new values and norms to the workplace?
Individual Values Change
Will the pandemic have a long-term impact on people’s individual priorities?

STRATEGIC
THEMES

option 2

Attitudes Towards Globalisation

Will the pandemic result in the rise of nationalistic values?

Flex Becomes Normalised

How fast will remote and flex work arrangements be accepted?

Generational Leadership Shift

Will Millennial leaders bring new values and norms to the workplace?

Individual Values Change

Will Millennial leaders bring new values and norms to the workplace? Will the pandemic have a long-term impact on people’s individual priorities?

Organisational Culture

Is an organisation’s culture compatible with remote and hybrid environments?

Redefining Cities

Can the CBD and regional centres quickly respond to the needs of remote and hybrid work?

Remote Reduces Costs

Will cost reduction (rather than employee benefit) drive remote work?

Speed of Vaccination

How will attitudes towards vaccination and the speed of vaccination change?

Technology Improvements

How far can technology close the gap between real world and virtual experiences?

Unemployment Rate

Will we see sustained low unemployment or is this a short-term anomaly?

Vaccine Incentives

Will we devise suitable incentives to reach and maintain herd immunity?

Virus Spread

Will continued mutation of the coronavirus mean the spread cannot be controlled?

PRIORITISE
THEMES

Although all these themes have the potential to impact the strategic question, they will not do so equally. Some have the potential for greater impact than others. 

In addition, some of these themes are relatively stable and their outcome predictable. These are likely to be the things that are already being planned for or being monitored. 

Of most interest are the themes that are both high -impact and uncertain. These we need to understand better and will become the focus of our scenarios.

Over the next page is the prioritisation matrix for the twelve themes that were identified.

The good news is that scenario planning is particularly useful when it comes to complex and uncertain problems. That being said I’m not promising that the following scenarios will give you all the answers but I certainly hope that it will help you identify better questions.

Simon

Highest impact

PLAN

PLAN

UNDERSTAND

UNDERSTAND

MONITOR

MONITOR

REVIEW

REVIEW

most certain

most uncertain

LOWEST impact

Flex Becomes
Normalised

Unemployment
Rate

Virus Spread

Organisational
Culture

Generational
Leadership Shift

Remote Reduces Costs

Individual Values
Change

Speed of Vaccination

Attitudes Towards
Globalisation

Vaccine Incentives

Technology
Improvements

Redefining Cities