Norfolk Network stories

The Alternative Future of Work

Angeline Braidwood
Freelance Writer

At a time when many people and businesses are struggling at the pace of change, worry and financial instability, Norfolk Networkers were wowed with a positive morning of active thinking early this December. Listening to Esmee Wilcox and Helen Fitzhugh introducing us to alternative work futures it felt that we could all make a start straight away on handling change to create a better future at work and maybe wider society.

Hosted by Norfolk Network and Norwich Business School at UEA this dynamic talk was given in the context of the workplace but the premise and ideas they introduced could be used for any aspect of life. Esmee, a Futurist who runs her own consultancy plunged straight into how her role working to help groups come together to manage and create change works. It’s a huge ever changing field so she honed in on wellness, connectivity and leadership in small business networks. An absolutely spot on topic for what is challenging companies within Norfolk as well as across the globe. The post pandemic workplace finds staff fragmented –  spread across the office, home and the world. This has left managers struggling to manage and create cohesive work cultures and connectivity between their employees. Can solutions be found by taking on a futurist perspective to help organisations work better and help make their workers happier?

What do we want, “Good jobs, in a good economy that keep more of us connected, caring and well.” ESMEE WILCOX

Esmee talked us through the example of the care sector in the UK on a macro level. ‘Caring’ is not just a workplace but a societal issue and therefore part of how we organise society. With this in mind it should underpin design principals – for example cities in the 1970’s were designed on a model of managing productivity through density. Now in the 2020’s we should be looking at the big issues of climate change and other challenges such as the greater care needs of current generations to help design the cities of the future.

There are different models of organising work and she believes if we were to look at these intentionally then they can be changed for the better. There are always changes happening and some big ones that we have no control over. Giving people a sense of agency and purpose – however small, individuals can make things happen which can help to create well being and connectivity across these environments. This led us to the core of Helen’s work.

Helen, a Senior Research Associate at UEA describes herself as an engaged scholar and that really does define the way she works and discusses her research. She looks at ways of making organisations better for humans, it’s not just theory but the practical application of these ideas. The practical resources she brought to the session showcased insight from The Good Jobs Project and the examples she offered showed alternative thinking that puts people at the heart and centre of the way organisations operate. This included an employee led care home group demonstrating the ‘shifting power’ which can lead to happier and more satisfied people. With a strong link to Esmee’s earlier example, this organisation has a greater emphasis on the wellbeing of those who work for it because both residents and staff benefit from working in a caring place that meets their needs.

Both Helen and Esmee’s work comes together to help humans manage change in the workplace. A really useful tool is a 3 step process to help handle the future, something that we can all take away from this exciting and evolving field.

Step one is to immerse yourself in the future – Esmee talks about getting descriptive, to talk about what you are experiencing. Sketch out what is different and what has made that possible. Finally to include what seems more or less likely. The second step is to notice what is happening right now. Go through the same process of getting descriptive and say what you are experiencing. Then to widen your view – bring in other perspectives. Then to describe what is moving or changing underneath all this. Finally it’s the move to action – describe one thing that is important now, then make a plan for one small step towards it. Then halve it, to make it more realistic and tell someone why that is.

These steps towards working in a different way underpin the way forward thinking organisations are handling change, problems and people. It also shows how we can all contribute to creating change and handling unexpected change in these uncertain times.