As organizations accelerate and expand digital transformation initiatives, traditional work models aren’t nimble or adaptive enough. That needs to change. The future of work is about the rise of humanism as the new driver of value — with skills such as imagination, creativity, and empathy gaining prominence, writes Holly Muscolino, research vice president for IDC’s Future of Work market research service. Today, she adds, workers are increasingly operating side-by-side with “digital coworkers,” enabling humans to focus on higher-value activities. This requires entirely new work environments, organizational structures, and metrics for success.

Traditional work models, say IDC researchers, are hindered by four intransigent sets of challenges: inflexible work environments, talent limitations, rigid organizations and hierarchical leadership, and conflicting security, privacy, and trust requirements.

Such challenges further limit the ability of many businesses to manage through the pandemic-driven “Great Resignation” phenomenon that, according to one analysis, “is not a short-term phenomenon but rather an indication that talent shortages and high levels of structural employee turnover could last for the long term.”

Research by Foundry (formerly IDG Communications) indicates that the shift to some form of hybrid work structure has forced the creation of new, more efficient, and potentially long-lasting workflows and processes.

“IT decision-makers expressed a handful of concerns that they will need to address with technology,” the Foundry report says. “Such as the ability to efficiently collaborate, employee and/or IT staff morale and burnout, and maintaining secure systems and processes.”

IDC’s Muscalino asserts that the future of work “is about initiatives that companies need to pursue now. IDC believes that organizations that embrace these technological and organizational changes and cultivate an agile, dynamic worker experience and work environment will gain a competitive edge.”

Enterprises will need to walk the fine line between what is technologically possible with what is ethically acceptable.

“Employers need to consider areas such as automation and collaboration while responsibly using employee data in an ethical manner to drive organizational change,” says Amy Loomis, IDC research director for the Future of Work effort, in a joint interview with Muscolino for Authority magazine, in which they expand on the key trends they are observing.

The New York Times recently reported that 8-of-10 of the largest private U.S. employers track worker productivity, and not just of lower-level employees. “Now digital productivity monitoring is also spreading among white-collar jobs and roles that require graduate degrees,” according to that report.

Such tracking left employees demoralized and humiliated in a workplace some described as toxic, where micromanagement is standard. But, the newspaper reported, “the most urgent complaint, spanning industries and incomes, is that the working world’s new clocks are just wrong: inept at capturing offline activity, unreliable at assessing hard-to-quantify tasks, and prone to undermining the work itself.”

Balancing what can be done with what should be done will likely be a difficult transition for many managers.

“Employers will find it difficult to give up hierarchical leadership models that have been the bedrock of work models since the dawn of the industrial era,” Loomis told Authority magazine. “They must also learn to lead with empathy — developing their leadership styles based on empowerment and trust.”