Building adaptive organizations for the future of work

Our workforce strategy should be based on building an adaptive workplace—let's build teams that are empowered to work from wherever they might be the most productive.
Digital Workplace, Enterprise Innovation September 1, 2022

Sam Jenkins

“All of us, I believe, were simply waiting to see when our lives would reset, and what the new normal would look like. We still believed that if we did the right things — at least if enough of us did them — that the pandemic would pass and things would snap back to the way they were.” Charles M. Blow 

A couple of years ago, there was a day that we all left our offices, thinking we would return in a couple of weeks, perhaps a month at the most. Obviously, that assumption was incorrect. Since then, our patterns for the way we work have changed, and it’s becoming clear that the future of work will be built around adaptive workplaces, powered by technology and people-centered platforms.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team at Punchcard was exclusively based in Edmonton; sure, we served clients across North America, but Punchcardigans lived close to each other. That meant that it was easy (simple?) to bring people together to collaborate, be it in a board room or in front of a whiteboard. Fast forward to today, and folks on our team call lots of different places, like Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Brandon, London, and Toronto, home.

In November 2019, Microsoft boasted 44 million monthly active users on Microsoft Teams; fast forward to January 2022, and that number had increased to 270 million. The growth of these platforms indicate the shifting nature of how we work — not just where.


Digital tools are no longer a ‘nice to have.’

In fact, it’s a requirement for recruiting and retention, and our organizational ability to innovate is definitely a leading indicator for future success. To me, this means that every workplace is becoming a digital workplace–not just businesses previously thought of being technology-centric. [can we give a few examples of companies or business-types?]

“We’re not going back. Nobody wants to go back to what we were doing. So, how do we take this challenge and use it as an opportunity to move us forward?” Gen. Stephen Wilson, US Air Force Vice Chief of Staff

As we find what works best for right now, the conversation in our organizations needs to be changing as well. We know we cannot accept large periods of inactivity or inefficiency in our organizations; we need to be ready for whatever gets thrown at us, be it pandemic or recession. Our mindset is changing from “work has to be done at an office,” to “work needs to continue, regardless of the disruption.”

In my role at Punchcard, I get the opportunity to meet with business leaders from many different industries, exploring the nature of problem-solving and digital transformation. Some organizations are mandating strict return-to-work policies; others are promoting a more laissez-faire approach to being in the office. From my perspective, as leaders in our organizations, our workforce strategy should be based on building an adaptive workplace: let’s build a team that is empowered to work from wherever they might be the most productive.


Of course, productivity is a tricky subject.

Historically, productivity has looked at efficiency (eg. optimized resources) and effectiveness (eg. optimized outcomes) as the factors calculated in the economic equation. Modern economists add an additional factor influencing the productive output of today’s organizations: employee engagement. The nature of employee engagement starts with our people wanting to contribute to our organization’s purpose, and to thrive while we’re at it.


This is where the future-ready framework comes into play.

In the new world of work, the digital workplace is a cornerstone to any organization’s strategy. However, it’s not as simple as turning on Microsoft Teams, launching a new intranet, or embarking on a robotic process automation (RPA) project; in fact, the digital workplace starts at the foundation: your people and culture.

Culture means different things to different organizations. For me, that journey through organizational culture is embodied in Patrick Lencioni’s Four Disciplines, exploring the nature of clarity and cohesion within a team.

While this is something that could take up a blog post on its own, the nature of clarity around purpose and vision is a critical step to take prior to embarking on any sort of digital transformation projects. For us at Punchcard, one of our core values drives our need to collaborate: we team up, and it’s this cultural imperative that formed the baseline for our ability to adapt to the changes happening all around us.

Once your culture is aligned to the prospect of the digital workplace, it becomes easier to implement new patterns to embrace the digital workplace. These patterns — or systems — define how we interact with our clients or our co-workers.

In our organization, we embrace many types of systems that provide the framework from which we can work together. For example, in order to team up more effectively, we recently embarked on an organizational shift, moving developers, designers, product managers, and digital project managers into agile teams, which enable us to work together to solve problems quickly and effectively. Agile software development is a key system that supports our ability to act adaptively as a digital workplace.

Once we have clarity in our culture, and we’ve begun to understand the systems we need in place to support each other, now we can talk about tools. We can make better predictions in terms of the tools we need to implement to satisfy the vision for our organization, be it collaboration and meeting platforms, finance and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, or business intelligence products.

Adding digital workplace capabilities doesn’t necessarily mean we’re remote-only, or even hybrid; acting with the future-ready framework simply means that we’re ready to adapt to the changing environment around us, and embracing new tools along the way — while still celebrating our drive to work with our clients, every single day.

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