Around May, we noticed a trend: the rise of the “future of work” articles. Published by consulting firms, professional associations, and business influencers, these articles and reports asked, “What will work be like when Covid-19 is over?”
It’s a good question, one we’re all asking.
The articles and reports kept coming over the summer and into the fall. In total, we read over 40 of them published by leading organizations including McKinsey, the World Economic Forum, and the Society for Human Resource Management. Some were brief. Some were full reports with survey data. Congizant’s, which took a future-looking-back perspective, was the most creative.
We found a significant amount of overlap in most of the content, and a few ideas that are original and deserve more consideration. Below, we summarize the findings. Together, these ideas can help your team prepare for an uncertain future, pushing us closer to an answer of what work will look like in the future.
The future of work after Covid-19
Where we work will change
Surveys done since the start of the pandemic show that 75% of remote workers want their employer to provide flexibility of work location after the pandemic ends. The future of work articles reflect this reality, with almost all assuming that where we work and what our offices look like will change.
BCG offers several models for what flexibility companies might offer, including three hybrid models that give workers time at home with frequent or occasional trips to the office for collaborative work or meetings.
This will require thinking about work’s physical location differently. Cushman & Wakefield imagines a total workplace ecosystem that evolves for convenience, functionality, and wellbeing. Others prioritize workflow, or see offices as the place where “bursty” collaboration can occur.
All this implies that most of our teams will be at least somewhat virtual. For more on creating high-performing, high-engagement virtual teams, we recommend this eBook, which compiles evidence-based research into effective virtual teams.
With work-from-home becoming the new norm for many people, what we want out of our homes may also change. Cognizant imagines home offices rising in importance for real estate listings.
Post-Covid, Safety and security will rise in importance
When we are at the office, our physical space will have to change. Because we don’t expect the risk of the coronavirus, or future pandemics, to be fully eliminated, cleaning and sanitization will increase in importance. A fellow Forbes author outlines simple changes that can be expected, like requiring temperature checks and masks, and eliminating food buffets and salad bars. Workstations may be spaced further apart, communal work areas reduced, and more touch-free or contactless amenities provided, says Training Industry.
Those steps may protect team members from passing infections, but other forms of safety and security will also be increasingly important. Many businesses lacked adequate business continuity and disaster readiness plans when lockdown orders were put into place. In the future, businesses will have to develop more robust plans for unprecedented circumstances. Additionally, more employees logging in from more locations will increase cyber-security risks, requiring more attention to prevent challenges.
Business processes will have to adapt
Previously, people hired to work remotely often still participated in hiring, onboarding, and training through in-person events. In the future, this may not be possible or desirable.
A fully remote hiring process offers one clear benefit: recruitment can be expanded, possibly enabling the hiring of a more diverse workforce, since location won’t limit employment. Once hired, onboarding and training will have to be simpler in the future, say some sources. “Video coffee,” online mentoring, and other one-on-one meetings will create important interpersonal connections.
As the nature and tasks of work change, reskilling will become an important priority. Additionally, leaders will have to ask how to help keep human connection a priority in an increasingly digital workplace. Others anticipate an increase in contingent or “gig” workers, requiring organizations to consider what policies they need to create mutually-beneficial relationships with these individuals.
How well organizations adapt their business processes will shape their future reputations, which will influence their ability to hire strong candidates in the future. Accenture found that 45% of employees rate their employers’ response to the pandemic as neutral or negative, warning that these employers risk reputational damage.
New jobs and job functions will appear post-pandemic
“COVID-19 put the spotlight on the CHRO and the HR organization, just as the 2008–2009 recession did for the CFO and finance function,” says Deloitte, an expansion of responsibilities they expect to continue. Adaptation will also create new employment opportunities including new roles, like Chief Remote Work Officer. Gartner’s future of work article provides additional insights into new jobs, functions, and HR-perspectives that will rise in relevance in the coming years. As a caution, The Economist points out that just as the rise of the gig economy prompted new legal questions, so will the rise of work-from-home.
So what does all this mean?
As one article we reviewed quipped, the future of work has arrived sooner than anticipated. What does it mean for business leaders struggling to keep up with the rapid transitions? After reading over 40 future of work articles, here is our conclusion: while each business and industry will have to figure out the specifics for themselves, there is no doubt that the future of work will be more virtual, flexible, and concerned with safety; employers will need to develop new strategies for keeping people connected, healthy, and engaged; and members of the workforce will need to be ready to reskill, strengthen their relational networks, and remain fluent with evolving technology.
We offer tips for how to launch your own “future of work” taskforce in our next column and draw insights from futurist Bob Johansen and complexity scholar Mary Uhl-Bien. In the meantime, tell us how you’re preparing for the future; tag us on Twitter @ValuesDriven.
Amber A. Johnson, Ph.D.Chief Communications Officer; Senior Research Associate; Executive Recruiter, Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University