The Future of Work: Realities & Trends
Pam Sornson, JD
The only aspect that’s certain about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is its uncertainty. Researchers indicate they are only getting more confused about the coronavirus’s trajectory as they assess the growing volumes of COVID-19 data. Scientists tasked with predicting a path to the end of the crisis confess they don’t yet know if there is one or how it might look.
Despite this confusion, however, business must go on, and other experts are evaluating how those processes might roll out as the world adjusts to the ‘new, Covid-informed normal.’ Their analyses offer insights and suggestions that every business owner can use to navigate a course into a more stable future for their organization.
The Three Great Disruptions
Yes, the pandemic disrupted workflows in virtually all sectors all around the world. It also disrupted the processes of how work is done in general and forced companies to adapt their operations accordingly to remain in business. Many thought leaders believe most companies will retain these changed processes as their standard tools to achieve their business goals. Three work process adaptations dominate the list:
The Remote Workforce
Technology has enabled millions of employees to continue working at home using digital tools that connect them to corporate resources. In many instances, even after vaccinations reduced or eliminated the threat of infection, workers have elected to continue working from their ‘remote’ location,’ and employers have continued to allow them to do that.
For both employer and employee, the arrangement has many benefits:
It reduces costs for employees by eliminating the need to commute to the office. Because fewer on-site workers require less space, businesses can also reduce costs by downsizing their physical office space.
It also encourages higher productivity. At-home employees aren’t distracted by co-workers and, with more control over their time, they can focus more closely on their work. A more productive workforce is better for every company.
It gives employers a larger talent pool from which to hire new employees. A reliable internet connection is all that is needed to optimize the remote worker’s performance.
The Adoption of Technology
Today’s evolved technology facilitated the burgeoning remote workforce, and further advances promise even more growth opportunities. The pandemic caused many companies to invest in automation for functions that humans had previously performed. Automation reduces both costs and errors, making it a valuable asset to any enterprise. The emergence of both Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) enhance the capacities of already reliable automated resources. Even after the pandemic subsides, companies will continue to embrace the cost reduction and enhanced reliability factors offered by technology.
The Embedding of Education
Both the shift to a more remote workforce and the embrace of technology instead of human effort are forcing millions of employees to look for new work in (frequently) new fields. One study estimates that, by 2030, a full ten percent of America’s 2019 workforce will have been retrained with new skills as they returned to work in the post-COVID economy.
Additionally, the skills they’ll be learning will be different from those demanded pre-COVID because employers will be seeking more than just dedicated job skills suited for a specific occupation. Instead, they’ll be looking for workers with advanced analytical, social, and emotional skills who can bring critical thinking to their work. These nuanced employee attributes facilitate better communications and a healthier workplace, often translating into increased productivity.
Moving From Disrupted to Recovered
While some companies will feel the effects of these disruptions more than others, virtually all entities in most industries will experience them one way or another. Their workers will have to accommodate the possibilities of remote work and added technology as standard occupational expectations. Some will require retraining to upskill their abilities to meet the new challenges.
Corporate leaders will need to strategize how their organizations respond to the disruptions, too:
An assessment of the corporation’s full functionality will reveal where these disruptions have occurred and to what extent. The C-Suite can then determine which emerging opportunity best responds to that situation. If establishing a remote workforce is the optimal choice, then increased investments in communications technology and security may be appropriate. Investments in automated technology may also be advisable.
In both cases, spending for additional training and education will ensure that the optimized workforce has the skills to make the best use of those investments. In fact, one global leader advises developing a ‘skills hub’ for the organization that provides continuous training to manage, operationalize, and scale labor force capacities. The hub can contain training and educational assets for all learners at the enterprise, from foundational and onboarding materials for new hires to reskilling resources when machines or systems change. The point of the skills hub is to ensure that the organization encourages and provides ongoing work-based learning opportunities as a matter of doing good business.
Remaining flexible and aware of emerging opportunities should also be part of the strategy. There are often many ways to engage corporate assets beyond those for which they were initially developed. Seeing how existing assets might work in different situations opens doors to new possibilities that may save the company from failing. And many businesses that are surviving the pandemic are doing so because they’ve pivoted towards new options when their traditional work plans are no longer valid. For example, when COVID hit, a middle east company reskilled the 1000+ labor force of its cinemas to work in its grocery stores. In Europe, the European Round Table for Industry launched “Reskilling 4 Employment,” with plans to retrain one million EU workers by 2025 and five million by 2030.
The world is forever altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, as are the plans and strategies of its industrial sectors. Companies within those sectors who acknowledge the changes and embrace the opportunities they present are more likely to thrive through the end of the health crisis and into a stronger, more profitable future.
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