COVID-19 is accelerating future of work trends

3 key takeaways from techUK’s Future of Work post-COVID webinar.

techUK is exploring the world in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic with a series of weekly webinars. Far from pretending to be able to offer solutions to what’s likely to be the most complicated public policy jigsaw in a generation, we believe that bringing bright minds together will breed good ideas for the future.

The Future of Work post-COVID

The Future of Work webinar highlighted how COVID-19 is forcing us to change the way we work, with many people having to work remotely and home school using digital technologies, but what does this mean for the people, for our economy and our society?

1. We’re going to need to adapt to the ‘new’ normal

Deloitte’s Payal Vasudeva, Human Capital Partner in Financial Services, underlined that firms have been focusing on understanding the future of work for some time, which previously involved identifying the key disruptors and the implications on workforce and place. Overnight, uncertainty in supply and changes to consumer demand quickly created a new reality. New ways of working had to be enacted almost immediately.

While adjusting to the new realities of demand, which will vary by sector, there is the potential for new opportunities to emerge. There’s going to be more emphasis on digital transformation as organisations look to enhancing their own capabilities—based on the key learnings of the lived experience of this crisis. This will need supporting by new operating models and collaboration tools, and will create talent managing challenges. As we look at the next few months, we can expect to see a heightened degree of scenario planning around recovery and support work on workforce models.

2. Strong leadership and open communication will be essential in building an agile workforce

Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies and Founding Director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution highlighted the emergence of new types of evaluation tools and metrics for workers as we move online. This adoption can both help and hinder as embracing digital tools for collaboration allows for different types of work assessments, in particular the possibility of increased worker surveillance.

To avoid this, Melissa Bailey, Executive Partner, IBM, highlighted the importance of cross-functional leadership. A strong leadership team is required to enable the workforce to adapt to new ways of working and understand choices that may not be clear. This is even more important as the panel hypothesised that organisations are likely to become flatter as they find no need for middle management or supervisory roles. They will be less necessary as we may have capabilities to provide feedback and assess work instantly.

When it comes to the future of work, we only know what we don’t know, but the panel agreed that success will come from being transparent, being clear of purpose, and trusting your workers. The ways in which organisations are showing up for their people, customers and society is going to be a tangible indicator of how their brand is perceived as we recover.

3. Human-centric policy reform will be needed in a world where everything will become digital

With long-term structural changes taking place, it’s unlikely that we will go back to the way we worked before the pandemic. As the Forth Industrial Revolution charges ahead, companies will find that they can automate certain tasks and may discover they can get by with fewer employees. During the 2008 recession, a lot of companies downsized and what we saw in many places was a jobless recovery—the economy came back but not all the jobs came back. If this turns out to be the case during this health crisis, we are going to need policy reform.

Countries are going to have to look at their social policies to enable an economy that is inclusive of all. Leading with people-first thinking, enabled by technology, ensures that we do not deepen the digital divide while we adjust to the new. We’ll need to do this so that the new normal we find ourselves in, is one where we have made conscious choices about the way forward.

Watch the full webinar.