The COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the world and the world of work. With the COVID-19 crisis, lockdowns, and a global recession, organizations are busy reimagining the “new workplace”. Some of the abrupt changes the coronavirus brought to the fore may stick around forever. And these changes have huge implications for businesses and talent leaders as they plan for 2021.
The digital transformation initiatives that businesses have embarked on will continue for years. While we don’t have a clear indication of when the virus will go away, organizations are trying hard to make the most of this uncertain time as we move into 2021.
So, what would be the key trends you should closely keep your eyes on in 2021? In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Dr. Frank-Jürgen Richter, Chairman of Horasis - a global visions community dedicated to inspiring our future and Former Director of the World Economic Forum, shares his views on the outlook for the second year of the pandemic.
What are the key trends that you think will accelerate in the long term in terms of work? What gaps have COVID-19 brought to the fore?
Some key trends that have emerged due to COVID-19 and will impact the future of work are: the greater adoption and use of technology across industries; remote work becoming a reality with some organizations even opting for all-remote teams; surge of the gig economy; and the necessity to upskill/reskill to build resilience against future shocks.
Many gaps have been laid bare due to the pandemic – the biggest relate to inequalities stemming from the pandemic. COVID-19 has truly highlighted once again that the world needs to unite across disciplines to first address the menace of inequality. The gaps between rich and poor people in countries, and between rich and poor countries have come to the fore and will determine how well we emerge from this crisis.
Another great gap seen due to the pandemic is the failure of states to collaborate and cooperate, even in times of crisis. Almost every country around the world took unilateral actions to stop the spread of the virus – and here we are. No consultation, no collaboration, no cooperation and the results are there for all to see. The need of the hour is to move from unilateral actions to multilateral ones.
The pandemic will be an impetus for innovation in times to come, as many experts say. What have been the biggest lessons this pandemic has highlighted in terms of the culture of innovation?
Even well before the pandemic, the culture of innovation was critical. COVID-19 has just hastened the process of tech adoption. Now, the adoption and implementation of tech is imperative for governments, businesses and societies at large.
One big lesson that the pandemic has highlighted is that a culture of innovation results in greater resilience. Another lesson is that effective leadership functions on facts, science, data, clear communication and solutions as opposed to rhetoric. The manner in which some countries in Asia have handled COVID-19 is an example. And there are many such examples even at the organizational and individual levels during the pandemic to draw inspiration from.
What are some of the top questions that leaders need to ask to prepare its workforce for the future of work as we strive to come out stronger from this pandemic?
The most critical questions that leaders need to ask are around the long-term sustainability of their respective businesses. Are we future-ready to withstand another shock of this nature? Given the rapid evolution of tech, are we equipped to adapt to changing technologies? Are we reskilling/upskilling sufficiently to keep pace with technological changes and the new, hybrid future of work? Work is likely not going to be the same ever again, so the big question is whether we can adequately prepare ourselves.
Given the kind of job losses and the increasing role of new-age technologies, where do you see the man-machine equation in the near future?
I have mentioned this before as well. I do think humans will remain central to any advancement in technology and digitalization. Yes, there have been job losses and there will be more job losses in many current roles. However, there will be many more jobs created due to the advancements in technology. And therefore, upskilling/reskilling will be critical in the ‘future of work’.
What would the future of work mean to you as we come out of this crisis? How will the work and workforce change?
Many are saying that we will never go back to the ‘earlier normal’. I think the human race has adapted and evolved since time immemorial, and I see no reason why this crisis will be any different. I believe we will learn and come out stronger from this crisis and adapt to the so-called ‘new normal’. But I believe effective organizational leadership is imperative to prepare the workforce for the future, both mentally as well as in terms of the skills they possess.
COVID-19 seems to be accelerating digital transformation in the workplace across industries. Do you see a new tech infrastructure in the making that will help economies rebound after COVID-19?
Tech infrastructure is something that will vary from nation to nation. I think what will help economies rebound is the culture of tech adoption and the culture of innovation. We must be able to reap the benefits offered by the digital economy and exploit it to its full potential to drive a global economic recovery.
One key learning for you from this crisis and why is it important?
That the role of people will never be diminished. It is people who will adapt, become resilient, change things and create a better world. It is important because most of the talk is about tech and other things. I think the human element is the most important.