COVID-19 has driven significant societal and organisational changes that leaders were once hesitant to even consider. As the world moves towards an endemic stage, business leaders are taking the opportunity to relook at their work flows, leveraging on the lessons and practices executed during the pandemic. What does the future of work look like in the aftermath of a pandemic?
McKinsey Global Institute recently published a report on key work trends in the post-pandemic era, exploring the changes and future trends brought about by the pandemic. The study looked at labor markets in 8 countries: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, United Kingdom and United States – in which the cumulative population accounts for around half of the entire world’s population and 62 percent of global GDP.
1. Work from home and online meetings will continue
In the post-pandemic work, work from home arrangements and virtual meetings are likely to continue, albeit less frequently during the peak of the pandemic. According to a Gartner, Inc survey of 317 Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and Finance leaders in 2020, close to 3 out of 4 CFOs plan to shift at least 5% of their previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions post COVID-19. CFOs, who are under pressure to minimise costs, recognise the cost benefits of a remote workforce. The same idea resonates with a lot of employees today. In fact, a study ran by Harvard Business Review in 2020 on how workers can become more productive revealed that during lockdown, workers are more productive in the short term. Employees were able to focus better and take responsibility of their own tasks.
However, there are certainly challenges and concerns raised such as team management or relationship building. Some people were worried about career development – being in lockdown does not encourage active experimentation and personal reflection. Hence, the hybrid working model came about, in which employees have the flexibility to work remotely on certain days and on-site for other parts of the week.
2. Companies are accelerating use of Artificial Intelligence and automation
COVID-19 has resulted in organisations scrambling to set up remote accesses for employees in bid to keep operations going as countries go into lockdown. It also casts a spotlight on the level of technology that organisations have put in place internally. In organisations where technology is readily available, the biggest challenge is integrating new habits and management practices for employees to adapt and work in partnership with the technology available to them. At the same time, organisations face the difficulty in maximising employees’ potential while ensuring that they stay engaged and connected.
While the pandemic has shown how technology can augment and complement work, it does not replace the human touch that certain industries and roles need. Consider how telemedicine, education and even door-to-door delivery have leveraged on technology to facilitate business operations. According to McKinsey’s global study on 800 senior managers across multiple industries, two-thirds have indicated that they intend to increase their investment in automation and artificial intelligence. Technology today no longer merely substitutes administrative and mundane work processes, but acts as a collaboration tool within the workplace.
3. Jobs with higher human touchpoints are likely to reduce in the post-pandemic era
During the peak of the pandemic, frontline employees in non-essential services such as bank tellers or post officers shifted to a virtual work arrangement. As employees and customers gradually adapt to this type of virtual services, business leaders are recognising the benefits of such hybrid arrangement – where the majority of their services can be executed virtually with an in-person stationed at work premises to address critical or urgent issues. Organisations are able to reap savings on rental and labour costs without compromising on their level of customer service.
4. Organisations shift their focus to redesigning jobs
Given that the hybrid working model looks to stay, organisations need to look at redesigning jobs to adapt to the new way of working. How do work tasks fit into a role that requires one to interact with clients physically but is now delivered remotely? What about jobs that have been eliminated as a result of technology?
The pandemic has shown how resilient and adaptable people can be, assuming new roles and even contributing to opportunities in different business functions and industries. Organisations need to consider how to motivate and continue to offer new opportunities to employees. This starts with doubling down on relooking and redesigning work scopes and tasks to drive remote work opportunities.
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