COVID-19 will fast-forward the future of work – Here’s how!

Jaspreet Bindra, Author of The Tech Whisperer and Co-founder of Unqbe

The nature of work and organisations has always reflected human society. For example, when we were tribes, organisations had a tribal construct, with an unquestioned pack-leader as the CEO, whom you could only succeed by killing! As society evolved to agricultural, industrial, technology and information led, organisations evolved to become more bureaucratic and then democratic. The Digital Era and the rise of the millennial employee was slowly and inexorably changing work again as the ‘employee of the future’ wanted to work from anywhere, do many simultaneous gigs, use technology to collaborate and work for a purpose, rather than only money.

Such macro-changes are usually gradual and evolutionary, until an unexpected, disruptive event comes along to make these changes happen almost overnight – say a war, or a massive natural disaster, a completely new technology, or a global pandemic like COVID-19.

I have identified Nine Principles of the Future of Work, and each one of them has been fast-forwarded by the virus:

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]Decentralised, Distributed Work: COVID has made this happen almost overnight, as millions of employees work from home. Even post-COVID, part-time WFH will become the new normal, as corporations realise the productivity, costs and morale benefits. A 2-day WFH and a 3-day WFO will not only help the employee, company and the environment, but will also prepare the workforce for future shocks.[/box]

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]Technology-led collaboration: Distributed work requires collaboration technology, and all of us have had a crash course in using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc. We will learn more such and incorporate them in our daily work. Most events will also become online; Microsoft has declared that all its events till July 2021 will be virtual![/box]

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]Always-on Work: You cannot pack up and go home any longer, since now work will be always-on. Work-life balance was mostly a myth, it will give way to work-life integration.[/box]

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]No job-for-life: This crisis will mean a great loss of jobs and make us very quickly realise that the days of jobs-for-life are over. The earlier that both the company and the employee accept this, the faster they will prepare for the alternatives.[/box]

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]Life-long learning: No life-long job guarantees that you will always need to be prepared and up to date. The days when doing your engineering degree and your MBA meant that your education was over, have ended. Continuous learning of new skills (coding, collaboration tools, content marketing, etc.) and behaviours will become the norm, and individuals will have to invest in their life-long education. Fluid Work: It is important to differentiate between work and a job. Work can happen from anywhere and by anyone, not necessarily an employee.[/box]

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]Fluid work, which is geography and employer independent will become the norm. The days of one company – many employees will change to one employee – many companies. The gig-economy is the first reflection of that, where a person can work for multiple employers simultaneously. As the rules of work change, many more people will move to this kind of flexible work, and a COVID like crisis will only accelerate this trend.[/box]

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]Permanent and Temp staff are the same: As work becomes more fluid, job-durations become lesser, and work gets differentiated from jobs, the borders between permanent workers and temporary or outsourced workers will begin to fade. Companies will move to tech-enabled, distributed working where the status of the employee will have lesser importance. Gig-companies like Zomato, Uber, etc. will be compelled to treat their outsourced drivers and riders the same as their office employees, and these artificial divisions will disappear. Many tech companies, in fact, have decided to treat their permanent and temporary or outsourced staff the same way in this crisis.[/box]

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]Automation: We were always fearing a future scenario, where automation takes over millions of unskilled jobs, and AI takes over many skilled ones. This scenario will perhaps get fast-forwarded as companies will invest heavily in automation in the post-COVID scenario to mitigate future disruptions. This will have massive job and societal side effects; it was bound to happen, and will now happen faster.[/box]

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]Working for a purpose: I end with more of an ardent hope than great confidence here, but I believe that this calamity will make companies realise that they need to work towards a better world, and so they will work for a purpose, and not only to make Wall Street happy. COVID is not the last disaster, it is perhaps a harbinger of greater ones wrought by global warming. Many companies have pivoted very fast to help – Diageo repurposing its alcohol plant to make sanitizers, Mahindra repurposing its auto production to build ventilators and masks, etc. Employees, customers and markets are noticing this and will reward such companies with greater loyalty, and therefore make purpose a central reason for their existence.[/box]


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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