As we begin to return to business as normal, everyone’s looking for workplace predictions and insights into the new future of work. Stephen Covey, author of mega-hit The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once said, “If there’s one thing that’s certain in business, it’s uncertainty.” For most of the world, that sentiment has never felt truer than right now.
No one knows with 100% confidence how the novel coronavirus will change the future of our workplaces. So we’re looking for guidance from experts who are busy making educated workplace predictions.
One common thread running through many of the following predictions is this. This global pandemic is expediting many of the trends that “future of work” experts have been talking about for years, while completely upending others.
7 Workplace Predictions for the New (Ab)normal
1. Massive increase in remote work is here to stay
Jeanne Meister is a Founding Partner of Future Workplace, an HR Advisory and Research firm dedicated to educating HR leaders on what’s next in preparing for the future workforce and workplace. On the impact of the coronavirus on HR and the new normal of work, Meister predicts that the massive increase in remote work is here to stay:
“In 2017, FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics estimated the number of people working remotely increased 159% between 2005 and 2017, with a 44% rate of growth in the last five years of that span.
“That was only the beginning. Remote work is here to stay! The coronavirus is making companies, employees and their managers more comfortable with working from home. From now on, we will question taking that flight to see a client if we can communicate on a new project using Zoom.
“Face time will no longer be the measure of worker productivity. Instead we will finally focus on results. With the benefits of tapping into a geographically and ethnically diverse talent pool, managers will increasingly explore how to make remote working part of their culture.”
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2. Reskilling even more important than before
Meister also predicts that reskilling, the process of learning new skills for a different job, will become even more important than it was before the pandemic. “While some organizations like Amazon, SAP, Walmart, AT&T, PwC and Guardian Life Insurance have already announced plans to re-skill large segments of their workforce,” Meister says, “the challenge for more companies will be to go beyond designing one-off training programs.
“This challenge will be much bigger than any one program. Instead, companies will create an ecosystem devoted to creating an AI powered skills inventory, reskilling and and exploring new private partnerships with traditional and non-traditional institutions of learning, as well as ed tech startups. This is our opportunity to show how we lead in a crisis as we navigate the unprecedented journey in the coming weeks and months.”
3. Uptick in the gig economy
Petra Zink, an Australia-based personal branding & digital strategist who specializes in the future of work, predicts that the gig economy will only continue to rise after 2020.
“Businesses will likely be more cautious with fixed overheads after COVID-19,” Zink says. “We already saw a trend for the gig economy. This will only accelerate further, with projects pitched to freelancers and gig workers. This also fits the up-and-coming Gen Z’s preference, as they can be in control over their working hours, income and nature of work.
“However, this requires a lot more clarity from leaders on deliverables and how to measure success. It also increases the need to be very concise in communications. For workers, it means they’ll need to be able to position and sell themselves to land a gig. And there is still a massive skills gap, as no university prepares you for this risk.”
4. Learning becomes even more valued
Zink also predicts that the ability to learn on the job will become even more important than it’s been in recent years. “Given that 85% of the jobs in 2030 may not exist yet,” she says, “ongoing learning is not a nice-to-have but a must-have to stay relevant in the fast-changing world of work. This benefits Gen Z and millennials who have different value systems. Their personal growth is often more important than climbing the corporate ladder.
“For companies, this means that if a role doesn’t offer room for development, many job seekers won’t even apply, and companies may miss out on top talent. This requires an entirely new approach to talent development and career progression, especially as the hierarchies become flatter.”
5. Innovation soars
Dr. Tracy Brower, work environment sociologist and director of Human Dynamics + Work for Herman Miller, predicts that, due to constraints the global pandemic is causing in the business world, innovation will soar.
“Our current COVID-19 challenges create extraordinary barriers to business as usual,” Bower says. “As a result, today’s struggles and pain are forcing new ways of thinking, better approaches and fresh perspectives on problems. Companies will learn from the requirement for greater innovation and create the conditions for expanded levels of creativity, exploration and problem solving.”
6. Employers expand support for employees
Dr. Bower also predicts that employers will expand support for employees, including mental health support. “Many employers have added to employee support systems as a result of the coronavirus crisis,” says Bower, “and it is likely this new programming will be maintained.
“Companies have been forced to consider employee wellbeing more holistically—in terms of not only the physical, but also mental and emotional wellbeing. The wellness centers set up during the pandemic or morning meditations your company began offering are likely to continue. In addition, companies are learning how important employee engagement and motivation are—no matter where people are working—and this knowledge will inform a greater level of support for employees.”
7. Impact on gender equality
Cassie Werber, London-based Quartz reporter, writes about the world of work. The coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted women’s work more than men’s in the short-term. But Werber’s workplace predictions say it’s possible that in the long run, it will become more of an equalizer.
“Even in two-earner households where both parents work full-time,” writes Werber, “women tend to do more childcare—especially when kids are young […] If those patterns are perpetuated under lockdown, women with kids trying to fulfill work obligations from home will be disproportionately disadvantaged. Single mothers, meanwhile, are even more stretched than usual.”
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Yet ideas coming from a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a U.S. nonprofit, signal that the specifics of this pandemic — among them, men being forced to work at home and the need for employers to offer more flexibility to all parents — may leave us with not less gender equality, but more.
“The early research does suggest that, given the huge scale of the crisis and the societal changes it’s already brought about, lasting social change could ensue. Some men who previously did not or could not work from home are now doing so. And companies that previously refused to afford flexibility have been forced to change. In some cases, men are at home with kids while their female partners are working in critical roles such as medicine, and leaving the home to fulfill their duties.”
The evolving future of work
As we settle into new work rhythms that feel anything but normal, we at Kazoo are committed to keeping you up-to-date on the changing HR landscape and workplace predictions for the future.
We still believe that one thing hasn’t changed over the past two months; and that is, we’re all capable of making work better when we simply invest in our people first.