Whatever your expectations were — whether a Utopian 4-hour workweek dream, a Dystopian robot-filled hell, or anything in between — the ‘Future of Work’ seemed far enough away that most people put off dealing with it. Meanwhile, the nature of work itself continued to evolve, with the emphasis shifting from routine work producing hard assets to non-routine projects creating intangible value in the form of knowledge, IP, and brand equity. However, even as technology advances increased the volume of data exponentially and sped up the pace of change, the urgency wasn’t there.
Few companies were therefore prepared or equipped to pivot rapidly as COVID19 lockdowns took effect. Most organizations experienced a shock transition — without warning or adjustment period they were forced to adopt and integrate new platforms and applications and adapt rapidly to new ways of working. The speed, connectivity, and data accessibility enabled by these technologies disrupted the manual and mechanical constructs and constraints of our previous existences, transitioning us quickly to digitized, boundaryless, and integrated interactions. The Future of Work had arrived.
New options, settings, and requirements are sufficiently different that it is important to make significant revisions to the rules of engagement at work which have governed our leadership styles, influenced our mindsets, dictated our approaches and determined the social contract. Extraordinary disturbance to the business environment has generated a rare period of inflection that presents a crucial opportunity for each and all of us to step back, redefine our working lives, and create new, sustainable ways forward.
This is the moment to be reviewing recent data to reflect and project new pathways and generate new guidelines for your organization and ecosystem. This is the moment to focus everyone on your company’s mission and orient all divisions towards the customer journey. This is the moment to utilize research and relevant insights to cultivate a cohesive and supportive environment that nurtures your blended workforce of employees and contractors. This is the moment to be making changes that matter, adding meaning and dimension to the working lives of people at your company.
What matters? Understanding the significance of fostering a culture founded on core tenets of trust, open-mindedness and inclusion to create a sense of safety, belonging and community. Accepting the benefit of aligned values along the supply chain to encourage coordination and cooperation with vendors and partners within your ecosystem in shifting and unpredictable markets. Appreciating how improving interpersonal skills helps sales teams connect with and convert prospects and upsell customers.
What matters? Identifying and documenting the flow of work through your organization to be ready for pivots as circumstances continue to change. Embedding digital capabilities and tools to reach customers efficiently and enable everyone to work effectively and safely, wherever they are. Acknowledging that more self-awareness and empathy towards others helps executives, managers and teams communicate and collaborate across geographies and functions and adapt as necessary in uncertain conditions. Recognizing that optimizing for each employee individually will help them do their best work, as well as supporting their upskilling and realization of their potential through self-directed career development.
What matters is to accept the reality of where we are and that there is no ‘going back to normal’. With proactive attention, your company can handle the unavoidable transformation and create a sustainable environment that will allow your employees and business to survive the months ahead and emerge stronger, prepared for whatever is the next normal.
Originally published as in Khalil Zafar’s book, The Future of Work Simplified, July 2020.