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Media and advocacy


Looking forward

1 June 2020, 
Sarah McCann-Bartlett

When you ask people about their predictions for the post-pandemic future, every person has a different answer. Some focus on work, others on society in general. Some predict quite radical changes, while others feel we’ll return to business as (almost) usual. It seems people disagree on what ‘normal’ will look like.

Optimists focus on the ‘silver linings’ of COVID-19, such as the new forms of connection it is helping go mainstream. Others hope that at the other end of this gloomy tunnel we will have a kinder society.

These optimistic scenarios feel further away in regions affected by a high death rate. Some employees who return to work will have a need to grieve. Some economists are even advocating for economic models based on producing less overall in order to assist social distancing. Others suggest a better way to help maintain social distancing would be to cut the working week down in days, or paying people not to work. Looking at less-radical predictions, we know there will be some rebalancing of the economy. Supply chain sovereignty for essential items will be a high priority for governments, and they will likely focus on reducing risks to ongoing supply. There is no doubt the digital economy, including AI and automation, will see sharply accelerated growth. Many CEOs are already starting to examine the sustainability of business models to look for new opportunities, and figuring out how to adapt to the coming changes to society, the economy and supply chains.

Regardless of any predictions, HR will need to think about our workforces and the balance of skills that will be required in this new world. Businesses will be expected to be more prepared for increasing levels of external shocks and crises, regardless of whether they are economic or health or environment related. So risk management, digital development and workforce planning will be the in-demand skills of the future, as will resilience and adaptability.

There have been suggestions made that we’ll see a shift away from the ‘knowledge worker’ to the ‘practical worker’: someone required to have experience and skills in areas such as supply chain management, automated manufacturing, and health and emergency services. While we may see a shift in the kinds of work that will get done, the jury is still out on how we work post-pandemic. People appear split on whether there will be more or less remote working arrangements as we return to the workplace.

My predictions differ from others that many of us will rush back to the workplace because we’ll be so tired of being in lockdown: I think we’ll see employee-led flexibility. Empowered employees will set their own working parameters and will ease themselves back into the workplace at their own pace, having proven they do their best work from home. They could very well be allowed to control their working schedules for the foreseeable future.

There’s a lot to think about for this coming stage. I for one am going to remain curious about what the future holds, and will not limit my expectations to the parameters of the world as we’ve always known it. 

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