History has shown us that the effects of global shocks tend to linger years after the event has faded from memory.
The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, estimated to have killed at least 50 million people worldwide, led to concerted global efforts to develop vaccines over the next few decades, leading to major advancements in flu prevention and treatment, and discoveries of new life-saving drugs such as antibiotics.
The Great Depression of 1939 led to an expansion of the role of the government in the United States, with the federal government creating a safety net for vulnerable Americans in the form of Social Security and unemployment benefits, which millions of Americans are filing for during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Not too long ago, the 2008 global financial crisis led to a sharp dip in average worker wages, whose effects were still being felt across the world over a decade after the crisis struck.
Needless to say, the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed over 211,000 people as of April 27 and infected nearly 3 million people in almost every country on earth will also have a lasting economic, political and social legacy.
In this blog, we will focus on how Coronavirus is likely to change the future of work irrevocably. And because there is enough bad news around us, we focus only on the good.
The changes to our lives forced by the ongoing pandemic is expected to accelerate two main workplace trends (remote working and skills-based hiring) and possibly see the emergence of a new one (internal hiring).
The American political commentator and author Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times last month that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a new historical divide: BC and AC — the world before Coronavirus and the world after.
Let’s take a look at the before and after Coronavirus work-from-home statistics.
Fifty-six percent of companies globally allow remote work either fully or partially, found the 2018 Global State of Remote Work report by Owl Labs, which surveyed 3,028 employees across six continents.
Today, 88% of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home due to Coronavirus reported a Gartner HR survey of 800 global HR executives that was conducted in March. These organisations include global behemoths such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Oracle.
The odd thing is that the world has had the technology for remote working for at least a decade now. It just hasn’t picked up as much as it should have.
Faster, cheaper and widespread internet connections and affordable computer hardware, and a growing number of tools and apps – communication tools such as Zoom, Skype, Slack, Yammer, Figma and ProofHub and file sharing tools such as Google Docs and Dropbox – have been facilitating remote collaboration internally and externally for the past few years.
Additionally, working from home brings several benefits for both employers and employees. Employees value the increased flexibility over their time and location it gives them, leading to higher employee satisfaction among other things.
Besides the obvious savings of reduced overheads, remote working allows employers to pick from a larger basket of talent, one that is not restricted to talent in the area where their office is located.
Despite all this, the trend hasn’t really caught on in a big way with several people working from home for the first time now, discovering all its attendant advantages and disadvantages.
One of the primary reasons organisations still haven’t embraced remote working is scepticism. Employers are not convinced that employees can be productive in an unsupervised environment. This essentially is about a lack of trust.
“We’re right in the middle of the largest ‘work from home experiment’ ever conducted,” the site quoted McEwan as saying. “And I think we’ll come out at the end saying, ‘Our employees really stepped up. They were productive and motivated. And businesses didn’t collapse because people weren’t physically in the office.’
“Hopefully this experiment removes any of the last vestiges of cynicism from managers and leaders. That could be one positive outcome to come from this.”
Despite the disadvantages of flexible or remote working – such as a sense of social and professional isolation among employees – it is something that millennials prefer. In fact, millennials are unlikely to consider a job if it doesn’t offer them the option of working remotely, said an SHRM report.
With this age cohort expected to make up the largest group at work by 2025, it will be difficult for organisations to go back to business as usual regardless of whether they are happy with the results of the Covid-19 work-from-home experiment.
What organisations must know, however, is that remote working is not as simple as just permitting it. Companies will need to draft work from home policies (57% companies lack a work-from-home policy, says an Upwork study) ramp up virtual training opportunities, invest in hardware and software to ensure data security, devise policies for the wellbeing of remote workers and also address concerns of their customers regarding these changes.
The second workplace trend the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to accelerate is skills-based hiring. Skills-based hiring has been a trend for a while especially in the US and Asia but Covid-19 is likely to add an extra dimension to it: Skills-based hiring remotely.
Ravi Kumar, the president of Global consulting and IT Services company Infosys, an early adopter of the skills-based hiring movement, told Forbes magazine in March that following Coronavirus, he forecast an increase in skills-based hiring as more companies outsource routine tasks to machines so that humans could focus on strengths unique to them such as creativity and critical thinking.
There are two reasons why skills-based hiring is likely to pick up post-Covid-19.
First, Covid-19 has dealt a body blow to certain industries such as airlines and tourism, Hiring in the aftermath of the pandemic is even more likely to be based on skills because people who have lost their jobs will most likely have to seek employment in industries that they haven’t necessarily worked in before. (In Australia, for instance, the supermarket chain Woolworths and telecom company Telstra have offered to hire workers laid off from Qantas airlines.) These employees are most likely to be redeployed on the basis of their skills more than their educational credentials.
Two, the majority of industries that are still hiring – healthcare (not just hospitals but also telehealth service providers), e-commerce, logistics, software development and cyber security – require skilled workers who can hit the ground running because of the immense challenges that they face now. These hires too will prioritise skills and experience over fancy degrees.
All this hiring will need to be done remotely given the current restrictions on the movement of people in large parts of the world to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
Given that companies across the world are tightening their belts following the economic impact of Covid-19, internal hiring is likely to be a new trend.
Nearly half of organizations surveyed planned to freeze new hiring because of the crisis, the Gartner HR Survey said. These organisations are more likely to look within to redeploy employees with the right skills to teams and departments that have vacancies. They are also more likely to work with consultants or freelancers on a short-term/temporary project-by-project basis.
Besides tools that allow people to collaborate remotely, which we referred to earlier, software that allows employers to visualise skills and skill sets efficiently such as that being developed by MuchSkills is also the need of the hour.
“The workplace must now quickly evolve to enable people to stay connected with digital collaboration tools, build new skills around new ways of working, and to embrace a digital culture,” wrote Infosys’s Kumar in a blog last month.
When the world emerges out of this crisis, it will be difficult for companies to go back to business as usual, experts say.
"If you already have a trend or shift that is growing, a shock like the coronavirus pandemic tends to be supportive of that, accelerating the trend," Newsweek quoted Steve King, a consultant, as saying.
Companies that survive the effects of Covid-19 will therefore continue to embrace new ways of working, communicating, collaborating, managing, recruiting and hiring in order to stay efficient and relevant.
Perhaps this is what will accelerate the digital transformation of companies, which every CEO has been talking about for years but hasn’t really implemented.
A meme captures this very well.
At a simplistic level, digital transformation is often understood to mean the adoption of technology in all aspects of one’s business. But it is more than just that. Digital transformation means the ability to be efficient, rapid and able to adapt in order to stay ahead of the pack using design and technology as enablers. Done right, it improves business efficiency, allowing organisations to deliver higher value to the customer.
As organisations attempt to ride out the Covid storm over the next couple of months, they should be asking these and more questions: How can we deliver more value to our customers? What are the tools that can help employees communicate and collaborate efficiently while working remotely? How can we interview, recruit and train employees on the job remotely? What are the tools we can use to fill skills gaps internally? How can we secure the data of clients? How can we take care of the wellbeing of employees?
Their responses to these questions will determine whether their organisations will stay relevant in a fast-changing world.
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