The Future of Work Post-COVID
Read Time: 4 Minutes
The future of work arrived in 2020, catalyzed by accelerated pandemic-related technology adoption, changing how and what we do, where we do it, and whom we are working with. These trends will certainly continue, and our organizations must adapt to the new dynamics of our businesses and workplaces, which have changed forever.
The Pace of Progress
Increased interconnectivity and digitalization of operations and communications happened extremely fast in March 2020 when crisis conditions struck. Zoom had 10 million active users in December 2019. By May 2020, there were already 200 million active users. By June, the number had soared to 300 million. How and where we interacted and engaged with others changed significantly as a result, and we all recognize that video calls are here to stay.
The integration of new platforms and applications over the past decade had already increased the pace of marketplace developments, which sped up further in the last two years — consider how often we noticed new features appear on Zoom. Feedback loops became even shorter and faster as disruption caused customers to modify their behaviors dramatically. Companies needed to pivot both to survive and to respond sufficiently to meet customers’ new needs or risk losing them to competitors.
Technology integration has also been changing the nature of work as we have innovated and iterated rapidly, dealing with increasingly complex issues. Work has become less linear and static, less routine and more project based. We need to work much more in teams, collaborating across disciplines, silos, and locations to create, test, and roll out improved products and services at the new speed of business.
There is much greater pressure on workers to perform. Low engagement before the pandemic needs to be turned around for organizations to compete effectively. Burnout has been high — before and during the crisis — and lingering issues remain as we each explore a new way forward.
Senior leaders and managers must create work environments, connect with employees, and motivate their employees to meet modern business challenges. They will need to step back, reimagine, and reconfigure their business for the new landscape, confirming which customers to focus on, the best framework for operations, and how to create the right environment to encourage and support employees’ best performance.
After the shock of adapting to crisis conditions, the products or services a company offers may be different. The way the business serves its customers may have also changed.
Stagekings, an Australian theater set and event-staging company, provides a compelling example of an organization recognizing and absorbing the realities of the new business landscape for the long term.
In March 2020, Stagekings’ business essentially disappeared overnight when all large events were prohibited due to COVID-19. After a few days, founder and CEO Jeremy Fleming had to let the company’s 23 employees go. Distressed and still trying to find a viable way to keep the business going, Fleming spoke to a former employee in Ireland who suggested Stagekings pivot and that the company employ its skilled craftsman and sophisticated machinery to make desks for the millions now working from home.
One of Stagekings’ key employees happened to design furniture as a hobby, so Fleming asked him to develop a couple of desk ideas. By Monday they had two designs, a 3-D prototype, and, with Fleming’s wife’s help, a website to sell them. Stagekings sold 10,000 IsoKing desks in the first three months, expanding quickly into other home furniture products. IsoKing continues to independently sell home furniture operating in parallel to the event-staging business.
Not every business pivoted during the crisis as dramatically as Stagekings. However, many businesses likely had to make significant changes to sales targets and strategies, operations, and working arrangements. The “how” of work changed — digitizing and modifying workflows to better suit new customers’ modified needs. Building upon more flexible frameworks with open mindsets, organizations can advance and make sustainable, profitable growth.
For employees to work well in distributed teams, they need trust-based relationships that stimulate a sense of connection, safety, and belonging. Then they can feel heard and included, and they will contribute freely. A strong, cohesive corporate culture is important for leaders at all levels of the organization to nurture actively, integrating timeless cultural values such as honesty, integrity, and empathy. This environment fosters strong bonds with improved mutual understanding, especially among managers and their teams, enhancing each person’s ability to do their best work.
Centralized decision making is now too slow, and leaders are evolving from high-level “command and control” positions to less hierarchical oversight roles. Front-line employees are becoming more important because of their proximity to customers in an unpredictable, evolving marketplace. Managers are giving them more autonomy to respond to new customer behaviors and preferences and make timely decisions. Across distributed teams, new workflow processes are essential to identify, clarify, and communicate so all employees know what they are tasked with.
Now that the future of work is here, many thoughtful and intentional adjustments are necessary to create and sustain competitive advantage. We have learned a lot and achieved much over the last two years. We are finally managing COVID-19 and moving on.
About Sophie Wade
The author of Empathy Works: The Key to Competitive Advantage in the New Era of Work (Page Two, 2022), Sophie Wade is the founder and Workplace Innovation Specialist of Flexcel Network. She is a speaker, consultant, and authority on future-of-work issues. Her first book, Embracing Progress: Next Steps for the Future of Work (Advantage, 2017), was an executive MBA program textbook and required reading for several management school leadership courses. Wade has four video courses on LinkedIn focused on Future of Work skills, Empathy, and Generation Z, which over 500,000 people have taken. She hosts an internationally popular podcast, “Transforming Work with Sophie Wade.”
This workplace article was adapted from the GLG Webcast “The Future of Work Post-COVID.” If you would like access to events like this or would like to speak with workplace experts like Sophie Wade or any of our approximately 1 million industry experts, please contact us.