The future of work in a post-pandemic world

We may still be living in a pandemic world, but the shape and form of work in a post-pandemic environment are beginning to emerge.

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Remember 2019’s conversations about the future of work? During those pre-pandemic times, we generally focused on issues such as automation, artificial intelligence and employee re-skilling. Our biggest threat was technological disruption – not a potentially lethal virus.

In just one year, we have seen a radical adoption of new ways of working due to critical need, economic distress and social dislocation. The complex network of conditions, places and technologies that make up today’s work are now in constant flux, and that is reshaping our collective vision of what the future of work will look like in a post-pandemic world.

From my perspective, five emerging themes demand our attention:

The pandemic has sped up corporations’ already aggressive adoption of technology. According to the McKinsey Global Survey of Executives, leading companies have dramatically accelerated the digitization of customer interactions, achieving in months what would have taken three or four years. The rate of change is even greater in the share of digital or digitally-enabled products in their portfolios – an average of seven years of product development has been achieved in just one. Given that massive investments in data security and cloud migration have removed barriers to virtual interactions, we can expect this “digital first” trend to continue.

Health and wellness are becoming become integral to employer brands. In a natural reaction to this health emergency, top talent is putting an increased focus on physical, mental, social and financial well-being – and the role employers play in supporting these dimensions of wellness.

Businesses are redoubling efforts to become more diverse, inclusive and equitable. A combination of events has brought corporate decision-makers face to face with the social realities of systemic racism and the treatment of vulnerable communities. In response, leading companies are showing new determination and momentum in their efforts to become more diverse and inclusive places to work.

The office isn’t dead – it’s just changing to meet the times. Working from home is a new fact of corporate life. But that shouldn’t blind us to the powerful benefits of an office environment in establishing the networks of relationships that lead to innovation, collaboration and new ways of thinking. Activity and creativity are two different things: companies and careers need both. BMO is currently exploring new hybrid work models designed to capture the spark created by office environments while still taking advantage of the benefits of working from home.

Talent strategies will become more flexible and data-driven. Just as global supply chains have been disrupted by the pandemic, so have talent supply chains. The technology and work-from-home revolutions will require HR leaders to adopt more fluid role definitions, and strategic, data-driven approaches to workforce planning. Similarly, businesses will need to be more flexible in their approach to knowledge sharing. Artificial boundaries between teams and lines of business are relics of the past, and no longer suited to the realities of an economy and a market in transformation mode.

We may still be living in a pandemic world, but the shape and form of work in a post-pandemic environment are beginning to emerge. COVID-19 has taught us that we can expect our work environments to move in unexpected directions. It has also reminded us that that resilience and adaptability to emerging circumstances are essential, as is a fundamental commitment to the success and well-being of all employees.

The leaders that make resilience, adaptability and commitment to well-being the core of their strategy will have every reason to welcome the post-pandemic future of work with confidence.

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