COVID-19 has accelerated changes to the nature of work. It is important, however, to recognize that the two major questions organizations must articulate remain the same as before the pandemic: “How do we make money?” and “How is the work done?” What has changed are the ways in which organizations can and should answer these questions.
Our research and client work point to three key areas that organizations must clearly evaluate as they seek not only to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis but thrive in the post-pandemic world. These represent three levels of depth that companies must build their strategy around by accounting for the changes to the nature of their work.
Temporary changes in response to crisis. COVID-19 forced companies to adapt rapidly to accommodate new physical distancing restrictions and change their operating model in order to keep the lights on. Many companies repurposed workers during the peak of the pandemic. One online retailer, for example, spent $85 million redeploying team members to safety-related tasks and audits to ensure they could safely meet the increased demand. However, many of these changes will likely be fleeting as the pandemic recedes. Over time, they will serve as a strong lesson in managing crises but be less relevant to the long-term future of work.
Permanent changes to the day-to-day work. The COVID-19 crisis did accelerate the adoption of trends once deemed as the longer-term future of work. Investments in digital and automation transformations, considered too ambitious before the pandemic, suddenly became key to survival. These plans are now seen as vital lifelines to sustained competitive advantage or sustenance.
For instance, a Middle East-based grocer, already building its digital muscle long before COVID-19, saw the need for rapid investment in its online platform to fulfill skyrocketing demand. Within five weeks, the company rolled out the infrastructure to support the expanded marketplace, and it continues to be the centerpiece of reimagining the way they do business.
New types of work. The pandemic also ushered in the emergence of new ways of generating capital and doing work. These are organization-specific changes that have transformed the organizational outlook to work and generating value. This is a larger trend that has not yet materialized as a temporary or permanent change. Take, for instance, the ”tele-everything” trend of broad adoption of remote processes. This trend, however, goes beyond just the increase in remote processes and into rethinking how tasks can be performed more efficiently with the use of technology. The explosion in telemedicine, virtual schooling and learning, and e-commerce are pushing the thinking on how money can be made, and how work can be completed beyond business as usual and into the creative.
Additionally, some organizations are rethinking their very definition of value generation, moving away from an exclusive shareholder lens toward considering a broader group of stakeholders that includes society and the environment. We’ve seen a renewed push for strong alignment among a company’s purpose; environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues; and how money is made.
It remains to be seen which of these emergent trends will be temporary, and which will become permanent as organizations balance new avenues of capital generation, evolving technology, and shifting societal expectations.
One thing is beyond doubt: The future of work has arrived. Organizations must truly understand the uncertainty of change in order to make appropriate strategic decisions across the three levels. To understand the impact of the changes to the nature of work, both momentary and lasting, organizations must first align and invest in a clear set of strategic priorities. Defining these priorities, and seeing them through the three levels of depth, will enable them to derive bespoke value from their financial, human, and technological capital.