The last decade was one of rapid change and this pace of change increased so much as we moved closer to 2020 that it was being called the age of disruption. We saw the advent of new technologies, increasing digitization, expansion in the use of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotics, etc. The spread of the internet along with an increase in speed, bandwidth, and reduction of data costs meant information was available to all and not restricted to a few. There was a democratization of data and that led to a spurt of new-age entrepreneurs. They tapped into the knowledge now readily available from any corner of the world and came up with innovative solutions to everyday problems which then got disseminated as quickly across the globe.
We had the growth of aggregators who used technology platforms to use resources efficiently bringing down costs, helping the end customers but upsetting established players. So, we had travel aggregators like booking.com, cab aggregators like Uber, room stay aggregators like Airbnb, Food Delivery Aggregators, and many more. Then there was the growth of online eCommerce that disrupted brick and mortar business significantly. 3D Printing and robotics revolutionized manufacturing. The auto industry and auto ancillary industry were upturned by Electrical vehicles that had very few components compared to an Internal Combustion Engine Vehicle. Alternate energy became more prevalent and started reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. The field of Medicine underwent a revolution too with AI-based consultation through computer systems like IBM Watson. Telemedicine gave people access to the best of doctors in even the remotest of areas. Robotic surgery eliminated a lot of human error. Even warfare was revolutionized by Drones that are now also being tested for food and local household deliveries.
After all, this came 2020 that brought the mother of all disruptions in the form of a Global Pandemic that changed the whole paradigm. Even the disruptors got disrupted and the way of doing work started to change and this time the impact seems long-lasting in the way in which we work. The future of work now looks even more different than what we had envisaged when we ushered in this new year.
One big leveler was the restrictions on movement and hence businesses around the world have had to resort to a 100% work from home model or a remote work model for a fairly extended period of time. This has worked to some extent as it was a forced decision on almost the entire workforce. Although it has worked predominantly in the services sector, the manufacturing sector did not have this luxury unless they were fully automated or robotized. It also changed many habits like hastening the shift to most things online from e-commerce to digital entertainment.
Going forward remote working will lead to changes in how organizations work or evaluate employees. As companies realize that they can no longer keep monitoring employees for the time they spend in the office, they will have to rework employee performance parameters to more outcome-based results almost on a daily basis. The focus will shift from working stretch hours to rewarding those employees that have a higher Return on Investment. Apart from line functions where ROI is fairly easy to calculate, staff function roles will also have metrics codified to measurable outcomes. HR will have to recognize that once they move to an outcome-based system of work there will be some employees who might finish the same work in half the time. Such employees may choose to utilize that time to pursue a completely different vocation or hobby or job. Hence, we may have more gig workers in the future who may not only work project-based with each company but might work for multiple companies simultaneously.
Cloud storage and working on the cloud has been adopted rapidly during this pandemic. This clubbed with progress in video calling applications will enable employers to tap talent from anywhere in the world. It also means employees need not migrate to cities for getting jobs with the best of companies if they have good internet infrastructure at their own location. This will open the doors to hiring from a larger talent pool of people who could either not join the workforce, or opt-out of the workforce due to mobility issues either due to disabilities, age, maternity, family constraints, or international work permits. What will definitely be required will be heightened security systems and firewalls for data protection at an employee’s place or there could be a risk of compromise in data privacy of the end customer.
Earlier work from home was more an exception for an employee to cope with a personal exigency that required them to be at home. In the future as employers realize the cost benefits, they will make it a permanent feature and save on office real estate space, electricity, office maintenance, and other related costs. Employees will avoid the stress of the commute and save time in the process that can be productively utilized either for work or with family. Human Resources may have to struggle with motivation issues as employees work in silos and miss out on team bonding. This can be averted by having off-site engagements or meetings maybe once a week at a place that is hired rather than blocking real estate space on an ongoing basis. Earlier businesses were not considered professional enough if they did not have a swanky office space that could attract good employees. Now people will realize that these things do not matter and only the actual value added to the end customer does.
Companies will also have to ensure the work boundaries are set and they do not keep stretching frequently to an employee’s personal time. Once the pandemic is over, employers are expected to move to smaller offices with a more flexible workforce that will choose to work from home or office as per their convenience. Companies will also outsource more so that when demand is less, they will not be saddled by wages of a large permanent workforce that can potentially wipe out their profitability. If they choose not to outsource, they may hire consultants on retainer project-wise who work for multiple companies instead of hiring full-time resources. Productivity and efficiency should go up in this model.
To cope with business disruptions due to new technologies, companies may try to disrupt themselves on their own to stay ahead of the competition and encourage a workforce with a much stronger innovative and entrepreneurial mindset. Business diversification may be another area for leaders to look into by identifying the skills of the existing workforce that can be used for a completely different business. Also, we should see more interdepartmental job rotation based on employee interests and skills. This will be driven by the fact that employees will need more to engage them especially if they are remote workers. Such employees when they move to a senior management role would definitely do a better job having seen multiple departments functioning first-hand.
Sectors like Manufacturing, Retail, Food & Beverage will hasten the process of getting robots that can work round the clock without any breaks and increase productivity. So blue-collar workers, unskilled and semi-skilled workers on the shop floor will eventually vanish.
Overall the future of work in the coming decade will be completely different from our previous one.
Original article published in Insightism August 2020 Edition, Amsterdam, Netherlands. https://www.insightism.io/table-of-content-august-2020/disruption-a-turning-point.