As the outbreak of COVID-19 continued to progress and disrupt businesses around the world, expectations about the future of work have changed – and, as a result, organizational change has become a top priority for many firms.
Yet the future remains far from certain, leaving many organizations to wonder exactly how they should plan for the post-COVID world.
What many experts do agree on is that the post-outbreak world will look quite a bit different from the previous decade.
Many of the world’s major research and consulting firms, such as McKinsey and Deloitte, are dubbing the post-outbreak world “the next normal.” Others are calling it “the new normal.”
Terminology aside, however, most major institutions – from governments to corporations – expect to see changes in a wide variety of areas, including:
- The expectations of customers, employees, and business partners
- The structure of public health policy, society as a whole, and the global economy
- The competitive landscape
- The workplace
Such tectonic shifts will certainly have significant impacts on the future of work, which we will delve into in this article.
The Future of Business in the Post-COVID World
The exact shape of tomorrow’s economy is difficult to predict, but we can draw certain conclusions based on current outbreak-driven trends, as well as trends that have been in motion for years.
For instance, during the outbreak, a number of workplace trends became apparent, many of which we can expect to continue even after the outbreak has been solved:
- Remote working. During the outbreak, telecommuting was mandated in many countries throughout the world, in order to minimize the risk of infection. Though many workplaces will certainly return to a more normal state of operations after the outbreak has passed, there will certainly be an increased interest in remote working, both for its productivity benefits as well as for its risk mitigation potential.
- Online shopping. Though online shopping has continued to increase in popularity ever since it first became possible, this is the first time people used it en masse as a means of protecting their health. Like remote working, we can certainly still expect to see offline shopping in the post-viral era, but a combination of convenience and health-conscious habits will almost certainly add to the appeal of online shopping.
- Increased government regulation and involvement with public health. Governments in many countries made a wide variety of public health decrees that affected businesses. To mitigate and minimize the risk of infection, many businesses were required to close, operate under specific restrictions, and so forth. After the outbreak, these regulations will likely dissipate, but health concerns and certain types of regulations or conditions may remain.
- Prioritization of employee and customer health. Health has become a major concern for the public, which also makes it a concern for businesses. Organizations must find ways to simultaneously protect both their employees’ health and their customers’ health, while also running a successful business. After we transition to the next normal, organizations will still need to develop business practices that put health and safety first.
These trends, of course, only represent the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the business disruptions that have swept the globe. Supply chain disruptions, retail store closures, and many other disruptions have stalled businesses and the world economy as a whole.
Though certain current trends will likely recede once the outbreak fully subsides, others will become more permanent and contribute to the formation of “the next normal.”
One overriding trend that will only increase in importance, for instance, is the adoption of new digital products and technology.
Both during and after the outbreak, we can fully expect to see increased reliance on digital technology in the global business landscape.
This, perhaps, is one of the main reasons that firms such as McKinsey recommend accelerating digital transformation efforts.
Preparing for the Future of Work with Digital-First Strategies
Organizations no longer have the luxury of enhancing digital maturity over a period of several years. Since the next normal could arrive far sooner, it is important to begin preparing the workplace and the workforce as quickly as possible.
Among the most useful areas to focus on are those that further digitalize the work environment, such as:
- The employee experience. The employee experience, particularly the digital employee experience, will play an important role in employee satisfaction, productivity, and, ultimately, the organization’s performance.
- Organizational culture. An organization’s culture affects many aspects of a business, from the organization’s performance to the atmosphere of the workplace to business agility. Cultures should be adaptable and ready for the next normal, since the future of work will almost certainly look different from the one we knew before 2020.
- The digital workplace. A digital workplace fully embeds digital technology into business processes, the workplace culture, and workflows. It implies not only the implementation of new technology, but leveraging that technology to create a work environment that is productive, efficient, and modern.
- Digital adoption. Digital adoption refers to the complete integration of digital technology into a work environment and the full use of that technology for its intended purpose. Deploying software, in other words, is only one step in the adoption process – equally important is user onboarding, training, and the actual utilization of that software.
Directives such as these should be a core part of any digital transformation strategy, especially as we move further and further into the digital, post-viral era. After all, in a completely digitized economy, digital maturity will become a prerequisite for participation and success in that marketplace.
The longer that businesses wait to implement such digital-first prerogatives, the more difficult it will be to catch up and succeed in tomorrow’s business world.