“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King
Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis in many ways. Many of us have possibly not witnessed this kind global pandemic and health crisis in our lifetimes. It is a matter of time and the world will get over this (hopefully soon!) but the impact that this crisis will have is bound to be as deep as the crisis itself. The world is not expected to be the same and many aspects of our lives are going to see structural and permanent changes. These structural changes will cut across politics, world economy, foreign affairs, social norms, wellbeing to mention a few.
The world of work and jobs too is going to be affected and is expected to see permanent shifts. Many of these changes may be structural while some may accelerate the changes that were already initiated by Industrial revolution 4.0. Here is what may play out as we plan recovery from the current crisis.
Workplace is redefined significantly
With millions of people working from home for months, the classical definition of workplace, which included physical boundaries, is bound to be under severe threat. Not that this definition was not under attack, but this time the impact is deeper and more permanent. Obviously, not all work can move towards homes (example: farming/ manufacturing) and thus, the workplace when mentioned here is largely restricted to workplaces where work can potentially be done out of home or any other remote location. Manufacturing too is going to be impacted through accelerated automation driven by a further need and desire to reduce dependence on physical labor. Even in manufacturing, a large component of work (IT enabled functions) can be moved out of the physical premises. This redefinition of workplace has implications for all parts of the organization including renting of commercial real estate, IT and Information security, HR, compliance and almost all other functions. Offline and online will blend, co-exist and thrive together in times to come. Workplace is not going to be the same.
Gig is winning
At the heart of the Gig Economy lies flexibility, ability to deliver work remotely (using technology) and empowerment. Therefore, if one has skills that can be delivered to multiple clients using technology then you are surely winning in the post-Covid world. As the world accepts remote working, Gigsters who were already gaining momentum stand to gain further. What also works in favor of gig economy is cost cutting measures that companies may resort to as part of their post-Covid business adjustments. Employing gig workers offers flexibility and makes some employee costs variable. However, the pace at which gig economy will proceed further is also dependent upon how government regulation plays out. Countries like India still do not have social security provisions for gig workers as most of the social security measures are geared towards only certain class of workers. Will this be beginning of more discussion around expansion of social security and other measures for those who work remotely and for multiple employers?
Where is my classroom
With millions of students worldwide attending to lectures and classrooms remotely, one can imagine the kind of shift we will see in the education space. This shift is going to be one of the most structural shifts that this sector has seen in centuries. With both students and faculty getting comfortable with remote classrooms, the reach and impact of education will be exploited globally. There are more reasons than ever for a class to become more diverse and globally located. This has implications for revenue models for educational institutions and if they do not adapt fast, some of them will lose out to those who exploit this shift to their advantage. Education is truly going to more accessible and hopefully more affordable as well.
Training center is shut
Like education in schools & colleges, even learning and development inside corporations is set to witness the similar shift. I do not see how corporations will justify the pre-Covid levels of physical training rooms and training centers. There may still be need for classroom induction, soft skills training etc. but percentage of training going online is going to see a dramatic rise. Training function inside organization will have to make a dramatic shift in their strategy as more and more people will be comfortable learning online.
Remote Employee Experience
If gig workers and work from home employees are going to be integral and large part of the organizations, then it is obvious that the ways to create positive employee experience throughout the employee lifecycle will see a significant shift. Moreover, whole employee engagement and experience gets even more complicated when one thinks in the context of gig workers. They are not employees (in contractual terms) and yet may be delivering critical work for the organization. Given that organizations are going to be hybrid organizations (physical & virtual), the end-to-end employee experience will also move to hybrid model. It will be interesting to see how HR departments evolve to engage a large number staff through remote interventions. This shift also has policy implications for organizations who will have to think of policies and processes that support hybrid model.
Enable me remotely
Most enablement roles (also referred as support roles), are also going to see a significant shift. Operational side of HR, Payroll, Finance, IT, compliance etc. has already been tested to run a virtual organization. There is no reason to believe that what worked in the times of crisis (modified processes) will not work in normal times. Further, there is no reason to believe that some of the roles and related work in enablement functions will not go remote. The crisis has tested some strong assumptions around compliance, information security; privacy and confidentiality. There is no suggestion that some of these critical requirements will go away but it is surely not going to be ‘no-discussion’ territory. During the crisis, many processes within these functions have been re-invented and they may remain in practice forever.
Industry 4.0 gets in top gear
Everything that is potentially a part of Industry 4.0 gets wings and gets into top gear due to the Covid crisis. With social distancing becoming an accepted norm, the desire and necessity to reduce ‘worker density’ in all types of businesses was never more pronounced. Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, cloud and cognitive computing etc. are bound to be accelerated in the post-Covid world. All kinds of industrial and farming activity that requires manual labor will be forced to further automate due to this crisis. Even services organizations are expected to accelerate the automation journey. The crisis has permanent implication for Industrial revolution 4.0 and the way it will shape the future of work and jobs.
Every structural shift in economy and market place is accompanied by shifts in nature of jobs. All such similar events and crises tell us that some types of jobs are lost while new ones are created. There is no doubt that this crisis will also accelerate certain types of jobs as we go forward. It is an easy guess that all jobs related to online, remote enablement will boom post crisis, and these include (not limited) to digital, IT enablement, online gaming, online entertainment, virtual well-being programs, online education, online counsellors, e-commerce etc. All jobs related to Industry 4.0 are also going to get in the fast lane. However, there is enough research to suggest that jobs involving application of multi-disciplinary skills or skills that require complex human interactions are tough to automate. One would wonder if jobs that involve complex counselling, behavioral therapy, inspiring people, setting direction etc. could ever be automated fully. Some of these jobs require application of skills like emotional intelligence, relationship building, listening, language, communication etc. One needs to evaluate if one’s current and future job would involve some combination of these skills. Remaining relevant will require that one is learning and re-skilling all the time.
Covid-19 is going to change the way we see and navigate the world. Let us prepare and adapt to thrive in post-Covid world!
The author is CHRO at Acuity Knowledge Partners.
He is a global HR leader who has led HR function
at Moody’s Corporation (India Region), GE Capital
(India), Tata Consultancy Services and CMC Ltd both in
India and outside India.