Fast forward to the future of work : How to prepare for a post-pandemic way-of-working
The corona crisis has accelerated the move toward a digital world of work. Working remotely and serving customers in new and digital ways will change how we work and also require new skills. Whatever your current role or position is, the critical skills required have shifted in the past few years and will continue to do so. Now is the time to future proof your skills and enjoy a successful career in the new “distance-economy”.
Even before the crisis, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs. Back in 2018, McKinsey research already estimated that nearly half of the global workforce would have to acquire new skills as more than 20% of their tasks could be automated or taken over by artificial intelligence or robots.
Step out of your comfort zone
Interestingly, the jobs most at risk from pandemic job losses overlap to some extent with those most vulnerable to displacement through automation. These occupations include for instance food server, administrative assistant, salesperson and accountant.
McKinsey also analyzed online profiles on LinkedIn and observed that workers typically move into new roles that are “adjacent” to their current ones, ie. requiring similar or complementary skills. Individuals entering growing occupations — eg. software engineer, recruiter, talent acquisition specialist, and digital marketing specialist — tend to move there from other expanding jobs; whereas those in declining ones because of automation tend to switch to other declining roles. To ensure a future-fit career, it is important to step out of your comfort zone and explore new jobs and skills that are in high demand.
Women face growing challenges from the pandemic crisis and automation
Women in particular have been hit harder by the crisis and face growing challenges from automation. Research shows that women’s jobs globally are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s jobs. They make up 39% of global employment but accounted for 54% of overall job losses as of May 2020, mainly because women are for a large part working in declining industries, in part-time jobs or less secure independent work. Furthermore, during the pandemic women had to work a “double-shift” at home with nurseries and schools closed. Even more women may leave the labour market if we face a slower recovery and reduced public spending on childcare and education services.
Automation will put further pressure on women’s jobs. Whilst the share of women whose jobs are replaced by machines is the same as for men (up to one in four may need to change occupation over the next ten years), they may have less time to refresh or learn new skills. They spend much more time on unpaid care work, they tend to have less access to digital technology and have a lower participation in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies.
Gender equality in the workplace is key to accelerate economic growth and companies with a more balanced workforce show an above-average profitability. Organizations should therefore step up now to put policies and training in place to support women in the long term.
Prepare for a post-pandemic way of working
In a recent global report on reskilling and talent gaps, nearly nine in ten managers say their organizations already face skill gaps or expect to develop some within the next five years.
Reskilling programs already in progress focus primarily on building employees’ skills in complex problem solving, creative thinking, leadership and decision making, communications and advanced data analysis. If skill gaps are not closed in the next 3 to 5 years, customer experience and satisfaction will be affected as well as product development and ultimately the company’s ability to innovate and grow.
As technologies and business models continue their rapid evolution, companies need to step up the development of new skills for the post-COVID19 world of work:
1. Learn to operate in a digital environment
Remote working is here to stay. Most organizations will embrace a hybrid working environment with employees working both online and on-site. This will require digital infrastructures and processes not only to enable remote working but also – and perhaps most importantly – to ensure a seamless digital service delivery and customer experience. Therefore, basic digital skills will be essential for most employees including a basic understanding of critical technology. For instance, if a production line is automated, the quality manager needs to learn the technical skills to monitor and analyse the production data. And a sales manager needs to learn how to manage customer relationships effectively remotely using digital tools and networks.
2. Leverage the human side of work: develop soft skills
As AI and automation can take over repetitive tasks and give us better insights, it is estimated that it will free up 20 to 30% of our working hours, giving us more time to focus on what humans do best: complex problem solving, creative thinking and communications. Our unique human ability to come up with fresh ideas, to put data into context, to weigh up the pros and cons of a solution and to make ethical decisions will be crucial in an increasingly digital world of work.
Furthermore, in the “distance economy” where most interactions take place digitally, social and emotional skills are essential to build a strong professional network, drive change and maintain the business relationships you used to nurture in person.
3. Build adaptability and resilience through continuous learning
As companies contemplate returning to the workplace, a new set of skills is also likely to emerge to lead and work in distributed teams. In particular how to maintain trust, build cohesion and an inclusive company culture without in-person coffee moments, lunch breaks or watercooler chats. Now is the time for companies to commit to reskilling and develop employees’ digital and social skills, and their adaptability and resilience to change and disruption.
COVID-19 has changed the learning landscape by accelerating the adoption of fully online training through live video and social sharing. This transformation makes it possible to learn wherever you are, at a time most convenient to you. Continuous, bite size learning is rapidly becoming the norm and there has never been a better moment to start adapting skills and roles to the post-pandemic ways of working.
The “distance economy” will require greater agility and resilience to embrace constant change and disruption. Now is the time for organizations and individuals to future proof their skills and focus on developing our uniquely human social skills.
References: McKinsey report Future of Work