“Work”, “Workforce” and “Workplace” In The Post-COVID World

“Workforce”, the people who do the work. The workforce has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, due to a change in skills, Outsourcing and new Technologies, new workforce demographics of Millennials and Gen Z, and more recently due to flexible work arrangements.


Humanity is facing the biggest disruption of our lifetime. Workplace rules, most of which have come about in the last 30 years are changing and changing fast. If we look at this in the context of the last 150 days, COVID has fast-tracked and changed how organisations execute and more importantly permanently altered workforce behaviour.

The core elements, “Work”, that is, how things get done, “Workplace”, where they get done and “Workforce”, Who does the work, can no longer be taken for granted.

These shifts are deep, and it may be prudent for companies to think of these in tactical terms as well as look at their more strategic implications. What makes these changes interesting is while most people see them in the context of the current environment, these changes have been in the making for a while. *In a World Economic Forum report, the Fourth Industrial Revolution which we are in, Klaus Schwab argues that what differentiates this revolution from the previous would-be Velocity, Breadth and Depth, and Systems Impact.

Churchill had said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. This crisis has given leaders and organisations a great opportunity to hit reset and pivot “Work”, “Workplace” and “Workforce”.

“Work”, the way organisations add value has changed significantly in the past few years. With better technology, use of robotics and the growing sophistication of IOT, Skills required are evolving fast and often quite dramatically. Add to this, Half-Life of a Technical skill, that is, where skill is half as relevant as when it was acquired, is already less than 5 years and continues to reduce fast.

The need for companies to predict and build learning agility has become business-critical. Today, employees need to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn. While COVID has fast-tracked the adoption of remote working and collaboration technologies, it has also speeded the shift to the digital economy. For many companies to stay relevant and survive, digital may be the only way left. For example, the traditional industrial hub Detroit in 1990 generated revenues of $250Bn with 1.2Mn employees. In comparison, Silicon Valley in 2014 generated roughly the same revenue ($247Bn) but with 10 times fewer employees (137,000).

While not all organisations can exploit the entire potential of digital, the altered cost and scale will change many traditional business models forever. Due to technology the cost of disaggregation and aggregation of work has come down significantly, while this makes remote working easier it also opens a huge opportunity for companies to tap into skills that previously were not available.

“Workplace”, In the past few months I have spoken to many CHROs on the Work from Home (WFH) arrangement. There is a collective sense of amazement that the productivity loss has not been quite as much as they had predicted. At Clix, we recently did a WFH survey to understand how many people wanted to come back to office. Over 80% of our employees want WFH on a more permanent basis, with close to 20% wanting to only work from home. Only 20% wanted to come back to office largely due to the nature of work.

This is a big shift in behaviour, up until recently managers and companies saw Workplaces as hubs of productivity. Huge cost and emphasis were given to seating, lighting and design of the collaborative spaces. Conversely, people who spent more time at work were seen as more productive. COVID has changed it all, as more employees opt onto WFH, the emphasis has moved to actual employee productivity and on individual talent. Like Clix, many companies are clear that in the post COVID world they would need to radically redesign their workspaces as a large part of the work will get done at home. It will open up new challenges for the companies to onboard, integrate and assimilate new employees into the companies’ culture. Workspaces may find it difficult to maintain itself as a place where employees socialize, collaborate and experience what it means to be a part of the larger organisation.

“Workforce”, the people who do the work. The workforce has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, due to a change in skills, Outsourcing and new Technologies, new workforce demographics of Millennials and Gen Z, and more recently due to flexible work arrangements. Pre-COVID, Most companies had a plan to identify a certain subset of the work to make it Gig-ready.

Due to COVID, a large part of the workforce is now WFH, this has opened up the big question that if people can WFH they can Work from anywhere; if that is true then we can potentially outsource everything to the right talent sitting anywhere. The agility that such a work arrangement offers could be a big differentiator for companies. That said, the implication of moving to a fully variable workforce is huge.

Organisations will need to rethink their approach to how the workforce is managed, social responsibilities, value behaviours and culture. Organisations will need to connect deeply with the workforce to engage and align organizational purpose with the individual aspirations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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