Updated: Apr 15
We are living through an unprecedented period in our history as we battle the COVID-19 crisis globally. This has led to “without plan” organisations having to be a part of the largest experiment of distributed work (remote working). Some were better prepared than others largely due to their digital maturity, tools, and platforms to enable remote working.
For a percentage of us being on video meetings was already a norm, and being uncoupled from a physical office not new, but for many, this is a very different context and mode of working.
No-one knows for sure at this point the longer-term impacts of this crisis and how it will change the way we work. I side more with the argument that this will fundamentally change work for the future, or more I believe this is the catalyst and for many will accelerate change.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” - Albert Einstein
The impacts of this crisis I hope will lead to evolution or revolution of work, and we need to understand a few key aspects to have a baseline before we start to understand how and what we need to change. So let’s take a step back to understand the context of work. For over a hundred years we have been working to the idea of a forty-hour week which was originally designed to deal with working conditions of the last industrial revolution. We also largely work within a management hierarchy and bureaucracy that was designed for growth, scale, optimisation, and predictability of what was the twentieth century. Why are so many of us still managed as if we were still in factories?
It is important that we understand the DNA or operating system (OS) that our organisations are founded on, and we must also appreciate that the previous Industrial Revolutions saw us move from the field to the factory and then for many the context of the office in the early part of the last century.
As Peter Drucker observed by the mid-century and thereafter coined the term “Knowledge Work” and later “Knowledge Worker”, we started to observe the shift from the production of goods and advance services, to a paradigm shift in the manipulation of information. Of course, when this started to be required the main technology of the time to do these tasks and activities were humans! We also know that from much of the research most work today continues to be highly prescriptive and repetitive. Much of the innovation in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies is well suited to do this work. This has been predicted for many years that the workforce will be impacted by these new innovations, we must take solace that like previous industrial revolutions when doom and gloom was envisaged that many more new jobs were created than lost. The key then as is now that humans need to again adapt and learn to work and use new technology.
If we fast forward to today we see that we are still very reliant on humans (people) to do this work. We also know that we have the highest levels of disengagement across the workforces and we have a new set of expectations from the Gen Z workforce that will be at least 50% of the workforce in the next few years if not more. This new generation is the first generation of digital natives, and are bringing very different skills and expectations into the workplace. We need to recognise this shift and design employee experience to embrace a new belonging and purpose to engage and thrive, this will be based on a new type of contract between the employee and the employer to align expectations.
“The most valuable asset of the 21st-century organisation, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity”
So with this as the context broadly speaking for work as it was pre-COVID-19, we are now in this crisis where we need to use this incredible opportunity to change the way we work not just continue to do the same as we have always done and manage through this period, by just extending work in a remote context.
We need a fundamental shift and new mindset so we can reimagine work and start to create the future of work. This new normal will be different as it will be designed (co-created) and led by employee experience to design the moments that matter and experimentation as we understand we cant just repeat what has been done before.
We need clear leadership to start designing this new future and not just managing through the current situation. We have to challenge the notion of Tradition ( the way we have always done things) and start to create our future.
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” - Abraham Lincoln
We all appreciate that we live in a very different time to the last century and we will face many new challenges as we move forward. We need to design a new adaptive enterprise that can respond quickly to uncertainty and not be as rigid and slow as once was designed for the past era of predictability. This is not a luxury this is a survival imperative!
We have been trying to digitally transform and much of the data is indicating that we are not being very successful so we need to adopt a different approach to change one that is led by an agile and iterative mindset. One where failure is accepted and celebrated as a way to create success. One where our leaders are active participates and not just cheerleading from the sidelines.
This requires a holistic approach to make the changes and create a new normal. One that values the role of humans (people) based on our creativity, empathy and human connections. It incorporates technology as a strategic enabler, that connects a new eco-system. It shifts our core value of work to outcomes not outputs and removes the command and control mechanisms designed for the past!
So this current crisis is a critical opportunity for leadership to be demonstrated to reimagine work! I hope that it is a call to adventure and the significant potential will not be wasted to act.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea” - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
We all want to be highly engaged and empowered to not only be our best selves but to do our best work and if this is your workforce, then it will have the most powerful and sustainable competitive advantage that any organisation has. Don’t wait, don’t just expect that when this crisis is over everyone will just come back to the office. Seize the moment and start the first day of the future now!
So where and how do we start this change? Well it’s simple we need a strategy that is a verb, not an adjective and we need to Start! As it’s not important where you start as to where you end up! As soon as you do start doing you will learn and when you are learning you are growing and that is progress. There is no longer a map to help us navigate to the understood destination moreover we have to acknowledge that an organisation is not a complicated system but a complex one and as such will need to learn and adapt to find its way.
If you want to seize the opportunity for your workplace and workforce then please book a quick chat with me to discuss.