By Olufunke Akinjiyan

Every major watershed moment that has occurred in the global business environment always produces winners and losers. The current global pandemic will create winners and losers across the world. One of the key factors which will determine the success of an organization is the ability of its leadership to adapt to one of the most critical changes that have been rushed by the acceleration of the future of work.

What is the future of work?

As detailed by the World Economic Forum in 2019, “The future of work is how digitalization and megatrends are impacting the workplace.” According to a 2020 Deloitte report, “The future of work is being shaped by two powerful forces: The growing adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace, and the expansion of the workforce to include both on-and off-balance-sheet talent”. It is important to emphasize that, as we look at the future of work in a post-pandemic era, employee skills and roles need to be adapted in bringing resilience to organizations’ operating models.

According to the 2019 report on the future of work by Gallup Consulting, “it is estimated that about 300 million employees globally will have to switch occupation or acquire new skills by 2030 and this will be due to automation across industries and artificial intelligence”.

Trends impacting the future work:

  1. People will expect lifelong growth. People are constantly curious, and keen to learn and develop their skills and knowledge. Technology has made learning available at the click of a button and that means we need to continue to develop new approaches to developing our people so that they can stay relevant and have a feeling of growth;
  2. Hybrid leaders’ will be in demand. These are leaders who can work collaboratively across the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors and use business solutions to tackle the world’s social and environmental problems; and
  3. Increase in remote work. The Gartner analysis 2020 details that, “48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 30% pre-pandemic”. In fact, 74% of CFOs intend to increase remote work at their organization after the outbreak. To succeed in a world of increased remote work, hiring managers should prioritize digital dexterity and digital collaboration skills. HR must consider how the context of remote work shifts performance management, particularly how goals are set and how employees are evaluated.

Prior to the pandemic, senior leadership teams were inundated with implementing the future of work across their industries. The current pandemic has brought the issue to the forefront to be urgently addressed. Employees across all industries need to adapt rapidly to this changing condition. For example, educational intuitions in the United Arab Emirates have swiftly unlearnt and re-learnt to match the challenges. In replicating this across other sectors, organizations will need to match employees to new roles and responsibilities. The major challenge currently far exceeds Artificial Intelligence and remote working, as leadership teams are in a race against time to ensure their employees are future-ready with the skills required for business success in a post-pandemic business era.

To meet and exceed this challenge, organizations will need to develop a Learning and Talent Management Strategy with a focus on employee behavioral, social, and emotional skills, digital and cognitive capabilities, and their ability to adapt and be resilient. Now is the time for organizations to strengthen their commitment to employees in preparation for future distractions.

To ensure employees are equipped with the skills critical for survival in a post-pandemic era, four steps have been identified, as follows:

  1. Identify required skills for the organization’s new business model: As organizations re-evaluate their strategy, it is important to map the skills pool required to drive this strategy. To do this, organizations need to quickly identify value drivers and specify the value creation roles to the business and the clients. Employees need to understand how their day to day work will change as a result of value creation with a shift in mindset. Organizations will need to identify the type of employees they require, and the suggestion will be to tap into the pool of high achievers;
  2. Build employee skills critical to this new business model: The next stage will be to start upskilling/educating high potential employees. Building a skills tool kit for various roles may be a starting point, investment can be made in digital, high cognitive, social and emotional, adaptability and resilience skills. These need to be self-paced and not tailored to any individual.
  3. Launch a tailored learning journey to close the skill gaps: As we move closer to the post pandemic era, it is important to deepen strategic workforce planning. Leaders need a detailed view not only of the core activities that critical groups will begin undertaking in the next 12 to 18 months, but also of what skills each of these groups will need. For example, when an African international bank realized its face-to-face selling model has been disrupted, it concluded that virtual sales will give it the required competitive advantage. The organization has now upskilled its sales team to deepen their core sales skills while improving their virtual capability. As an organization’s operating model changes very quickly due to the external changing environment, the key is that strategic workforce planning needs to determine the right skills to develop in an instantaneous manner. These can be tailored to each role, but scale and effectiveness can be achieved if this is delivered virtually or digitally; and
  4. Start small, test rapidly and iterate: The focus here is for organizations to simply get started on programs which will enable them to be better prepared for future roles and disruption. This is a preferable method to waiting, hence organizations should not disband their skilling initiatives after the pandemic rather they can be expanded, and feedback collected should be used as a mechanism for improvement.

The COVID 19 Pandemic has necessitated a race against time by global businesses, thus leading to an acceleration in the workplace dynamic which has been underway for a long time through automation and Artificial intelligence. The shift to value-based/values proposition has also impacted the workplace dynamic. The fastest way to respond is for leadership teams to pursue a broad re-skilling agenda because, if organizations are not resilient, they do not expect their employees to be. For organizations, the first step in emerging a winner post-pandemic is to up-skill employees.