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Before COVID-19, the future of work or “new world of work” referred to a different approach to getting work done, mostly due to the exponential acceleration of technology. Many organizations and thought leaders have been preaching the need to work differently for years, in order to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by these new technologies. The coronavirus pandemic has created a burning platform for many more organizations to get on board, bringing about a new new world of work. Almost all companies around the world are grappling with how to mobilize their work force to get work done under unprecedented conditions. Every aspect of the employee life cycle is now being viewed through a digital lens, because there is little choice otherwise.

As some provinces announce that they are slowly opening for business, all eyes are on the early movers. One thing is clear: As we each plan to transition to the “new normal,” our workplaces and work practices will look very different from the ones we left roughly nine weeks ago. What are some of the recent trends we need to capture, learn from and amplify from this global “future of work” experiment, to ensure we emerge stronger as businesses and people?

Well-being 2.0

As we’ve been navigating through the phases of this crisis, we’ve seen organizations shifting focus among three connected pillars of well-being for their staff: from physical (e.g., work-from-home policies, helping people get set up, and keeping them safe and healthy, etc.) to mental (e.g., exacerbated challenges with anxiety, depression, isolation, etc.) and now to financial (e.g., sustainability of society with the rapid increase in unemployment and pay reduction).

As we begin to transition back to offices, the first matter of concern will no doubt be the physical pillar – to prevent another spike in coronavirus cases. Some additional key revelations from our months in isolation should not be overlooked, including:

  • Physical and mental-health issues cannot be solved through information and policies alone (e.g., learning programs, webinars, sick-leave policies). Technology platforms such as Inkblot (for mental health) and Maple (for physical health) have become very popular, as companies look to offer one-on-one support to employees across the enterprise to address their unique personal situations.
  • Employees will insist on flexibility regarding work location and travel, not only to protect themselves from the virus but also to preserve their physical and mental health longer-term. We’ve now proven it’s possible to be productive working remotely, so the naysayers will be hard-pressed to mandate the travel and work practices from before the time COVID-19 emerged.

Leadership, augmented by technology

Many organizations were not prepared to lead through a crisis like this so suddenly. In some cases, leadership has more than risen to the occasion, and in others, gaps have been uncovered. One thing that has become evident is the need for leadership augmented by technology – not just for now, but for the future. Leaders must now have the ability to activate the unique and collective potential of individuals and teams, through a network of people and technology. This will require amplifying human capabilities such as emotional intelligence, courage, trust and empathy. Ironically, technology is a key enabler to realize this potential, allowing leaders to glean data and insights required for better decision-making and targeted interventions.

Agile working and teaming

We have seen amazing displays of agility through this crisis, from technology road maps being accelerated by months (or years), to teams pivoting to help one another through imbalances in work. This crisis is a phenomenal springboard for the types of agile working most organizations have had in their strategic plans for years, such as:

  • Forming truly seamless global and cross-functional teams – As we are on equal footing working remotely, there is less of the prevailing “headquarters” mentality, enabling us to assemble truly global and diverse teams and pivot more quickly, without the barrier of physical location.
  • Sharing talent – This crisis has shown us the importance of nimble teams and swift talent movement among them. A variety of internal “gig” platforms, and external ones such as People + Work Connect, enable leaders more flexibility in staffing models, opening talent pools not only to other teams within their organization but also to other companies, in pursuit of the greater good.

Finally, through this crisis we’ve had a glimpse into our colleagues’ private lives – their homes, children, pets and casual attire – and most importantly, we’ve seen people coming together through our collective hardship. These things we cannot unsee are a catalyst for the vulnerable leadership we all need to embrace in this increasingly uncertain world.

There is no way to go back to exactly the way things were – so let’s use this moment in history as a lesson for what’s possible, creating safer, more engaging and more productive workplaces for the future.

Naomi Titleman Colla is founder of Collaborativity Inc., a Toronto-based consultancy focused on driving progressive talent strategy in this new world of work.

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