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Re-imagining the Future of Work in a post-COVID-19 World

June 9, 2020

Dr. Michael Hartmann, Principal of The Directors College was joined by panelists Zabeen Hirji, Global Advisor, Future of Work, Deloitte and Dr. Leonard Waverman, Dean, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University in the tenth session of The McMaster Collaboratorium on May 26 for a discussion on how the pandemic has changed how we work, where we work, how leaders lead and what the future holds.

Session Highlights

The trends around the future of work have not really changed, but have been accelerated by the pandemic:

  • Technology as a key driver – reskilling and upskilling challenges need to be addressed
  • Demographics and diversity – inclusion planning important as economy rebounds
  • Growing societal expectations – clearly define the organization’s purpose

Boards need to consider how the organization’s response during, and post-pandemic is being evaluated and ensure that they remain trusted by their stakeholders and partners.

There may be more pressure on local production in the wake of the noticeable global supply chain issues experienced at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Technology and people are often viewed as two paths, as opposed to the new reality that they are two sides of the same coin.

For higher and executive education, the changes have also accelerated during the pandemic.  The trend pre-COVID was a push to STEM and universities pressing to produce job ready graduates, a challenge in a fast-changing world.  Graduates do acquire softer skills – grit, creativity, communication and resiliency – very important in these times.

Slow moving with immersive residential studies, universities were already looking at digitization, but the future was brought abruptly into the present in March.  With a dispersed learning experience now becoming available, the competition between institutions will increase, along with the pressure to produce graduates who are truly prepared for the future of work.

Predicting the next normal is difficult.  The hot topic in terms of human capital management is around distributed workforces.  More than 40% of the workforce in Canada is currently working from home, up nearly 4x from pre-pandemic numbers.  How organizations handle this shift going forward, needs to be very intentional to maintain the culture and should be viewed through the lens of optimization to find the right blend.

This issue is not a typical one for the boardroom, but the broader implications and risks need to be considered by the board for all human capital management policies, including remote working, mental health and health and safety processes.  Attracting and engaging consumers and talent post-pandemic is dependent on creating trust around physical safety.  Economic recovery and growth will be dependent on people.

There is a tremendous opportunity to learn right now.  Organizations have quickly untied whatever issues were preventing innovation to secure continuous operation.  Sometimes, it is about what is possible, not what is perfect.

Public leaders have demonstrated empathetic leadership and the board may want to have more oversight over how leaders are being developed internally, based on the hard and soft skills that have been critical to navigating the challenges presented by the pandemic.

The new normal will not be business as usual – and leaders need to be aware and willing to embrace what comes next.  The work/life integration does not work for everyone.  Research indicates that a separation between work and life leads to higher productivity, but new data will come from the past few months.  The real question is the sustainability of the future of the work structure.

Universities will likely move into hybrid models to maintain the engagement that happens in person with digital options.  Experiential learning must be considered when putting together online classes and in person opportunities.

There are beliefs to leave behind.  Leaders need to reset the mindset around evaluating performance – it cannot be measured in time. It should be measured by outputs and outcomes.  Leaders themselves will be assessed in the short term including a more dynamic look at how the crisis has been navigated.

The future of work is human.  Developing human skills, empathetic leadership and creating a culture of learning.

The pace of change has accelerated and will remain this way going forward.  Educational models need to change to support continuous, lifelong learning.

Watch key messages from the webinar here