Work is a work in progress


Karen Warnemuende

Global Vice President

Karen Warnemuende looks at five of the biggest workforce trends (accelerated by the global pandemic) that could shape the future of talent.

2020 is not a year we will forget in a hurry. As a health crisis spread across the globe, many of us found the way we connected with work, those routines that we had built over years or decades, had transformed. But it wasn’t only the physical location of work that got an overhaul; technology, the way we connect with others, self-development, and even the way we think about wellbeing has shifted in a meaningful way.

Now, after an incredibly difficult 12 months, it feels like there is some light at the end of the tunnel as vaccine rollouts begin to gain speed. But what will be the lasting legacy for how we work? I believe that some of the trends that got a jump-start during the pandemic are with us for the long haul, and that these changes have the potential to create a more hopeful work future. Here are the 5 trends that are here to stay:

1. We can work from anywhere

A recent remote work study from PwC found that 83% of employers and 71% of employees believe remote working during the pandemic has been a success. While a Gartner survey found that 90% of HR leaders planned to allow workers to continue to work remotely after vaccines are available.

Remote work will never be for everyone or every role, but Covid-19 has brought a fundamental shift in the way that many of us connect with work, and that has big implications for how we live. Now, people don’t have to cram into small, expensive living spaces in metro hubs; they can work from anywhere. Remote work can help parents choose flexible schedules that help them juggle childcare and work more effectively, and reduce hours wasted in stressful commutes.

Remote work also offers an incredible amount of freedom, not only to individuals but to organizations who want to connect with talent everywhere. Virtual working removes traditional boundaries to pave the way for more diverse, global teams, and that’s incredibly exciting.

2. We’re building deeper and more personal connections

Before video calls became our main form of communication, you probably didn’t know the name of your colleagues’ kids, pets, or that they were a huge Star Wars fan. Now, with a virtual window into each other’s homes, we have the opportunity to cultivate deeper relationships with the people we work alongside. This new way of seeing people can put the human back into workplaces, even if those workplaces are now virtual.

A study from Pew Research Centre found that 65% of teleworks feel that remote tools are a good substitute for human contact. But not all organizations have been successful in cultivating these connections, and 47% of respondents in a survey conducted by Hive said that feeling lonely and socially isolated was a top challenge of remote work. Leaders must look for opportunities to help their workforces connect in new ways, providing virtual spaces for social connections, as well as work-focused communication.

3. Our technological advances have accelerated

When you have to move thousands of people to remote working in a matter of days or weeks, you often have to adopt new technology fast. This can be painful, but it can also force organizations to see the value of being an early adopter and embracing technology that can have a meaningful impact on their wider business. This isn’t just virtual working tech, but solutions that power automation, drive productivity, and provide greater insight into business goals and challenges. Taking a forward-looking approach to tech is not only a great way to get future-ready but it often frees up skilled people to concentrate on the areas where they really shine, empowering organizations to get greater value from their talent.

4. We have more opportunities to learn and grow

The pandemic has seen an explosion in online learning, and not just for school and university students. There is now greater access to online books, publications, seminars, and free and low-cost college courses than ever before. Suddenly, we all had a lot more time on our hands and many of us have channeled this free time into self-development. This enforced pause on everyday life created a space for us to think about what we want to do, who we want to be, and the skills we need to develop to stay relevant. Ultimately, I believe it’s encouraged us all to be more curious, and I think that’s an incredibly positive mindset to adopt as we move into the future of work.

5. Employers are more focused on caring for their people

One of the most important changes to come out of a tough situation has been a rise in compassion. Worker wellness has gone from being a ‘nice to have’ to a top priority, and that’s something we can’t afford to walk back on. This includes not only a responsibility to keep employees healthy and safe but to recognize mental health challenges, embed wellness behaviors into day-to-day work, and ensure leaders and people managers have the right skills to prioritize employee care.

Employee expectations and priorities have also shifted, and employee experiences and benefits have to reflect that.  A report from Gartner on HR priorities for 2021, found that 28% of HR leaders are prioritizing employee experience this year, and I believe this is a trend that will continue to grow. You should check out Tammy Browning’s blog, ‘Why corporate compassion is essential in the new normal’ to take a deeper dive into this important topic.  

How can you adapt to this work in progress?

Work has always been a work in progress, but the pandemic has accelerated some big trends that have the potential to shape the future of work for decades. This is both exciting and overwhelming. Organizations that fail to keep up or build strategies that reflect the ongoing disruption could be left behind. At KellyOCG, we partner with some of the world’s biggest companies and my team is responsible for helping them navigate these big work challenges and opportunities. If you’d like to discuss any of these talent trends or your take on how the pandemic is impacting the future of work, get in touch. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this workforce work in progress.


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