The coronavirus crisis has been a major wake-up call for the world of work. But while our economies have temporarily slowed down, the pandemic itself has paradoxically accelerated the future of work. Building on the lessons we have learnt in the past months, we have a unique opportunity to turn the current challenges into opportunities that will work for everyone.

This article was authored by Alain Dehaze, CEO of The Adecco Group.

This article was authored by Alain Dehaze, CEO of The Adecco Group.

About a month ago, at the height of the current pandemic, a staggering 2.7 billion workers were either under full or partial lockdown. That is around 80% of the world’s workforce. As a result, many of us have been forced to work remotely while others have redeployed their skills to industries that have seen a major boom in demand such as e-commerce and logistics. And while on many fronts the world has been swift to react, the coronavirus pandemic has slowed our economies to a crawl, with the global GDP predicted to drop by 3% next year.

COVID-19 and its aftermath mark the new era of work. We are experiencing a profound change to how we work and how businesses operate. From health and safety, remote working, accelerated digitization to de-globalization of supply chains; the new world of work will present an immense challenge for workers, businesses and governments.

Leading through a crisis requires more than just managing a response to it

At the Adecco Group, we have witnessed these changes first hand. With the pandemic being both a public health and economic crisis, right at the start, we set our primary focus on securing the wellbeing and safety of our colleagues and associates and ensuring business continuity to support our clients. More than 30,000 of our own employees have worked from home throughout the past weeks and we have pulled out all the stops to continue facilitating work for more than 400,000 associates every day.

Through our brands such as LHH and General Assembly, we’ve made online learning resources and webinars available for free and we’ve closely worked with local and national authorities to help redeploy people where their skills have been needed most.

Recognising that unprecedented crises call for unprecedented measures, we have joined forces with other leading HR solutions companies and formed an alliance dedicated to helping people get back to their physical workplaces safely when the time is right. Two weeks ago, we published a practical guide that had reviewed more than 400 examples across 13 countries and five sectors.

COVID-19 has been a monumental reality check for the world of work. But just as the quick response to the crisis played a key role at its beginning, it is important now to equally focus on what comes next and build on the lessons learnt.

Beyond the imminent crisis: Five key trends shaping the new world of work

While some parts of the world are still in the crisis phase and are yet to begin lifting their lockdown measures, most of us have already entered the phase of slow recovery and reopening of our economies. Dominated by the physical distancing and remote working, the new world of work that will emerge from this will be shaped by these five key trends:

#1. State involvement in labour markets will remain strong: governments around the world have been forced to act fast and enact measures that have mitigated the negative economic impact on workers and businesses. It is likely that this involvement will remain strong at least in the foreseeable future.

#2. From globalization to de-globalization: the pandemic has reinforced the emphasis on sovereign and national supply chains and inventories which will have a significant impact on many sectors. High on that list are manufacturing, food and energy.

#3. Accelerated digitization: the new era of virtual work is here to stay. Companies and workers alike will have to adjust. We expect there to be a reinvigorated drive towards new skills. Upskilling and reskilling will gain in importance and as cybersecurity becomes more pertinent, we will see more jobs created in this industry.

#4. More focus on sustainability and diversity: as we learn to travel less and work more from home, our consumption patterns will change. The physical distancing economy put the emphasis on solidarity, inclusion and diversity.

#5. The new – or better – normal: last but not least and as we shift out of the crisis, we will have to redefine the existing Social Contract. The opportunity to create a lasting change that will make the future work for everyone and one that will extend social protection to all forms of work is one that should not be missed or wasted.

Turning the challenge into opportunities

Going forward, there are many open questions but one thing we know already: the coronavirus pandemic has significantly accelerated the future of work. If we want to come out of the crisis stronger and more resilient, we will all have to play our part. Workers will have to invest more time in reskilling, as soft skills and digital skills will become a must. Businesses and organisations will need to embrace remote work and automation while creating a more flexible and de-centralised workplace. And policymakers will find themselves at a crossroad as their decisions will determine how well our economies will recover and how resilient they will become in the face of future crises.

There is a lot of work ahead of us, no doubt. But if we succeed, we will turn today’s opportunities into the reality of tomorrow: a reality that will make the future work for all, in a safe, inclusive, and prosperous way.


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