The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been profound, affecting lives and livelihoods globally. However, as vaccines begin to roll out across the world, so we see the first chinks of light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

Though there is still much uncertainty, the recent McKinsey Company report, The next normal arrives: Trends that will define 2021—and beyond, suggests a raft of reasons to be optimistic about the future. Here, we pick out and unpack five predictions that suggest a better future for working lives.


1. Hybrid working is here to stay


The pandemic has forced change, but these changes were accelerated, not caused by, COVID-19. So, what will the future of work look like?


The Adecco Group’s Resetting Normal research that surveyed over 8000 people shows what employees want the future workplace to look like. From this we can see that hybrid working (i.e. a mix of in-office and remote working) is here to stay, which itself necessitates a shift in mindset for employers too. Tracking results rather than hours will become the new norm.


This new way of measuring productivity, coupled with hybrid working patterns, has a further knock-on effect: leaders and line managers need to develop soft skills and emotional intelligence to ensure they keep connected with remote teams.


This underlines the need for reskilling and upskilling. While we move toward new ways of working, we must also ensure that all employees are given the skills to thrive.


2. More inclusive economy


As surveys have shown, after the pandemic ends, there is widespread distrust for going back to business as usual. This is where stakeholder capitalism comes in. A bridge between businesses and communities, stakeholder capitalism sees organisations considering all their stakeholders – producers, suppliers, distributors, customers – when making decisions. And it seems that corporations are seeing the need to build trust, or social capital, in order to keep doing business.


Many well-known corporations have committed to the WEF’s Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics, a set of environmental, social and governance metrics. This is recognition that creating long-term shareholder value requires more than just focusing on shareholders. The Adecco Group is committed to these Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics, which builds on TAG’s previous calls for a new Social Contract.


This Social Contract highlights the interconnectedness of the needs of workers, employers and governments. By rebalancing our priorities away from seeing work and workers as just a commodity and instead offer employees an environment of flexibility and security, then businesses will be rewarded with a motivated workforce. A Social Contract might also mean governments wouldn’t have to deal with high unemployment and economic hardship.

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3. A greener future


While we begin to move towards a new normal, many countries are using COVID as an opportunity to include environmental policies in their recovery strategies. For example, the EU plans to dedicate around 30% of its $880 billion Covid-19 crisis plan for climate-change-related measures. Similarly, the US, Japan, South Korea, Colombia, Canada, the UK and Nigeria have all included green measures within their COVID recovery plans. This is significant. As the Adecco Group’s Skills For The Green Economy noted, more than 1.47 billion jobs globally depend on a stable climate. The room for skills development within this greening of economies, then, cannot be underestimated.


But green policies do not come without challenges, not least of which is the fact that job losses will be inevitable and not all jobs will automatically reappear in the same industries they were lost in.


For this reason, it is crucial to maintain labour market mobility and flexibility via reskilling and upskilling. Indeed, without skilling, any progress towards the green transition would be impossible to begin with: skills and the green economy shape each other.


4. Pandemic productivity & protecting people, not jobs


It seems a misnomer to suggest that as the world went into lockdown, and working from home became the norm for many, that productivity would actually increase, but the figures support this apparent contradiction. In the US, by way of example, productivity in the third quarter of 2020 rose 4.6%, following a 10.6% increase in the second quarter. This combined increase yielded the largest six-month improvement since 1965.


The COVID crisis has undoubtedly turbo-charged digital transformations, but while new digitally enabled productivity might be accelerating, companies and workers cannot get left behind. A massive focus on reskilling and upskilling needs to happen.


Alain Dehaze, CEO the Adecco Group, has been vocal in his belief in the need to protect people, not jobs, suggesting three strategies to ensure lifelong learning is supported. But this is just a start. Reskilling and upskilling is an urgent need, and one that must continue. This was highlighted at the recent World Economic Forum Jobs Reset Summit, where we heard that if current trends continue, by 2030 more than half of all young people globally will lack the skills needed for the jobs of the future.


So, while we can expect digital transformations to continue apace, we must also invest in reskilling, upskilling and role redeployments. This approach is good for the employee as well as the employer. As Michael Priddis, CEO of Faethm, said: “It’s a pretty simple equation. It’s cheaper to retrain and redeploy than to make redundant and rehire.”

Photo by Andrew Coop on Unsplash

5. Recharging your resilience batteries


The onset of the pandemic saw businesses and societies forced to transform. Almost overnight, e-commerce became the norm and entire sectors, such as education, logistics and healthcare, altered their ways of working to adapt to a world of lockdowns and social distancing. There was massive disruption, and disruption creates space for entrepreneurs.


Many countries, such as the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan have witnessed a flood of new small businesses. This can be inspiring, but we must also be mindful of supporting established businesses back into the world of work. How best to do this?


Research suggests that building resilience and adaptability is key to this, for both companies and those working within them. But we must also ensure that skills development and active labour market policies are also in place to ensure quicker redeployment of workers whose jobs are on the verge of disappearing or have been lost already.


Our new way of working must place an emphasis on the ever more diverse forms of work, including temporary, agency, and platform work, and we must ensure that social protections, career and skills development, and good quality work is available to all, as this report states.


If your company needs some help with building resilience, you could try these five strategies for recharging your resilience batteries.


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