Future of Work 2.0: It Can Be Meaner, Scarier

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Deagreez

Many of us have been changing the way we work during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a lot of discussion on whether some of these changes are temporary or will speed up existing trends and becoming permanent.

In my circle of family and friends there is talk that on the employer side, there are lists being prepared of employees who are considered having worked well remotely during the crisis, and those whose productivity has been underwhelming.

This scenario is yet to play out, but there is talk that the list will determine which employees are the first ones to be directed back to the office, where they can be better supervised.

Perhaps more sinister is the suggestion that the list is also an indication on which employees will be the first to be let go, if conditions become tougher over the next month.

Future of work updated

A more considered analysis of the HR implications of the crisis has come from Gartner’s Aaron McEwan, a Sydney-based vice president of HR research & advisory.

“How organizations respond to their employees’ needs during this crisis will have implications for their corporate reputation and employer brand long after the pandemic has passed,” says McEwan.

Gartner is updating its future of work trends because of COVID-19 and has already identified some trends.

These include:

  • Employer as a safety net. Employers will provide greater support for their employees’ mental, physical and financial health during and after the pandemic.
  • Expanded data collection. Organizations, says Gartner, have increased their tracking of employees as the workforce has become more remote. This includes more access to employee health data.
  • Increase in remote work. Gartner estimates that 48% of employees will work remotely for at least some of the time after the pandemic, up from 30% before the crisis. This impacts everything from office real estate and public transport to technology use and work life balance.
  • Humanization (and dehumanization) of workers. Some employees have formed more connected relationships during the pandemic, while others have moved into roles which are increasingly task oriented.
  • New top-tier employers will emerge. This will be the companies which have treated their employees the best during the crisis.

Privacy minefields

Many of these trends have implications for hiring, resourcing, and also ethics.

Data collection is one example. According to an April survey done by Gartner, 16% of organizations are passively tracking employees through methods such as virtual clocking on and off, work computer use and email monitoring.

Do employees know this, and what data is being collected and why?

Then there is the issue of their health status, and whether they have the COVID-19 virus.

All this is a delicate area to navigate in terms of ethics and transparency. Done badly, and it will alienate employees and create resentment and bitterness, even though the data gathered will be useful in understanding work patterns and productivity.

As more people work remotely, Gartner says hiring managers will prioritize skills such as digital dexterity and digital collaboration, while there will need to be changes around goal setting and performance management.

While on hand employers will be more involved in the lives of employees, they are also likely to expand their hiring of contingent workers as they look to save costs. Gartner says 32% of organizations are doing this, primarily with costs in mind.

While this might deliver savings and flexibility, it also creates long-term issues around performance management systems, and how they apply to these workers, while also raising the question of benefits.

Will these workers be eligible for the same full-time benefits? What will be the impact of culture, or is that now less relevant as people work from home?

Changing ideas on critical skills

The new way of working has also created a review of critical skills and critical roles, says Gartner.

Workflow has become more important than ever, and in this context workers with specialized skills have become critical at various points in the flow.

This differs from older thinking around what are critical roles and could lead to a re-evaluation of succession planning and the range of roles considered as part of an employee’s development path.

And finally, as if all this change isn’t enough, Gartner sees an acceleration of merger and acquisition activity over the rest of 2020, along with the likelihood of nationalizations and consolidations.

So, the organization someone works for today might be different — and have a different operating model — tomorrow.

That is if the employee isn’t on the list for redundancy, both because their current organization is under pressure and because their productivity hasn’t held up under the demands of remote working.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Deagreez