The future of work is uniquely human
The disruptive changes of 2020, including the Covid-19 shutdowns that resulted in millions of workers working remotely, forced companies to radically rethink everything from worker wellbeing to business models and operations to investing in cloud based tools for collaboration and communication.
In all industries, last year’s best plans have been turned upside down. So it’s no wonder that technology and work are inextricably linked more than ever. Moving into an uncertain future, companies have accelerated their efforts to use automation and other new technologies to increase efficiency, promote employee well-being, accelerate job performance, and achieve new results.
However, technology investments are not enough to prepare for future disruptions. In fact, a company’s readiness is critically dependent on how it prepares its work and its workforce. This is a unique human moment that requires human touch.
To be successful in a world of constant change, companies must redesign their work and support their employees in such a way that they can face future challenges. According to Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends Survey of 6,000 respondents worldwide, including 3,630 senior executives, 45% said building an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability, and resilience is critical to transforming work. To achieve this goal, considering three essential human characteristics – purpose, potential, and perspective – can humanize work and create lasting value for the workforce as well as for the entire organization and society at large.
Purpose: to anchor organizations in values
Purpose defines a set of fundamental organizational values that are not dependent on circumstances and serve as a benchmark against which actions and decisions can be weighed. It relies on the unique human ability to identify where economic and social values intersect. Organizations whose purpose is unwavering can give meaning to work to mobilize people towards common, meaningful goals.
For example, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, recognizes Delta Air Lines’ purpose in helping the organization cope with the Covid-19 crisis. “When I took over as CEO, we looked at what our mission was and what our goal was, what helped us after the pandemic because we were clearly before the pandemic,” he says. “Our employees can do their best when they have leadership support and feel connected to the purpose of the organization.”
Potential: A dynamic look at people’s skills
To be successful in constant disruption, organizations need to harness the potential of their people and their teams by looking at their people’s skills in a more dynamic way. Most executives agree: 72% of executives in the Deloitte survey said that “the ability of their employees to adapt, retrain and assume new roles” is either the most important or the second most important factor in their ability to perform The company was to control future disruptions and increase speed and agility.
AstraZeneca, for example, is an organization that quickly mobilized its resources and harnessed the potential of its workers to meet an urgent need – the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Tonya Villafana, Vice President and Global Franchise Head of Infection at AstraZeneca, recognizes the company’s accelerated response to its ability to draw on a diverse pool of experts both across the company and through its collaboration with the University of Oxford. In addition, AstraZeneca not only brought in top experts, but also included “top performers who were really passionate and wanted to get involved” on the vaccine development team.
Perspective: Acting courageously in the face of uncertainties
Given the uncertainty, it’s easy to get paralyzed by multiple options and choices. The perspective – in the truest sense of the word the way companies see things – is a challenge to act courageously in the face of the unknown and to use disruptions as a starting point to imagine new possibilities and possibilities. For example, if you take the perspective that uncertainty is a valuable opportunity, companies can take new, fearless steps forward, even if it means straying from the usual, easy-going path. For most of the leaders in the survey, this involves a conscious effort to completely rethink how, by whom, where work is done and what results can be achieved. 61% of respondents said their work transformation goals would focus on redesigning work, compared to just 29% before the pandemic.
ServiceNow is an organization that changed direction in this way during covid-19. In March 2020, the company held a strategy meeting on the topic of “Blue Sky” as a forum for executives to discuss the future of work, digital transformation and the company. As they looked at these issues in the cloud of the emerging pandemic, CEO Bill McDermott realized that the organization had to take a different path. “If we can’t help the world cope with the pandemic, there won’t be blue skies,” he said. As a result, he turned the meeting to focus on how ServiceNow can quickly innovate and bring new products to market that will help companies keep business up and running during the pandemic. ServiceNow quickly built and deployed four emergency management applications and a number of secure workplace applications to make return to work work for everyone.
Putting people at the center of work decisions pays off
The re-architecture is not just about automating tasks and activities. At its core, it’s about configuring the work to use what people can do when the work is based on their strengths.
In the survey, executives identified two factors related to human potential as the most transformative for the workplace: building an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability, and resilience (45%); and building workforce skills through training, retraining, and mobility (41%)).
Leaders should find ways to create a shared sense of purpose that motivates people to move strongly in the same direction in which they face the organization’s current and future challenges, whether or not it is like at Delta to keep people connected or focus on goals such as inclusivity, diversity or transparency. You should trust that people will work in a way that enables them to reach their full potential and give workers some degree of choice over the work they do to align their passions with organizational needs. And they should take the perspective that redesigning work is the key to getting new and better results in a world that is itself constantly being redefined.
If the past year has shown us anything, it is worth putting people at the center of a company’s work and workforce decisions by helping companies better stay ahead of disruption. The result is an organization that not only survives, but thrives in an unpredictable environment with an unknown future.
This content was created by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not authored by the editorial staff of MIT Technology Review.