The events of 2020 permanently changed work, workers, and business. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated trends that were set in motion long before this year: a more distributed workforce, greater employee autonomy and accountability, and finding meaning in the work we do and the connections we make. Organizations and the people who work within them have had to adapt to massive change and long-term uncertainty. This has been challenging, but it has also sped up preparation for the future.
Here are five ways I think work has been changed for good:
1. Work has a different meaning.
We’re accustomed to thinking about work as something we do to produce results, whether a person or a machine is doing the work. This year, we’ve all had to pause and reconsider this model. SaaS business applications and software-powered machines took on work people previously did, and this will continue. This is changing the meaning of work for people. We’re deriving more meaning out of it, making it more inclusive and empathetic, and making sure it reflects our values.
As emerging technologies like machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) come online, there is an opportunity to free humans of mundane repetitive tasks so they can focus more on work that brings meaning to them and value to the organization.
Also, the pace of work has quickened, and the physical boundaries between our work and our personal lives have dissolved. Although this makes us more productive and agile, it also means we have to set new boundaries between work time and personal time.
2. Workers and what they need from managers have changed.
As work has evolved, so have workers—what matters to them, when they're available, and how they do their work. In many instances, it doesn’t matter where you are physically located. We're all somewhere, and we're working. Employers have to think about how to provide employee experience through their businesses wherever people happen to be doing work.
Business leaders need to make changes to management practices as well. First, they need to realize that distributed work has a more intensive cadence than in-person work, and without traditional work and break hours, employees need to be empowered to include time on their calendars for rest and rejuvenation. Second, they should focus on checking in on people instead of checking up on people. Rather than conducting a company-wide employee-experience survey that bubbles up to the top of the organization—through 19 rounds of scrubbing, and then back down—the data collection and the manager response need to take place in a more expedient and agile way, and as close to the employee and manager as humanly possible.
3. The centralized business model has been replaced by a distributed business model.
The most obvious change in the way business operates is that the workforce has become more distributed. When there's one person out of 10 working out of the office, that's one thing. When there's 10 people out of 10 working outside the office, it changes the model.
But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Some organizations will rely on cloud, others on mobile, and most will adopt some combination of the two. High-touch human exchanges might be supplemented or replaced with high-touch digital experiences via technologies, such as digital assistants.
Data will play a central role: The more data you have and the better you understand how to use it, the faster you’ll become an efficient distributed enterprise. Going forward, competitive gains will come from making data-driven decisions using an integrated suite of SaaS business applications and tools.
4. Digitization efforts will focus more on people resources.
Six months ago, digitization efforts focused on creating the next shiny object—the hottest app or the coolest smart speaker. Today, digitization drives efficiency. Data can help me understand my people better. Rather than counting people, I can use data to make people count. What makes them successful? What drives their worth in an organization?
There’s no question that technology has made it easier to connect people, but how can we use it to build connections to them in a distributed work environment? The key is to listen to the data and act on it. When HR rolls out talent profiles but then looks elsewhere when it comes to replacing a position, they’re probably not using the data they have about employee qualifications, experiences, and strengths. First, we have to make sure we have the right data. And once we have it, how do we use it right now to make the best business decision?
5. Managing change is now everyone’s job, all the time.
Most organizations are terrible at organizational change. They're good at telling people they have to work differently, but not so good at convincing people why they should work differently —what’s in it for them? Part of this change is finding new ways to measure success. In the past, success was measured at the project level: “On time” and “on budget” are two such measures.
Instead of only looking for ways to do more with less, we need to find ways to do right with less. For every change, we should ask why we’re making that change. Why are we putting in a piece of technology? It’s not for technology’s sake. We're doing it so that we have better data, a higher net promoter score, more profit, a better renewal rate, and so on. If we're going to focus on doing the right things, we shouldn’t measure people, but instead measure impact. It's really important to tie your measurements to impact and not just to project-level success when everything else is changing faster than most projects can complete.
We live in a time that requires us to be as agile as possible. To do that, we need to look at these five factors—work, worker, business, digital transformation, and change—and then ask ourselves, what's changing this week? How do I respond to those changes? In a world of constant change, we need to have our finger on the pulse of these five aspects of work not annually, not quarterly, but every day.
Learn more here about how Oracle makes work more human as we adapt to our changing workplace.
Jason Averbook is the CEO and Co-founder of Leapgen. With more than 25 years of experience in the HR and technologies industries, he is a leading analyst, thought leader, and consultant in the area of human resources, the Now of Work, and the impact technologies have on that future.