Blog

16 March 2020

Coronavirus: Forcing the world into the future of work

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There have been many events that have changed the course of history. The global Coronavirus epidemic of 2020 looks set to be one of them.

For the first time in decades, the entire world is experiencing the exact same tragedy, fear, and confusion, at the same time. We might not be able to see it right now, but this virus is forcing us to confront some home truths about the human experience and the future of work.

Our shared humanity and global interconnectedness

First and foremost, this global epidemic is forcing us to confront just how interconnected and interdependent we all are on each other, everywhere in the world. What happens in one country is no longer restricted to the confines of some coordinates on a map. The borders we have created and the walls we seek to build, do nothing to isolate us from a global crisis such as this. None of us can afford to look away – as we have done so many times with Malaria, with HIV/AIDS, with natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and runaway bushfires – simply because “it doesn’t affect us”. This literally affects us all, no matter where in the world we are, and this virus clearly does not discriminate based on poverty levels, education or GDP.

So, if ever there was a time in history for us to set aside our petty differences about race, culture, religion, and politics and to focus instead, on our shared humanity and our shared plight to not only survive but hopefully thrive in this world, the time is clearly now.

Remote work and flexible working hours

In addition to forcing us to confront our shared humanity and how connected we all are, this virus is also forcing us to seriously consider the future of work and, in many instances, to fast-track the mainstream implementation of remote working and significantly more flexible working hours.

The truth is that we have had the technology to enable both for many years now. We’ve just had corporate leaders too stuck in the past and too unwilling to try new ways of working, throwing a spanner in the wheels of progress.

Coronavirus leaves us with no choice but to start using the tools and technology we have available to us and embrace remote working. To accommodate this ‘new’ way of working, as well as time zone differences and the personal needs of employees who might be taking care of loved ones or have children at home due to school closures, we also must start getting creative with flexible working hours.

This might even lead to some serious questions about the standard five-day workweek and whether it still has a place in the 21st Century. If (and when) we get this right during 2020, why would we want to revert to our old ways of working once the world emerges from this epidemic and its aftermath?

More virtual doesn’t have to mean less valuable

With travel bans and cities on lockdown, prohibiting large public gatherings, we are forced to reconsider how we learn and network and add value to our professional communities. We are already seeing more events becoming ‘virtual’ and embracing interactive video technology, instead of the more traditional conference at a hotel or conference centre. The high caliber of speakers and the content they are sharing in a new way also forces us to question whether it’s not perhaps time to start exploring means other than the physical classroom, to educate our children and college-aged students.

Robots vs humans

Inasmuch as we have succeeded in automating many jobs, it is an undeniable fact that robots aren’t replacing humans at work just yet. Not only is the technology clearly not ready and waiting in the wings to obliterate all human jobs, but the coronavirus epidemic is forcing organisations globally, to finally start realising the true value of their people and the skill, commitment, and dedication that their people bring to work every single day. An epidemic such as this, highlights the high cost of hiring talent, upskilling or re-skilling talented individuals and the toll of illness and absenteeism on morale, productivity and ultimately, profit.

Is this potential health crisis perhaps the wake-up call that business leaders need in order to finally start prioritising people over profits?

I am no expert in virology or infectious diseases, or global economics, and I don’t know how this Coronavirus epidemic of 2020 is going to unfold. What I do know, unequivocally, is that this is a test for all of us to see just how committed we are to our comfort zones and our general aversion to growth and evolution. We cannot afford to wallow in a tepid pool or ‘because that’s the way we have always done things.’ Those beliefs – much like panicked stockpiling of bottled water and toilet paper – are fear-based reactions to this challenge.

The antidote to fear is love. We respond to this challenge from a place of love when we calmly and rationally learn all we can to protect ourselves and others. We respond with love by showing kindness and empathy to every single human being because we recognise our shared humanity and how reliant we are on each other, for survival. And we respond with love when we seek innovative ways to work together to solve our workplace challenges and the challenges brought about by this virus, many of which we haven’t even conceived of yet.

Deborah Hartung

Deborah Hartung is a Consultant, Coach, Author and Speaker. She has spent almost 20 years advising corporates on matters relating to employee relations, corporate culture and leadership development. Deborah is passionate about people and technology, the human experience in the workplace and the opportunities for the advancement of humanity in the digital age.

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