Chief technology officers and heads of people development & management will be front and center in 2021. The future of the workplace is a digital workplace. However, as much as we thought we had technologically advanced in the last couple of decades, 2020 has completely changed the landscape. One Deloitte study articulated that one of the toughest balances facing companies getting ready for 2021 is “the tension between preparing for a return to previous activities and routines — getting back to work— while also embracing a new reality — rethinking work.” CTOs will play a large role in the literal landscape of how businesses operate next year, and chief people officers will have to reinvent many aspects of how employees actually are guided and supported within it.
Getting companies ready for 2021 is not just an extension of 2020
Once-in-a-century is every day. A pandemic of this proportion is reportedly a once every hundred years event. But unlike a natural disaster, there is no clear point of maximum impact and a predictable decline back to the status quo. If 2020 was all about reaction, 2021 is about normalisation. A Deloitte study pointed out that “It is important to realize that the recovery won’t be static. It will not occur on a specific date. COVID-19 is unlikely to end suddenly given the lack of available therapeutics and the uncertain prospects and timing of a vaccine.”
This means that workplaces need to find ways to take what might have been a (justifiably) rushed accommodation of radical changes in everyone’s lives, and turn it into a sustainable, productive, comfortable way of operating. Consider it loosely like the evolution of understanding COVID itself – over time scientists are learning more about the disease, and ways to treat it. In many places, not wearing a mask is beginning to feel more peculiar than wearing one. Work from home in 2021 is going to be just “work”, and CTOs will likely want to review ways to provide systemic, stable, and secure technological solutions. For organisations that resume on-site operations this will mean ongoing investment in new sanitation procedures. But the broader point is more about a shift in mindset — that this is not something to get through, but rather to adjust to.
Maximising mental health management. Human resources teams and direct line managers will likely have to increase their ability to manage the emotional health of employees. It’s an obvious statement that a pandemic means it’s worldwide. But what that means for the workplace is that all employees are under stress, all of the time. Everyone has an opinion on the coronavirus (let me know if you find someone who doesn’t). Whether it’s frustration at complying with local laws around prevention, to fear of contracting the disease, to strain of caring for someone who has it, this is a universally impactful situation. And so, whereas managers in the past might have a single worker in crisis who needed special accommodation, getting companies ready for 2021 means building up employee support resources that can scale.
Rethinking personnel needs. The types of skills needed in 2021 may look different from ever before. The need for CTOs to be front and center of operational decisions is just one example. Chief people officers will also be more important as management, training, goal setting, and hiring will operate very differently in places where employees are dispersed across remote work environments. And some companies are also reconsidering contingent worker solutions versus full time hires in order to be able to respond to changing business needs with more flexibility. In fact, a University of Chicago study anticipates that as much as 42% of eliminated jobs aren’t coming back.
Getting companies ready for 2021 will take all year
Learning to adapt over and over again, without it feeling disruptive or unstable, is difficult. But the reality is that the impact the pandemic will have on business will change over time. For global companies, those changes will be compounded. Decision making should never be in a vacuum, but now more than ever, the ability to keep refining goals, needs, challenges and opportunities will likely separate those organisations who find success next year and those who don’t. A Gartner report emphasized the need for resilience, as opposed to efficiency as integral to getting companies ready for 2021. The report stated: “. . . as organizations come through the pandemic, we saw that a lot were able to respond with a lot of speed, but we haven’t been able to see them sensing and responding over and over again.” What they called sustained resilience means not so much seeking a new normal, as accepting there won’t be one.
Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.