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The Post-Pandemic Workforce: A Futurist’s Viewpoint

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Alexandra Levit.

Given that I wrote a book about the rapid transformation of work as we knew it back in 2018, people often ask me what has surprised me about how human capital is evolving today. As a Workforce Institute Board Member, I’d like to share my topline thoughts, some of which have been derived as the result of quantitative research, and others that came about through engagement with organizations and futurist groups such as the Association of Professional Futurists (APF), the Future Today Institute, the Grey Swan Guild, and the foresight certification program I recently completed with the University of Houston.

The Acceleration of What We Saw Coming

Pandemic or no pandemic, several workforce-related trends were inevitable, including the rise of the gig economy, the contract workforce, internal talent marketplaces, and talent assembly – in which teams are constructed from different types of workers to solve specific problems in hot areas of the business.

We also surmised that organizations would begin to look closely at how human capital quantitatively drives business value; the use of Big Data, analytics, and executive dashboards to determine what is and isn’t working in talent acquisition, learning, scheduling, and performance; the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to combat unconscious bias and measure productivity; and the focus on data quality, integration, and governance.

The shift in the flow of work due to new players like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon entering the online collaboration market was expected, as was the increasing popularity of curated learning content by in-house subject matter experts, personalized course recommendations, and targeted certifications and micro-credentialing. Given the technology available today, there is no reason individuals shouldn’t upskill and reskill using all the resources at their disposal, and at their own pace and convenience.

What Has Surprised Me

There have been a few head-scratchers along the way. The first involves digital transformation. It is a bit disappointing how, during the pandemic, some organizations have simply slapped in-office processes up online. That was fine for the first six months of the crisis, but now it’s time to move on. One size doesn’t fit all. We must permanently adapt certain processes to be antifragile and an effective mix of high tech, high touch.

Also, with respect to digital transformation, it surprises me that no one is talking about what we’ll do when we are entirely dependent on technology and it breaks, what happens when it gets seriously hacked, what happens when we have bandwidth challenges and access inequity, what happens when there are too many systems and usability and adoption falter, and what data and privacy concerns will arise with increased employee monitoring. In my opinion, these are issues that every company should be closely tracking.

While the labor shortages occurring as a result of demographic shifts like baby boomer retirement and smaller generational cohorts like X and Z were anticipated, organizational attitudes toward post-pandemic employee retention are not. Many companies are currently issuing decrees about exactly when people should return to the office and how and when they should work. After a successful 18-month trial of much greater flexibility, this is not going to fly with top (and increasingly rare) talent, and I fear a “great resignation” is about to take place.

Finally, I’m perplexed that more leaders aren’t acknowledging that they were caught completely off guard by the pandemic and are now engaging in strategic foresight to be adequately prepared for what’s certain to be future disruptions.

While we can’t predict the future, we have a responsibility to look around corners as best we can and plan for a variety of potential scenarios. I look forward to continuing to be part of this process!

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