LOOKING AHEAD: THE PANDEMIC AND THE FUTURE OF WORK: PART II

i4cp Futurist Jay Jamrog on pandemic effects on organizational culture, the surprising future role of businesses, and shifts in work

In Part I of a recent interview with i4cp’s Jay Jamrog, we discussed how he and other futurists look ahead to identify trends and imagine how the COVID-19 pandemic and other forces might impact organizations and the leadership decisions executives must make.  

The insights he shared suggest that accelerated evolution in technology use driven by the pandemic signals heightening urgency for leaders and others to work on developing their skills in analyzing data. Of particular importance: the ability to make sense of information from disparate sources and about different subjects, along with the insight and creativity needed to discover and tell the stories underlying data. 

Part II of the interview explores Jay’s view on the impact of the health crisis on corporate culture, a new role ahead for businesses, and likely shifts in the ways work is done. 

Q: Jay, a recent i4cp pulse survey on culture found three-quarters of business and HR leaders saying that the pandemic has had positive effects on their organizations’ cultures. Would you comment on that?  

J: Prior to the pandemic, our research found that many more organizations were paying attention to cultures—building on their foundations and renovating their cultures to make them healthier, more innovative, more agile, and more inclusive.  

With the shift to remote work, people suddenly weren’t going to workplaces where the artifacts of their organizational cultures—photos, awards, missions, values, whatever—were on display as constant reminders of what the company was all about.   

When the pandemic sent people home to work, companies that already had healthy cultures found they didn’t need that stuff. People understood and shared a common purpose, they were aligned to it, and that culture proved to be the glue that holds them together, even though their work lives suddenly changed dramatically.  

So the pandemic has had a positive effect because leaders realize that their cultures are not only remaining intact, but are providing employees with a sense of security and control when the health crisis, the economy, and social unrest have left many feeling that their world was out of control.  

Q. It sounds as if those organizations with the kind of positive, purpose-driven cultures that you described are acting as something of a social anchor during this chaotic time? 

J: Yes, they are. People have lost faith in the purposes of other institutions—educational systems, religious entities, and the government don’t provide the guidance they used to. So it falls to business organizations. When a corporate culture is healthy, a company can be a rock for its people and for society.  

The pandemic has enhanced interest in the well-being of employees and their families, and Zoom meetings have opened windows into the homes and lives of our co-workers, which has humanized things. I think we’re going to see this idea of well-being morph into a three-pronged perspective for organizations in the future: focus on people and their well-being, focus on profits (the well-being of the organization), and focus on the well-being of our planet—the environment. 

That focus on the planet piece will include greater interest in the well-being of our cities, especially in underserved communities where we have to focus our efforts if we’re going to make communities safer, healthier places where people can feel secure. For years, our society has neglected so many problems. I think corporations will step up to change that. 

Q. That has big implications for businesses because society has traditionally looked to politics and other institutions to make those things happen. But you’re saying that businesses are going to be leading influencers in the societal changes that need to happen? 

J. I hope it isn’t only businesses. I hope we’ll see them create partnerships with civic leaders, mayors, police chiefs, local politicians—all the key influencers in communities. It needs to be a collaboration, so it isn't all on the shoulders of corporations. But businesses can be a big part of helping to make positive change happen, and I think organizational leaders understand that.  

This means moving beyond the idea of using social responsibility to attract talent.  

To make our society healthy, to shore up our healthcare system so we’re prepared for the next pandemic—those things will demand that a lot of people get involved. Politicians, corporations, or community leaders by themselves will let us down. We have to work together. 

It is going to be a three-legged stool for business leaders to balance the well-being of the company because they have to create profits; the well-being of their people, their talent; and the well-being of their communities. Leaders will have to be able to think in all three areas and to look at well-being as a much broader concept.  

Q. So, you see new roles emerging for business organizations as societal anchors during uncertain times and as key influencers and partners in driving the changes our society and communities need. What about the changes in the ways that work is done in coming years? 

J. Work will be reimagined in the future. And a big part of that is already happening right now. There is this whole project revolution that is almost like a Hollywood model where a director of a film brings different people in to work on a project—actors, stunt people, lighting technicians, and others. When the project is done they go on to other jobs. 

So, I think we’ll see more reimagining of work in that way. You have your core job, but you also have projects you work on. This is going to affect HR because it won't only be the work itself that changes, but also how talent is sourced. We’ve see internal talent, or gig, marketplaces take off, and that is going to accelerate in the future. 

How you mobilize talent and have the ability to match skills and passions to the needs of the business and the projects you are working on will be key considerations. If you’re leading a global firm, you can source talent all around the world to work on projects. Your people don’t have to leave their jobs to do that. In addition to enabling better use of talent, this approach helps bring your workforce community together. It breaks down silos, engages people in work that interests them, and it’s a great development tool that enables employees to see what it's like to work in other parts of the organization. So when we look at work reimagined it is not only about projects but also the talent and the talent supply chain for those projects.  

While there are many positives, organizations have to monitor this sort of project approach to make sure that people don't become overloaded. It is especially easy for that to happen in a remote work situation. If you aren’t being seen and you aspire to grow your career, you want to be noticed. So you may have a tendency to volunteer for too many things.  

For leaders, it just means that reimagination of work and talent will bring new challenges when it comes to balancing that three-legged stool of well-being: people, profits, and the planet. 

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Read more about the future of work in Part I of the interview with Jay Jamrog and in Jay’s blog on The New (Not So) Normal.