When I started this website in mid-2019, I had no idea the “Future of Work”, employee benefits, and our world would be so impacted by the global pandemic, COVID-19. My thoughts and focus were on the impact technologies such as automation, AI, mobile, robotics, digital biology, blockchain, global gigabit networks and others would exponentially grow and change the nature of work. Little did I think about or know how a global pandemic, an invisible enemy, would amplify the technology changes that are sprinting ahead.
A week ago, I commuted to the office. I also worked from home, held meetings with clients, colleagues and partners, booked travel, planned for upcoming conferences, ate lunch at the restaurant in our lobby, held a budget meeting and was onboarding a new client. My older children were off at college, my youngest was more than halfway through Junior year in High School, my wife was managing the Westborough Girl Scout cookie sales program, and I was looking forward to spring, golf, volunteering, gardening, graduations and a whole host of other activities.
This week I’m fighting for Wi-Fi bandwidth with three children doing online learning after being sent home from high school and college. My wife Pam and I are trying to figure out how to have five separate “home offices” for our family- three of whose lives have been uprooted from forces beyond their control.
Through technology, we are better prepared to be more productive working from home with networks in the cloud, video meetings, social media tools. How many more times have you checked Facebook or LinkedIn in the past week? How many online meetings have you participated in? Played Zoom Bingo yet?
I’m thinking about those folks that can’t log in and do their jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 29% of American workers can readily work from home. On the front line of this crisis are the healthcare workers; nurses, doctors, assistants, technicians, therapists, pharmacists, sanitation workers, dieticians and cooks. I’m also thinking about grocery store employees, truck drivers, train engineers, merchant marines, farmers, fishermen, warehouse employees, delivery folks etc. all thrust into harm’s way. They have always been critical yet oftentimes overlooked components of our economic engine. I must confess, I took their positions and services for granted. I hope I won’t do that going forward.
I’m hearing people use the phrase “when things get back to normal’ or to the way things were before this crisis. I don’t think we’re going back to “the way things used to be”. Work will be changed significantly following this pandemic. I yearn to see my clients, associates and colleagues in person. Will employers be really roll back the change to remote work? Will employees want to do that? I don’t think so. Just as we got comfortable communicating via email, mobile phone, text or apps, so we will get comfortable communicating via online meeting. I wager that these online meetings tools will soon be more usable, offer more functionality as we get in the groove of their use. Productivity will grab hold of this new way of work and accelerate.
At last week’s Future of Work conference in California (conducted virtually by the way), futurist Peter Schwartz summed it up, “We are conducting a natural experiment. One we would prefer not to have conducted. But we’re going to learn the hard way, rather quickly and by necessity, everything that can be done remotely will. … We’re not going back to zero afterward. What do we learn out of all this in terms of how our society can change?”
As we live through these events and transition into what comes next, there’s no going back. As I wrote in October, change in our exponential world happens gradually and then suddenly. Man, I did I underestimate this change. I think it’s safe to say we’ll be in for more "telecommunicating", flexible work schedules, increased paid leave time and a reduction in corporate travel.
Lots more questions than answers are unfolding before us. Until we meet again, I hope life finds you safe, healthy, hopeful and grateful.