How work and the workforce will change for good post-corona

18 May 2020 6 min. read

In a new report by KPMG, the professional services firm predicts that the world will be a different place as it emerges from the Covid-19 crisis. Two of the most impacted areas will be the nature of work and the composition of the workforce.

KPMG experts and report authors Tom Herbert and Sofia Lanfranconi outline the top human capital trends.

More remote working

Working remotely during the coronavirus crisis has quickly become the new norm, and one that won’t dissipate quickly – rather, remote working (both part-time and full-time) will rise across all industries. This will include industries such as financial services and the public sector, which have typically been office-bound and challenged by remote working at scale.

The 9 to 5 workday?

Work will be regarded as a thing you do, rather than a place you go. Measurement of ‘work’ will increasingly become about outcome rather than the input, regardless of when and where it is done. Time for collaboration will still be important, but it will demand more effective use of time together. The natural collaboration that happens in an office environment will need to be factored in and more formally acknowledged. Leaders will step-up and adopt a far more flexible approach to understand and work with the personal circumstances of their employees.

Emerging tech improves remote working

The 5G rollout will boost internet speed and reliability across the country, further expanding the possibilities of a remote workforce. The mass adoption of video conferencing apps means we are close to truly feeling like we are in the same room as our colleagues.

This increase in usage will see the need for virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to expand. This should accelerate the experimentation and adoption of these technologies – particularly as costs continue to come down. We will also see a reduced need for national and international travel, which may have significant impacts on the business travel industry, including airlines, hotels, rental cars and insurance.

Real estate needs are going to change

With more work being done outside the office, corporate real estate can be repurposed or reduced. Individuals will adapt to make better home office spaces. Larger properties with space for work (and play) will become more appealing, challenging the current preference for smaller inner-city dwellings.

Mental health and connection

Remote working has further blurred the line between work and personal lives. The pre-coronavirus crisis focus on supporting mental health among employees will adapt, establishing new avenues of support as employees are managing large changes in their work and personal lives (health, financial, changed caring arrangements for children and parents) at the same time.

Successful leaders will develop innovative ways to manage team member’s mental health and connection to purpose – which are critical to sustain performance and retention. Given the size of the change – leaders will need to embed new healthy behaviours in their own and employee's lives.

Remote work will break traditional structures

As we shift from managing inputs to managing by outcomes, current organisational hierarchies won’t make sense. A shift to flatter and more fluid task-based structures will follow and require new management skills and changes to performance measurement and reward programs. Company culture will also need to be re-examined.

Occupational health and safety extends at home

Employers will have a role in supporting employees to ensure their home working environment meets health and safety requirements. This will raise issues around the extent of the support, and ultimately who is liable, should anything happen in the new workplace, which will also impact insurance policies.

People will adapt faster than we think

The sudden shift to remote working has been jarring for many, compounded by other impacts of the coronavirus crisis, e.g. looking after families. It takes time to adapt to large changes, but the remote workforce will as we improve home office set-ups, start managing by output versus input, adapt leadership and management styles and improve technology.

Greater focus on workforce automation

The possibilities of technologies (including machine learning, artificial intelligence, drones and others) have been accelerating exponentially in recent years. The automation imperative will grow as a survival response through a challenging economic period, further driven by the exposure on dependency on legacy systems being highlighted. Post-coronavirus, this move towards automation will accelerate further.

Shareholders and employees

With digital transformation at the top of business agendas and challenging economic conditions, companies will need to adopt a position regarding their workforce and other stakeholders. There will be a differentiation in approaches – some organisations will move to create an extremely lean workforce through digitisation, while others will aim to minimise impact on employees. Companies who prioritise employee needs over shareholder needs could become talent destinations.

The gig economy

Various gig arrangements have existed across industries and professions for a long time. But with less permanent positions available due to automation, this will grow. Supply will come from organisations needing to add new skillsets and capacity while retaining flexibility to combat volatile conditions. Demand will come from individuals who increasingly need new sources of income. This matching of supply and demand via gig arrangements will help the economy recover faster than expected.

The reskilling crisis

Increased digitisation and automation of repeatable tasks will shift the skills needed by organisations. The rapid and simultaneous nature of digital transformation means that large portions of the workforce (especially low-skilled workers) will need to be re-trained. The longer we wait to undertake this large reskilling need, the bigger the issue will become.

Financial systems will need a redesign

Society’s financial security is engineered around a workforce that is employed in permanent positions for most of their working life. A faster than expected shift towards automation, coupled with more gig work will require re-designing the long-standing systems of credit access, the welfare system and retirement programs.

Financial security becomes top priority

With jobs and careers becoming increasingly transient, more people will be left balancing multiple part-time jobs or a string of short-term roles. Less job security and greater gig work (which is particularly susceptible to economic shocks) will shift household priorities toward more conservative saving and spending patterns. This constrained consumer spending could lead to lower economic growth, self-perpetuating the problem.