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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2020-03-27 15:36

Cathryn Barnard



It’s been four weeks since the UK Government published its COVID-19 action plan. Just under two weeks since the UK formally went into lockdown...


It’s been four weeks since the UK Government published its COVID-19 action plan. Just under two weeks since the UK formally went into lockdown.


The rapid spread of COVID-19, first detected at the end of December 2019, has taken us all by surprise. While epidemiologists and virologists have argued that a global pandemic has been long overdue, it’s not something that’s been factored in to any but the most extreme scenarios for disaster-planning. 


Its global economic impact can’t be underestimated. With a quarter of the global population currently in official lockdown, financial analysts are already predicting a recession significantly worse than the 2007-8 financial collapse. Already we can see just how precarious work has become for so many in this country. The cruel disregard for people’s lives shown by various unscrupulous bosses mustn’t be overlooked. 


We’ve yet to feel the emotional impact of the virus – mortality numbers are low right now compared to countries where the infection is further evolved. But we know they’ll significantly increase. That the Excel Conference Centre in London has been commandeered as an emergency hospital is a stark indication of what lies ahead.


We’re each very unlikely not to know someone whose life is irrevocably changed by Coronavirus.


One of the most challenging thought patterns right now is accepting both constant uncertainty as the new normal, and the knowledge that whatever the future holds, life will never be the same again. 


In coaching circles, it’s long been recognised that, in order to move forward, we need to let go of the past. One of the best books I’ve read on the psychology of change is Transitions, by William Bridges. 


Originally published in 1980, Bridges argues that our lives consist of continuous beginnings and endings, and that, in order to optimally progress through life, we shouldn’t underestimate the necessity of endings. We can’t fully move on to the new, until we’ve said goodbye to the old. 


For this reason, endings are important.


And so, while many out there are frantically trying to adjust to the ‘new normal’, we think its essential right now to pause. 


Over the past week, my overarching sense is that many people are traumatised by current events, and that it will take time to work through this. 


Speaking from direct experience of bereavement, I can honestly say that taking the time to make sense of feelings has, in the long run, done more for me than anything else in my life to date. Don’t get me wrong, for a long time, I thought I was managing. Only when I started counselling did I see how unreconciled my feelings were, and that this was inhibiting my ability to get on with life. 


If we’re to move on and make the best of things, perhaps we need to acknowledge our collective grief, for the loss of perceived stability, certainty and ‘life as we know it’. Maybe we could step back to reflect on the enormity of what’s happened, consider WHY it’s happened, and then work out what we need to do as a species to try and ensure we don’t get caught out twice. 


Should we choose to do this, our sense is that we’ll come out the other side all the better for it.


So, instead of rushing to ‘fix’ things, maybe we could explore:


1.    Connection        

Take the time right now to really check in with family, friends and colleagues. 


Humans are social creatures. In Daring Greatly, US research professor Brené Brown writes: 


“Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”


In times of crisis, knowing that we belong somewhere, is crucial for mental wellbeing. Take the time to share conversation with your tribe.


2.    Community

Our lives are interconnected in ways we often only see when the fabric of community is jeopardised. Being in lockdown creates acute awareness of just how much we are each embedded in tiny ecosystems – only when we’re removed from them, do we see their true value. Take time to identify the communities to which you belong, and find a way to nurture and support them. 


3.    Collaboration

A common prediction for life, and work, in the 21st Century, is that collaboration will be key. Futurist thinkers suggest we’ll be unable to solve the complex problems of our time without coming together and pooling our ‘collective intelligence’. In addition to usefulness for overcoming ‘wicked problems’, collaboration feeds emotional wellbeing, not least because it’s in our nature to feel useful and helpful. 


4.    Contemplation

Maybe it’s time to consider the bigger picture. Why do we have a pandemic? What are the human causal factors? How do we adapt our behaviour to mitigate the worst effects of climate change? How do we reduce social and economic inequality? 


Everything is connected. Maybe now is the time to contemplate the complexity of our challenges and to attempt some different thinking in trying to solve them. As Einstein allegedly said: 


“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”


If there’s one thing this pandemic will hopefully teach us, it’s that we have to live differently. Climate change, resource depletion, social inequality, economic precarity, mental illness – these are all the challenges of our times, and our human systems made them. 


Perhaps this is finally the time to start thinking, and doing, differently. 


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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Navigating Talent RiskRecruitment and Retention and Foresight Focus reports and products.


Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions - Making Sense of Life’s Changes. 2nd Edn. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly – How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. London: Penguin Random House

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