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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


2021-10-11 12:13

Cathryn Barnard



September was supposed to be when things got back to normal here in the UK. Our politicians and media pointed to it as a key month for what seems like forever.


September was supposed to be when things got back to normal here in the UK. Our politicians and media pointed to it as a key month for what seems like forever.


After lifting all COVID restrictions in June, by the time the kids went back to school it was anticipated that with a successful vaccine rollout, things might be as if the pandemic had never happened. Political discourse was ripe with ‘back to work’.


The best way to predict the future is to create it. Or not…


Community infection rates are higher than this time last year, and most prevalent amongst school age children and young adults. Education continues to be impacted – in my son’s school last week there were 83 kids and 14 teachers off with COVID.


But the UK Government seems to have given up worrying about the virus. The general tone seems to infer that the pandemic is yesterday’s news and now it’s time to kickstart the economy. With furlough support ended, and supply chain and inflationary pressures now causing real concern to business and households, presumably there are bigger things to worry about.


A perfect storm of geopolitics, Brexit, the climate emergency and an increasingly unpredictable globalised economy is now gathering pace. Add to this the spiraling costs of energy and fuel shortages – it’s more than enough to keep anyone awake at night.


But pretending, as our incumbent politicians seem to be, that things are ‘normal’ – and even that everyone should now be back in their offices five days a week – is dangerous, as well as self-serving.


Until COVID ceases to be a threat to health and life, it’s down to all of us to remain vigilant. If nature teaches anything it’s that those of us who successfully adapt are most likely to survive. This is the essence of natural selection.


Trying to navigate what increasingly feels like political gaslighting is exhausting.


Being a business owner in uncharted economic landscapes is draining. It’s fine to plan, but not fine to myopically and rigidly try to stick to said plans when any number of things could throw us off course at a moment’s notice. We’ve become accustomed to infinitely calmer markets, and what’s increasingly clear is that wishing ourselves back to a sense of ‘normality’ is far easier that accepting that everything is different now.


This is the VUCA landscape that the business schools and management consultancies forewarned of for so long.


Denial is dispiriting. And persisting with resisting the reality of market forces must be so de-energising. But it’s remarkable to observe just how preferable a return to normal is to the alternative of imagining new possibilities and new ways of being.


In Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, Jacqueline Novogratz wrote:


“[...] If you want to play it safe, you shouldn’t get into the business of change. Change involves risk, and risk, which is not the same as recklessness, involves courage.”


The work we do at Working the Future is change work. We help business leaders understand what’s changing and why, so that we can then help them explore and create new ways of organising how work gets done.


Naively, we’d imagined the pandemic might initiate a step-change in business leaders’ change-responsiveness. And yet the pervasive drive to get ‘back to normal’ indicates there’s still so much work to do. 


Despite the 2021 IPCC report, the climate crisis is being ignored. The health needs of so many are being overlooked. We’re in the biggest state of mental trauma and burnout, and there’s too little public discourse about it.


It can all be pretty demoralising at times... But please don’t misunderstand – this isn’t a pity party for one.


What am I doing to sustain myself? How am I keeping fuel in my tank?


It’s ever been more important for business leaders to apply self-analysis and introspection, and I’m all for that. Over the course of a week, I made a note of the things sustaining me right now:


My relationships with loved ones. I’m surrounding myself by people who both make me laugh and inspire me, and people who’re willing to explore alternative future possibilities. I’m gaining sustenance from that.


I’m practicing self-care, listening to my body and making sure I eat properly and get fresh air and exercise. I’m enjoying nature and reminding myself of the interconnectedness of life.


These are dark times. But we’re an amazing species with capacity for survival and endurance like no other. The mindsets we embrace now will either make us or break us. I find the theory of evolution incredibly motivating – agile thinking is what will get us through.


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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Foresight Focus products.

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