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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


2020-04-29 11:28

Cathryn Barnard



“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


As we approach the sixth week of lockdown, most of us have managed to adapt, regaining some sense of routine within an otherwise surreal existence.


While it’s impossible to make sense of the scale of the life-loss and emergent economic fallout from the pandemic, simply being able to look after ourselves, our loved ones, our households, and our businesses proves we’re already way more resilient than we might hitherto have imagined.


Few of us now are old enough to remember living in a time when life was precarious. My dad was just six when WWII broke out – he’d have been eighty-seven this summer. For those of us born in peacetime, it’s impossible to know what it must have felt like not to know if today would be your last day on Earth, but to live that day as normally as possible anyway.


And now we’re in the midst of a threat to life that seemingly nobody, bar the epidemiologists, had anticipated.


I realised some years back that I am, by nature, an optimist. I was raised under the cloud of the terminal illness of a parent, and as a consequence ‘grew up’ much earlier than many of my peers. Bereavement – the loss of a loved one, and the loss of stability that ensues – changes your entire approach to life.


It’s undoubtedly because of this experience that I choose to see beyond the edges of this pandemic, seeking out possibility and opportunity instead.


While the risk to life is here for the foreseeable future, and while our economy may be in pieces, we have to focus on the future, and to rebuild the best possible version of ‘what if’, and ‘what could be’.


While the pause button is pressed on our lives, what if we were to rethink the entire point and purpose of work and how we engage with it?


What if we were to purposefully design workplaces, workspaces, and work teams that enabled us to each maximise our potential?


What if we were to build organisations that encompassed the human need for belonging and connection more thoughtfully?


What if we created businesses that focused entirely on the experiences that we wanted our customers to enjoy?


Of course, it’s not possible to foretell exactly what the post-COVID-19 landscape will look like, either societally or economically. The only thing it’s possible to say with any degree of certainty is that things will be significantly different moving forward, and that we’ll all need to get used to dealing with ambiguity better.


“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Peter Drucker, management guru


In spite of the human tragedy unfolding around us, we’re at a turning point. While we’re in lockdown and have more time to think, there’s never been a better time to imagine the world we want for ourselves.


So it’s all on us now. We have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the future. This means building a better way of doing business – one that goes beyond the sole objective of making money.


In 2020 and beyond, we will have too many complex challenges, interconnected across society, the environment, politics and the global economy, for mainstream business to continue to be conducted solely for personal gain, or shareholder return. Surely we have a moral obligation as humans to start doing things better.


Moving forward from today, both organisations that survive the economic fall out of Coronavirus and those that come in the future will need to prioritise resilience in order to survive the complexities of the 21st Century. This resilience will only be achieved through foresight focus and applied commitment to workforce engagement. By nurturing human relationships in the workplace, we’ll achieve better results for all, in spite of the challenges that lie ahead.


Mastering the skills required to optimise team dynamics in the future of work will be key. As cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote:


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


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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.

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