The future of work is uniquely human

The disruptive changes of 2020, including covid-19 shutdowns that have led millions of workers to work remotely, forced organizations to radically rethink from worker well-being, business models and operations to investments in collaboration and cloud-based communication tools.

Across all sectors, the best-laid plans of the past year have been turned upside down. It is therefore not surprising that technology and work have become, more than ever, inextricably linked. As businesses move towards an uncertain future, companies have stepped up efforts to use automation and other emerging technologies to increase efficiency, support worker well-being, accelerate work results, and achieve new results.

Yet technology investments are not enough to prepare for future disruptions. In fact, the readiness of an organization largely depends on how it prepares its work and its workforce. It’s a uniquely human moment that requires a human touch.

To thrive in an ever-changing world, companies must reorganize work and support their workers in a way that enables them to meet future challenges. According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends in 2021 In a survey of 6,000 respondents worldwide, including 3,630 senior executives, 45% said creating an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience is key to transforming work. To achieve this goal, embracing a trio of essential human attributes – purpose, potential, and perspective – can humanize work and create lasting value for staff, as well as throughout the organization and society at large.

Objective: to anchor organizations in values

The goal establishes a fundamental set of organizational values ​​that are independent of the circumstances and serve as a benchmark against which actions and decisions can be evaluated. It is based on the unique human ability to identify the meeting points between economic value and social values. Organizations that are steadfast in their purpose are able to instill meaning in work in order to mobilize workers around common and meaningful goals.

For example, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, attributes Delta Air Lines’ sense of purpose to helping the organization navigate the covid-19 crisis. “When I took over as CEO, we looked at what our mission was and what our goal was, which helped us after the pandemic because we were clearly before the pandemic,” he says. “Our employees can do their best when they have management support and feel connected to the purpose of the organization.”

Potential: a dynamic look at people’s capacities

To thrive in an environment of constant disruption, companies must capitalize on the potential of their employees and teams by more dynamically examining the capabilities of their employees. Most executives agree: 72% of executives in the Deloitte survey said that “their staff’s ability to adapt, re-qualify and take on new roles” was either the most important factor, being the second most important factor in their organization’s ability to manage future disruptions and increase speed and agility.

AstraZeneca, for example, is an organization that quickly mobilized its resources and leveraged the potential of workers to address a pressing need: the development of a vaccine against covid-19. Tonya Villafana, vice president of AstraZeneca and head of the global infection franchise, credits the company’s accelerated response to its ability to tap into a diverse pool of experts, both across the whole of the world. company and through its collaboration with the University of Oxford. In addition, AstraZeneca not only brought in top level experts, but also added “high performing people who were really passionate and wanted to get involved” in the vaccine development team.

Perspective: acting boldly in the face of uncertainty

In the face of uncertainty, it is easy to be crippled by multiple options and choices. Perspective – literally, the way organizations see things – is a challenge to operate boldly in the face of the unknown, using disruption as a springboard to imagine new opportunities and possibilities. For example, viewing uncertainty as a valuable opportunity allows organizations to take new steps fearlessly, even if it means straying from the usual and comfortable path. For most survey executives, this includes a deliberate effort to completely reinvent how, by whom, and where work is done and what results can be achieved. 61% of respondents said their work transformation goals would focus on reimagining work, up from just 29% before the pandemic.

ServiceNow is an organization that changed leadership in this way during covid-19. In March 2020, the company hosted a “blue sky” strategy session as a forum for executives to discuss the future of work, digital transformation and the business. But as they viewed these issues under the cloud of the emerging pandemic, CEO Bill McDermott realized the organization needed to take a different approach. “If we can’t help the world deal with the pandemic, there will be no blue skies,” he said. As a result, he steered the meeting to focus on how ServiceNow could quickly innovate and bring new products to market that would help organizations maintain business operations during the pandemic. ServiceNow quickly created and deployed four emergency response management applications as well as a suite of secure workplace applications to make the return to work work for everyone.

Putting people at the heart of professional decisions pays off

Reorganizing work isn’t just about automating tasks and activities. Basically, it’s about configuring the job to capitalize on what humans can accomplish when the job is strength-based.

In the survey, leaders identified two factors related to human potential as being the most transformative for the workplace: creating an organizational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience (45%), and capacity building of the workforce by strengthening skills, retraining and mobility (41%). ).

Leaders must find ways to create a common sense of purpose that inspires people to strongly commit in the same direction as they face current and future organizational challenges, whether the mission is, like Delta’s. , to keep people connected or focused on goals such as inclusiveness, diversity or transparency. They should trust people to work in a way that enables them to realize their potential, giving workers some choice about the work they do to align their passions with the needs of the organization. And they should embrace the perspective that the reinvention of work is the key to the ability to achieve new and better results – in a world that is itself constantly being redesigned.

If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that putting people at the heart of a company’s work and workforce decisions pays off by helping companies stay ahead of the curve. disturbances. The result is an organization that not only survives, but thrives in an unpredictable environment with an unknown future.

This content was produced by Insights, the personalized content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial staff of MIT Technology Review.

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