The COVID-19 pandemic has affected economies and lifestyles globally and altered the work culture and overall expectations of many employees. The sudden shift to all-digital ruined the success of many businesses that were not prepared sufficiently, which resulted in only those adapting to the technological needs surviving the crisis. Foreign Policy Analysis of the global post-covid studies suggests that “more than a quarter of Fortune 500 CEOs predict that their workforces will not regain their pre-pandemic sizes”.
The McKinsey & Company report on the long-term impacts of COVID-19. Focusing on eight countries (China, Japan, France, Spain, UK, US, India, and Germany) and their labor markets show that some of the pandemic related trends might continue to exist and accelerate, such as preference for hybrid remote work, continuous growth of e-commerce share and delivery systems, and implementations of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in various business models.
According to Gartner Hype Cycle for Artificial Intelligence (2020), although the pandemic hit most businesses and shaped many business activities, 47% of AI investments remained constant during the pandemic and 30% of the businesses planned to increase their AI investments. An interesting finding here is the central and critical role of C-levels. Almost 30% of the AI projects are managed by CEOs which introduces new challenges and requires certain technical skills and knowledge.
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Besides the fact that it was a self-reflection moment for many, the pandemic has also taught some important lessons about expectations from a workplace. Suddenly, workplaces in-trend offering “happy hours”, “ping pong tournaments” or “office with a view” began to lose their charm. The pandemic revealed a vital factor that has been highly ignored by both employees and employers: mental health and support in the workplace.
Employee mental health issues being increased with COVID-19 as a result of stress, loss, and adaptation to change, the upcoming decades will also shape business leaders and their strategies in terms of dealing with such problems in the workplace. It is expected that it is going to take much more effort for employers to keep their best talent or hire new talent with unique, up-to-date skills. The need for equal opportunities, training, psychological support, important perks, and benefits such as health care, life insurance, or paid time-off in the workplace is now more visible than ever.
Although the damage of the pandemic for some business leaders was heavy, the future is full of opportunities for those who can tackle technology related challenges, value and support their employees, provide mentorship and training to help them develop new skills to cope with current trends, analyze and predict for the future using well-established methodologies, and not only build innovative products and services but also diverse and strong teams. Indeed, team building or preserving a company culture under remote conditions is not an easy task for managers. Some companies built their strategies following digital trends (i.e. remote work) since their existence and their managers might be more familiar with the possible challenges. However, both employees and employers learned in a hard way that “workplace” means a lot more than just meetings and paychecks.
Having a strong company culture and management requires effort, support, and caring. With the improvements and implementations of technologies such as artificial intelligence, a shift in employment choices and expertise levels are also expected in the next decade. According to the McKinsey report, by 2030 more than 100 million workers might have to change their occupations. The most affected groups are expected to be employees who don’t hold a university degree, women, ethnic minorities, and young people. Increasing unemployment rates in low-wage jobs, while the high-wage STEM and health care jobs are expanding, will affect economies, living standards, and societal wellbeing. Therefore, the role of managers in preparing their employees for the transition is massive, in terms of providing them with the necessary educational support and training to ensure that they are well-rounded with technical skills the future workplace will require.