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Future of Work and Impact on Business. How will people want to work after COVID?  Most of my global clients need to know the future of work and how their teams will operate in future.  

What will happen to career choices, commuting, team meetings, office occupancy?  

Will home working continue, or will too much virtual working destroy the future of the business?  

What trends will we see in future business travel? Will large offices become redundant?

* "Life with AI - How to survive and succeed in a super-smart world" - Patrick Dixon's latest book on AI is published in September 2024 by Profile Books.  It contains 38 chapters on the impact of AI across different industries, government and our wider world, including the impact of AI on workplace, jobs, employment, offices, team management, change management and career opportunities.

Here's a longer term forecast for the Future of Work

I've been predicting global trends for 30 years, many of them impacting the Future of Work - and I've been proven right over and over again when it comes to megatrends.

(And yes I also warned repeatedly in books, keynotes at conferences and in media broadcasts about global risks from new pandemics like COVID.  I listed Global Pandemic as Number 1 "Wild Card Risk" or "Wild Swan Event" in The Future of Almost Everything for example, 2nd edition published 6 months before COVID struck.)

You can read some of my 17 books going back decades to check all that out - or browse around this website, with content going back two decades.

Judge for yourself.  Most debates about the future are NOT about what is going to happen (eventually) which is usually obvious, but about TIMING.

But what about the Future of Work?

And how will the Future of Work itself be impacted by COVID in the longer term?

Here's a few forecasts for the Future of Work over the next decade...and beyond.

The Future of Work will transform more slowly than most imagine 

Let's cut through the media hype to the reality about the nature of work and the nature of humans.

The truth is that much of the world is changing far more slowly than you might imagine - and this will also apply to how people want to work, and to the future of work.

Yes of course there will be disruptive events, like COVID was when it first damaged our world in 2020, with some longer term impact, but less than many supposed.

Within weeks of the first lockdown, self-appointed experts all over the world were making dramatic announcements about the Future of Work.

Offices were no longer needed.  People will never want to be in an office most of their week ever again, and so on.

I wrote and spoke at the time that these apocalyptic Future of Work forecasts were eye-catching but alarmist nonsense, and I was proven right.

Why the Future of Work cannot change that dramatically without negative impact

The reason is that despite all the tech available for virtual working, human beings are genetically programmed just as they were, as social creatures.

As every company discovered in Lockdown during the height of the COVID pandemic, there is no substitute for breathing the same air as other people.

We saw this factor most powerfully in the deep desire for family contact other than endless FaceTime and Zoom meetings.  

Something fundamental is missing in all our most important family relationships, and with our closest friends.

But that also tells us important things about the Future of Work.

Apple found they could not think, innovate or change without meeting up more

Even Apple got into trouble.  They announced in mid 2021 that they had discovered that they were able to manage their business just fine during lockdown.

But Apple declared that they had been unable to innovate, think or change.

That is why they declared that workers would need to come back in from home, as soon as possible.

Not all the time, but a lot of the time.  Apple decided that to thrive rather than just survive, they needed to meet far more often.

Close connection really matters in teams and with clients

The future of work is all about real connection - not just sitting in front of screens or even worse, pretending we are on a video call while camera and mike are turned off and we are doing other things.

Every team leaders wants people in their teams to feel emotionally connected to each other, engaged, interested in each other.

We want people to work in a way that supports and encourages, to achieve common goals.

We want team members to co-operate for the common good, to go out of their way to help find the best way to do things.

And we want our clients to feel part of the family too:  that they trust us, like us, collaborate with us.

The most important thing most companies sell is TRUST

I work with many of the largest banks, airlines, hotel companies, retailers and so on, across the world.  

I often say that for most companies the most important thing they sell is TRUST.

And the most important thing about the Future of Work is how to build and maintain TRUST.

Try and run a bank if none of your customers trust you.  It's game over.

What if you worry about the safety of an airline, or of the food you buy?

Trust is fundamental to every successful organisation

When we sign a contract with a supplier of products or services, we are doing so ON TRUST.

It is an act of faith, hopefully based on evidence, but still it's TRUST that is involved, and that's an emotional thing.

That is why it is almost impossible to land major contracts with a client you have never physically met.

It's why hospitality, sharing life together, is such a fundamental part of all successful business.

The Future of Work is all about Trust

So now you know the Future of Work.

Show me the environment that most builds trust amongst team members or between team and clients, and you will see the future of (your) work.

Yes we can invest in a hundred million clever tricks to try and build trust over huge distances with people from different nations and cultures, who we have never physically met.

But you will always risk deals being stolen from under your virtual nose by competitors who actually honoured their clients by turning up, flying in, staying onsite, meeting their colleagues, friends, associates and maybe family.

Companies that think "COVID changed everything forever" will go out of business

The fact is that the world continued to turn throughout the COVID crisis, just as it always does in every other crisis.

Stock market values in 2020 and 2021 remained high for example, while cash reserves remained huge in many multinational bank accounts.

Most people did not stop their work, they did not loose their jobs, or their motivation - they just made some short term practical changes and carried on.

Yes of course there has been huge social disruption, massive pressures on health care and mental health, but most businesses continued, some even grew faster, taking advantage of disruptions.

Expect catch-up travel and a boom of face to face meetings with clients

Most businesses have a huge amount of ground to catch up - for example their normal client conferences, seminars, workshops were cancelled for months.

So expect a bounce back, as restrictions allow, in business travel, business hospitality, networking events, dinners and so on.

And the longer any nation or corporation is locked down, the greater the bounce back will be.

Those that think they can avoid this in the longer term will falter or fail.

Expect intense team-building at work - face to face

The same with workplace teams - keeping your employees on track and motivated at work becomes more difficult as weeks of pure home working turn into months. 

Integrating new team members, making major workplace changes, driving new strategy or innovation - these things are far, far more difficult.

It's all to do with emotion.  Emails are great for data, information, fixing diary dates, giving routine updates.  WhatsApp too, and other platforms.

And Virtual meetings are great for keeping things moving smoothly along.  But leadership is about far more than that.  

Yes, managing is all about steady application of existing rules and processes.

But you can't go on doing that for long without growing risks.

Leadership is about making the rules, not following them

Leadership is about bringing fresh vision and confidence, challenging perspectives, moving staff around, creating new market initiatives.

All those things are easiest to do when you are physically present.

So the Future of Work will mean major investment in gathering workplace teams together - not just in offices, factories and so on, but in workshops, seminars, local and regional conferences etc as COVID allows.

And yes, working patterns will then settle down to slightly different format than before.

Expect smarter team working - Future of Work

Many companies only started using the virtual tools they owned when lockdown hit. In many cases the result was a leap in workplace productivity:

- Less commuting / travel time

- Greater availability for instant virtual meetings

- Greater focus on things that really matter

For example, before COVID, most executives would say that they can write an important document at home in a quarter of the time than trying the same in a busy office.

So productivity rocketed on major project-type proposals, initiatives, concepts.

But not for everyone.  Many people have home situations which are poorly suited to virtual working.

For example young children at home, small amount of space, noisy location, shared apartment, lots of open plan living areas and so on.

Virtual working boosted productivity short term while weakening long term growth

Of course, to start with, workers forced to stay at home were able to catch up on large numbers of things best done in isolation - as I say, a typical example is research, report writing, presentation creation and so on.

So of course there was a short term easy win.

But with every month after the first 6 months, the benefits started to fade away.

Many people continued to think they were saving time, saving cost, saving the planet from carbon emissions generated by commuting or business travel.

But it was easy to be blind to the fading of business momentum.

Acceleration of existing workplace trends rather than radical change

I have not seen a single workplace shift during the COVID pandemic that was not widely forecast for a decade or two at least, by trend analysts like myself.

What we've experienced is acceleration of well-trailed changes.  

So for example, many of my global clients were already planning for - say - 25% less office space per 100 staff by 2025.  Now they think they will achieve that by 2022.  

What's so radical about that?

So in summary, take another look at the Future of Work

You may be very surprised at how familiar things feel in a year or two.  

What you expected in five years or ten may happen in two to five maybe.

In the meantime, take every opportunity you can to restore relationships, build trust, meet face to face (safely), win new friends and influence people.

Take a look at office space and design, and makes sure time at work is used effectively.

if your team are working a lot at home, encourage "In Days" when the maximum number of people are around, to encourage informal interactions and networking.

Set aside plenty of budget to gather people together more formally, on a regular basis, and invest in "hospitality" with key stakeholders.

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