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  • Tara Rethore

What’s the Workforce of the Future?

We’ve been asking this question for some time, particularly in the context of generational differences or the reality of a multi-generational workforce. To date, a recurring theme of the conversation has been a desire for more flexibility in how, where, and when we work. People talk about achieving greater work-life balance. And, we’re grateful for technologies that make it possible to work more efficiently and effectively, from the shop floor to the C-Suite and boardrooms.

The pandemic – and our experience of sudden, global, quarantine – challenges our thinking about these themes and creates the opportunity to redefine the workforce (and workspace) of the future.


What have we learned?

  • With or without an active pandemic, the workforce of the future will have to move easily and regularly between in-person and technology-enhanced work.

  • Personal safety remains top of mind and is likely to influence benefits, workforce policies, and how we use our spaces or travel to/from our facilities.

  • Not all work or work experiences can be replicated online. That’s true even with technological advances and increased use of artificial intelligence. Further, people crave connection and camaraderie that’s just not the same over technology. Likewise, leaders must take the pulse of the organization without benefit of the ‘office watercooler’, or having everyone in the same place at the same time.

  • Perhaps surprisingly, people may not really want to integrate or blend work and life quite so fully. Leaders regularly tell me that toggling between working, teaching, caregiving, networking, learning, etc. is inefficient and draining.

  • Leading remotely is different from traditional leadership contexts. It definitely doesn’t mean becoming personally distant.

  • At long last, we must address education – both what we deliver and how. This includes preparing young people for today’s jobs and reskilling experienced workers to be successful in newly-configured workspaces and approaches.

What will we do now?

Much has been written about how leaders can adapt their policies, workflows, leadership, and environments to address the immediate challenges created by the pandemic. It’s forced us to regroup – quickly. Now, progressive leaders consider which of these short-term fixes could – and should – become long-term adaptations. They ask three critical questions:

  • What will our customers and staff need and want from us?

  • What can we ill-afford to lose, going forward?

  • How will we accommodate differences, while providing the requisite equity and clarity so that people know what’s expected and managers can enable staff productivity?

The workforce of the future will be resilient, adaptable, and tech-savvy. Individuals have already learned what that means for them and demonstrated their capacity for change. Looking ahead, leaders can seize the opportunity created by this fundamental shift in how we work and interact. Those that successfully reframe their thinking and actively challenge past ways of working will likely emerge the winners – in any industry.