5 Key Factors Driving the Future of Work

Matt Phelan | 7th July 2020

“This is the time for change, for a profound systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.” – United Nations

Over the last 4 months, we’ve experienced unparalleled levels of change as individuals, families, organisations and communities. However long the Covid-19 outbreak lasts one thing’s for sure – we’ll all be changed as a result. I’m fortunate to spend my days talking to senior leaders across the globe, and passionately believe that this enforced change presents us all with a golden opportunity to transform for the better. Here are the 5 key factors that I believe will be front and centre in this revolution.

1) Pandora’s box of emotions is open!

“We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” – Damien Barr

The global pandemic has unleashed a torrent of emotions in all of us. Via our Employee Voice 24/7 service we’ve seen more than double the number of employees leaving comments on how they’re feeling throughout the lockdown period (69.9% in June). Plus the length of comments more than triple from an average of 10 to 37 words. There’s been quite literally an outpouring of emotion.

Organisations and leaders must confront the uncomfortable reality that today’s emotions are tomorrow’s performance. Any attempt to continue to deny or quash emotions in the workplace will end in disaster. The old days of command and control are gone. We must embrace a new empathetic model of leadership based on continual listening and acknowledge that the only way to keep up with the speed of change and agility needed, is to collaborate with our people to find solutions that deliver long-term sustainability.

As our Head of Neuroscience, Clive Hyland explains: “Emotions are the sensations and chemistry that mobilise us. They’re the essential fuel of human behaviour, and any attempt to deny our emotions, not only misses a huge opportunity but causes problems. Our emotions exist, we don’t choose them. The only question is, what do we do with them?”

2) We can’t continue to avoid difficult conversations

“This is a time for some of us to speak. It’s a time for others to listen with compassion and empathy.” – Shareen Daniels

Recent events following the death of George Floyd and response of the Black Lives Matter movement have forced many difficult conversations and highlighted just how far we are from creating a truly equal and inclusive society. Make the time to listen to the interview Shareen Daniels held with Rosey Jarvis, beautifully summarised here by Michael Carty. Shereen speaks of “the corporate wall of silence” that has all too often surrounded and cut off discussions of race at work. This has created a “discomfort in us being able to bring it to the table.”

Despite years of talk about diversity and inclusion the needle just isn’t moving. Things have to change. The number of black professionals in leadership roles has increased just 0.1% since 2014, the median national average gender pay gap in 2019 remained 17.3%, and we continue to see inherent unfairness built into our pay and reward systems. Now is the time to confront those difficult conversations.

3) A “New Normal” won’t exist

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

A “new normal” won’t exist. We won’t return to long commutes, the rigidity of “working 9-5” and being anchored to our desks. Things won’t settle down but will continue to change in new and unpredictable ways. As employers we must define a new “future of work” which embraces flexibility, gives our people the freedom to work when, where and how suits them and enables us to recruit and retain the best talent. This will bring with it a new set of logistical, communication, skill and emotional challenges that employees and leaders will need to rise to if they’re going to collaborate in a way that makes everyone thrive. Check out a panel discussion I recently participated in exploring the issues surrounding the future of work in more depth, and my podcast with Marina Farthouat, a pioneer of the distributed working model.

4) HR will be the Heroes

“The bottom line is something Human Resources teams understand: by supporting employees the company can transform and survive. People are the most resilient part of the organization: when they are supported the entire company can thrive.” – Joshua Bersin

I’ve lost count of the HR leaders who’ve told me that during the Covid-19 pandemic they’ve enjoyed unparalleled influence in their organisations. Just as key workers have finally been recognised as the heroes who make our society truly function, HR leaders are being recognised as the heroes who have the potential to lead their organisations out of this crisis.

A silver lining of the pandemic is that it’s helped us all understand and appreciate each other’s lives better, and accelerated change that organisations had been resistant to. It’s shone a light on our homes, children, pets and personal lives in a way that didn’t seem possible before. Many organisations have stepped up their support to their people and recognised the importance of listening and supporting their wellbeing. But we can’t go back. As an HR community, we must come together, reinvent ourselves and our organisations to create a more human approach to how we lead, manage, and support our people.

5) Society & organisations will change how they measure growth

“Economic growth accompanied by worsening social outcomes is not success. It is failure.” – Jacinda Ardern

The method of measuring a nation’s success purely based on GDP or an organisation purely by their profit is broken. Global and business leaders must embrace a new concept of conscious citizenship that places people, purpose and our planet alongside profit. For some time economists and climate scientists have been rethinking Western high-consuming lifestyles in light of rapid climate change – infinite economic growth is both impossible and undesirable.

We know that on an individual level, beyond a certain point, happiness doesn’t increase with more money. Let’s hold our leaders to account and demand focus on societal, planetary and personal wellbeing.


Alongside our Head of Neuroscience, Clive Hyland, I’ve created a virtual 1-hour workshop for senior leaders. The session is designed to help you better understand these changes, re-imagine the future of work and how to better engage your people to create a thriving culture. In a bespoke workshop format, you’ll get the chance to discuss your unique people challenges and to understand how a blend of neuroscience and data insight could help you transform your strategy to address them.

The session is complimentary for senior leaders of organisations with +1000 people. To learn more or sign up just DM me or book a 1-hour slot in my diary

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