i3 | April 05, 2021

The Future of Work in 2021: Work Transformed

Jackie Black

At CES 2021, the future of work was on full display. From products to keep our workspaces hygienic and to recreate the office at home, to platforms that promote asynchronous work — the innovations at CES proved that the work transformation over the past year is here to stay. 

CES exhibitor and CTA member Deloitte presented on how organizations should rethink current approaches to embrace the future of work. I spoke to Deloitte’s US Future of Work Leader and author of Work Disrupted, Jeff Schwartz, about this transformation.

Will the pandemic continue to accelerate the future of work in 2021?

2020 brought changes that we thought would take decades, in weeks, or even days. But 2020 was a year of disruption, not just acceleration. Workers logged an average of 48.5 additional minutes of work a day and 13% more meetings. Fifty-seven percent of mothers and 32% of fathers of children under 18 said their mental health deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers faced challenges from distractions and isolation, to the inevitable Zoom fatigue. 

A lot of 2020 was just lifting and shifting what we did at the office to the home, but 2021 should be about improving and rethinking how we work. To navigate the future, we need to adopt 21st century maps and mindsets. That’s the core of my new book, Work Disrupted.

You can't use an old map to explore a new world. The same is true as we pivot from the urgent challenges of the COVID pandemic to the opportunities of the world beyond COVID-19.
Jeff Schwartz US Future of Work Leader, Deloitte

You call this a move from a surviving mindset to a thriving mindset. What does that mean for businesses?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses overwhelmingly went to surviving a point-in-time crisis with the expectation that the organization would revert to business as usual. A year later, we know this is the “new normal” and to move to a thriving mindset is to understand two things about disruption: first that it’s continuous rather than episodic; second, the destination as we navigate disruption is not where we started but where we’re headed. 

Disruption should be embraced as a catalyst to innovate. To thrive moving forward, we must wholly reimagine work, the workforce and the workplace. Thriving isn’t just moving faster; it’s challenging old models and social constructs that we’ve understood for a long time. 

As Albert Einstein said, “You can’t use an old map to explore a new world.” The same is true as we pivot from the urgent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to the opportunities of the world beyond COVID-19.

How might this old model of thinking apply to the idea that automation is replacing jobs?

While one impact of technology is that it does replace some jobs — we call that the substitution effect — the bigger opportunity is how technology can augment our jobs and work. Radiology is an often-cited example of a profession that some expect may be substantially replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). 

While the future radiologist may use technology to help with a diagnosis, they are also enabled to do what humans do best: provide deep care, empathy and critical thinking. We can think of AI as the IQ and the doctor as the EQ. 

When you combine those together you have augmentation of a job, not the replacement. Work is redesigned by finding these opportunities to combine IQ and EQ and that creates new value.

What does the future of upskilling and reskilling the workforce look like?

The COVID-19 pandemic proved how adaptive people are. Everyone was asked to pivot — to do what had to be done, not necessarily what they were hired for. This can build worker resilience and creates agency for the worker. 

Giving workers this agency and choice in an area they’re passionate about can create breakthrough innovation and moves beyond reskilling to unleash worker potential.

What should executives be thinking about to transform work for the future?

COVID-19 has earned many teams the right to be bolder in orchestrating work throughout the enterprise. To seize this opportunity, organizational leaders need to take the lead in re-architecting work, unleashing workforce ecosystems, and building adaptive flexible workplaces accordingly. We need to not get stuck in the optimize and redesign mindsets. 

Leaders need to move from optimization and productivity — which are really the starting point — to reimagination and re-architecting work to create greater value and impact. This is work transformed.

i3 magazine March/April 2021 cover

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