Lastest news

Perspectives on transitioning to the ‘next normal’

Sep 25, 2020

In a new world where change is so fast-paced, how can businesses avoid rash decision-making? By adopting a flexible and holistic approach to working, we can move smoothly to the 'next normal', says Melíosa O'Caoimh.

The journey to the ‘future of work’ has no definitive end as we are in a constant state of change. However, there are points of inflection where the change either alters course or is greatly accelerated. The Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) Worker of the Future Sub-Group was established in 2018 to develop a view on the responsible business approach to the challenges presented by future-of-work scenarios.

These challenges were accentuated when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, accelerating change beyond our expectations. However, this speed of change now could lead to risks of rushed decision-making and groupthink. The Sub-Group sees the need to reflect on the change that has occurred and on what needs to be retained and developed as we transition to the ‘next normal’.

As with many other countries, digital channels became, for a while, the primary source of engagement in the retail and education sectors in Ireland. In every sector, workers were called on to be agile – to move from one part of the business to another, to take on extra responsibilities and to envisage how their roles could be fulfilled in a much-altered environment.

For many office workers, the most disruptive development in recent months has been the scaling of remote working at a pace never envisaged in most future-of-work scenarios. For some companies, remote working was already core to their way of working and announcements have been made indicating no return to offices in the coming year, perhaps longer. For many more, remote working has meant scaling on an ad hoc approach, which has effectively meant home working, regardless of circumstances.

These changes will have lasting impacts and will potentially trigger the next wave of innovation around workplace design and practices. Many decisions are currently being made in Ireland as some offices re-open, and while there are risks, there is also great opportunity if the worker experience is put at the heart of decision-making. It is worth reflecting on where we want to be in the coming months – what challenges have we faced and what guiding principles will underpin our wanted state? What examples of best practice are emerging? What businesses should ultimately be asking themselves is this: what is our vision and how is this reflected in our work culture, in the evolution to a learning organisation, an inclusive workplace, and an environment where the physical and mental wellbeing of all is core to how we do business?

The challenge now for responsible business is to take the holistic approach in moving to new ways of working and ensure that what is good for business is good for the worker and for society. At this time of uncertainty, the challenge is to keep looking outward and not become too insular. Questioning the future impact of decisions now being made is essential.

Melíosa O’Caoimh is Country Head, Northern Trust Ireland and Chair of the BITCI Leader Sub-Group on The Worker of the Future. You can download BITC’s Shaping the Future of Work publication here.