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Connectivity the ‘unsung hero’ of the future of work

Research finds that by stripping away bureaucracy, flattening hierarchies and streamlining processes, the response to Covid-19 has given an indication as to how work could and should change for the better, but there will be losers along with the winners

The future of work is already here as the Covid-19 crisis continues to transform the nature of how and where we work, but research from Liberty Global and Deloitte has suggested this shift will require firms to be more transparent and offer consultative leadership.

As the survey indicated as many as 61% of executives would focus on reimagining work in the next three years, compared with 29% prior to the pandemic, it warned that the profound shifts that were being witnessed would prove to be productive for many, but painful for others.

Commissioned by Liberty Global – one of the world’s largest converged video, broadband and communications companies and owner of Virgin Media in the UK – the report is based on interviews with European business leaders, policymakers and researchers, and focuses on work, workforce and the workplace. It was commissioned to help guide policymakers, employers and professionals on how the pandemic may impact workplace practices and trends.

Fundamentally, the report outlines a future world of work shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic which not only requires greater transparency and consultative leadership, but also demands greater focus from employees on career development as automation increases.

The mass shift to distributed working in the wake of the pandemic has proven the agility of existing networks and IT infrastructures to deal with increased demand. But the digital platforms that people use to connect and collaborate still need to improve, and many employees still lack the digital skills to effectively work remotely. Deloitte noted that 90% of companies believe yearly upskilling is required to enable employees to keep up with technological advances.

Yet the study also cautioned that excessive remote working could have negative impacts on people’s well-being. Indeed, it added that in some cases, there was a mismatch between the technology and the needs of its users. Another concern was that some new technologies may be flawed or raise ethical issues. “Every algorithm is a manifestation of a human – AIs have biases, too,” noted Paul Lee of Deloitte.

To address these issues, Deloitte and Liberty Global said that creating an effective digital workplace that provides employees with a seamless experience across situations, locations and devices will require employers, telecoms operators and equipment suppliers to work together. They would need to fully integrate the hardware and software that we use to connect and collaborate with remote colleagues, while also bolstering cyber and information security.

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The study added that the pandemic has highlighted how technology can open up opportunities to an extended labour pool and help to reduce the inequalities in society. It suggests that reliable broadband internet access has to be a high priority for employees, employers and governments.

It said the business community would need the help of policymakers to overcome the digital divide and broaden the workforce. In many cases, government intervention and investment, supplemented by public-private partnerships, will be required to drive wider broadband coverage.

“This report demonstrates that the future of work is already here as the Covid-19 crisis continues to transform how and where we work,” said Manuel Kohnstamm, senior vice-president and chief corporate affairs officer at Liberty Global. “All of society has had to adjust to the opportunities and challenges of this fast-tracked reality.

“Schools, businesses, employees and governments – everyone had a steep learning curve this year,” he said. “This timely report facilitates valuable debate around what needs to be done to make the most of the opportunities and minimise the negative impacts of such rapid and dramatic shifts in working practices.”

Frans Dagelet, partner at Deloitte Human Capital, said: “The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the thinking and action around the future of work. It demonstrates more than ever that we need to prepare for a different way of looking at work, leadership and collaboration.

“The leaders we have interviewed have given insight to their business perspectives and how they have perceived the acceleration of the future of work. We can conclude based on the interviews and underpinning research that the work, workforce and workplace face changes that have to be embraced and implemented to stay relevant.”

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