With the heavy impact Covid-19 has had on economies, jobs, and business operations, the prevailing question is “when will everything go back to the way it was?”. The security and resilience many organizations previously enjoyed has been in flux as they’ve been forced to adapt to regulations that are changing daily.
As we head into 2021, there’s hope on the horizon. Vaccines are progressing, with the results of major trials looking positive. However, with their global effectiveness unclear and the prospect of new virus strains appearing, this new normal looks like it’s here to stay for quite some time. One thing’s for sure – the workforce will feel the impact of the pandemic for decades to come.
Pre-pandemic, businesses were adopting new technology at a quick but premeditated rate. It was important to carefully plan out the integration of new services rather than throw caution to the wind. Covid-19 has changed that, forcing them to adapt overnight or risk failure.
“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”, said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in an April earnings report. In Microsoft Teams, he continued, they saw over 4.1 billion meeting minutes in a single day – a ground-breaking statistic.A recent survey of 800 executives, carried out by McKinsey, found that 85% of businesses have accelerated the implementation of collaboration and communication technologies. 35% of executives said their company has digitised its supply chain. Many have also jumped on automation and AI technologies to reduce physical human interaction, in an effort to adhere to social distancing rules.
Whilst companies and their employees are starting to see the benefits of these technologies, it’s unlikely that things will return to a fraction of what they were any time soon. Though most don’t plan to implement remote working policies for everyone, some of the businesses surveyed intend to offer a percentage of their workforce more time at home. 20% of UK executives said they plan to allow at least a tenth of their workforce to work remotely for two or more days per week.
Employees have started to realise the financial and mental benefits of working at home, while c-level executives have seen that with the right technology, their workforce can be just as productive. While remote working adoption will never be all-encompassing, due to the very nature of some professions, there’s clear interest.
A shift in required roles
Due to the rise in remote working, new and more diverse roles in cybersecurity are required. Businesses now face the daunting challenge of protecting devices from any location and across a variety of internet services. Because of this, there has been a significant shift in security culture towards cloud security, as well as consideration for how businesses protect AI and automation technologies.
IBM, for example, has seen a surge in clients using its AI platform, Watson. With it, companies can deploy chatbots, accelerate financial services, analyse vast amounts of cybersecurity data, and more. With cost-cuts increasingly required and social distancing a necessity, there’s been a strong incentive to replace humans with robots. In supermarkets across the UK, there has been a push towards “Scan & go” and self-service technology, while chatbots can in some cases replace the jobs of multiple call centre employees.
In the short-term, the pandemic is also leading to a mass-increase in health and safety roles, many of which, such as on-site sanitising, don’t require much training. In the long-term, though, the pandemic may lead to a reduction of unskilled positions, replaced by automated technology and agile working roles. The economic uncertainty of Covid-19 isn’t going to go away overnight, and the push for automation to cut costs is likely to make such solutions even more viable.
There could be concern ahead for permanent workers as well. When the executives surveyed by McKinsey do hire for on-site roles in the future, they’re now more inclined to use contractors and temporary workers. As high as 70% of those surveyed stated they would use more temporary workers over the next two years in a bid to increase resilience. So far, between May and July, the number of temporary employees rose by 3% in the UK year-over-year, but as we see an end to government support schemes, it could accelerate further.
The bottom line, then, is that Covid has already changed the way jobs are done and technology is utilised. Even after the pandemic subsides, these trends are likely to continue due to economic uncertainty, meaning the post-pandemic world may not end up looking as “normal” as you would expect.