“From time to time in human history there occur events of a truly seismic significance, events that mark a turning point between one epoch and the next, when one orthodoxy is overthrown and another takes its place...There is a sense that we are now living through just such a time.”
This quote is pretty real right? I’m sure you’ve heard it, thought it, even felt it, a number of times over the last few weeks - after what we’ve been through with COVID-19, job security and other things won’t ever be the same again.
And who is to blame you for feeling like that. The sentiment is everywhere. From the CEO of McKinsey, to the CEO of ANZ Bank calling the changes “generational”, the prevailing sentiment is that we’re in for a serious recalibration on our pre-COVID lives.
I read the opening quote of this piece in the AFR yesterday and it really hit me. What makes this quote different to the others you might ask? Well this quote was made by the Australian Prime Minister. A bold, assertive statement fully outlining the gravity of the situation.
Only problem is it was made more than 10 years, and five Prime Ministers’ ago.
That’s right, the above quote was written by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd when Australia was in the midst of the recovery from the Global Financial Crisis. At the time, with unemployment rising, significant Government stimulus spending, and economic uncertainty, a lot of the nation agreed with Rudd’s view that the GFC was a game changing event which would reshape how we live our lives.
Only it didn’t really, did it? Sure, there was a lot of pain and uncertainty for a while. A number of undeserving individuals lost their jobs, a lot of businesses didn’t make it through to the other side, and a lot of bankers who probably should have been spending time at Long Bay Prison escaped any serious punishment (if you’re looking for something to rile up my Co-Founder Tom Moore about, dissect this one further).
But ultimately things reverted back to a pretty similar pre-GFC state. At the time though, I imagine the Prime Minister and many others honestly believed that it wouldn’t. And while it’s difficult to compare crises, the fact that we are facing not just an economic but a health and social crisis aside, there is a very big likelihood that we will eventually return to a pretty similar pre-crisis work and social lifestyle.
So, to bring it back to the headline of this article
While I believe that the shifts in society will not be as grand as some are predicting, I do believe one area you will see a pretty significant shift is workforce structures and how organisations tackle the post-COVID talent environment.
A lot of businesses have had to make drastic changes to their workforces over recent weeks, with many standing teams down and others prioritising roles. And there are only going to be more changes over the coming months as a number of businesses who have not been immediately bitten by the COVID-19 cobra, are instead slowly strangled by the COVID-19 python.
Even if the economy recovers and we return to a pretty normal state, it’s unlikely workforces will be the same. Why? Because they weren’t right or efficient prior to the pandemic.
For the last decade, the arrival of the often discussed ‘Future of Work’ has been creeping up on the corporate world, to the point where it is living amongst us and we’re all too scared to address it. As things have been coasting along smoothly, it's been easy for many HR reps to put their head in the sand and ignore the FoW elephant in the room. COVID-19 though has made us all deal with it, and it will be next to impossible to go back to pretending that elephant is not there after we’ve all pointed it out.
It’s easy to say that everything will change, but harder to predict how. While we might see a return at some point to normality, individuals at risk should be looking to future-proof themselves and spending the current isolation period upskilling. At the same time, I hope HR teams look to take the opportunity to make the changes their companies have required for a long time and finally reshape their workforces for the future.