• The world of work was already experiencing an existential crisis, but COVID-19 has accelerated it.
  • With COVID, AI and automation, jobs are resetting at an accelerated pace, and people are having to catch up.
  • Businesses must ensure that human capital is treated as an asset - not a burden - so that the economic recovery is fuelled by people thriving, adapting and growing so that they can proactively shape the future of work.

Has there ever been a clearer crucible moment than now? The world of work was already experiencing an existential crisis, but Covid-19 has accelerated it, bringing some of today’s challenges into sharp focus.

We all know the outlook and it makes for grueling reading; the lowest levels of global growth since the Great Depression and a recession in every region of the world for the first time in history. This is expected to fuel increasing inequality, with women and girls the worst affected.

But through all this economic gloom we can find some hope.

I am positive about the future because I truly believe humans have the capacity and skills to build a better business and a better world.

—Leena Nair, Unilever

To do this, we must mobilize the best of human capabilities, technologies, innovative policies, and market forces in service of a new vision.

Moral and economic imperatives

To imagine the future of work, we must start with defining how human beings can adapt and grow.

Every person has the right to a productive life. Every person has the right not just to work, but to realize their purpose so they can participate fully in society. Every business has the moral and economic responsibility to help protect people’s livelihoods, even when they cannot always protect the jobs they do.

You cannot have a healthy business in a sick world. For businesses to thrive, society must also thrive: from employees, to consumers, to suppliers, shareholders and other stakeholders. When you leave some people to fall through the cracks, you lose all the benefits they bring to society, from their skills and talents, to their experience and unique understanding. And yes, their buying power too.

It isn't just a moral imperative, it's also an economic one. Take gender equality. McKinsey estimates that if no action is taken, global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030. Conversely, immediate action to advance gender equality could add $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030.

Image: World Economic Forum

Re-imagining work

To reimagine the working landscape we need to attempt something that seems almost impossible: we must imagine not just what the world of work is going to look like in 10, 15, 20 years, but what we want it to look like. We must imagine what it will look like if human beings are thriving.

This means involving people as part of the solution rather than as a problem to be solved. Only by doing all this can we continue to build a better business and a better world - for everyone.

3 actions for businesses:

1. Support people to find their own sense of purpose and realize their full potential by working with them to develop a purpose-led, future-fit development plan. This is more than just running reskilling programmes. This is equipping people to lead the change, rather than having change done to them.

2. Pioneering new forms of employment to provide flexibility with security. This is about enabling people to choose how they want to work depending on their life stage. A socially responsible alternative to the gig economy.

3. Putting mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of preparing for the Future of Work with meaningful action (not just ‘raising awareness’ campaigns’). This is about providing practical support and coaching to people as they figure out their future options.

While the jobs of tomorrow may be resetting, people are are not. People are not widgets; they are the soul of any successful business. Businesses can help people to follow reskilling and other career pathways by: putting them at the heart of the future of work; ensuring they understand their own personal purpose; providing the support they need to feel happy and healthy; and giving them a sense of belonging.

This will ensure that people are able to thrive, adapt and grow as they are empowered to proactively shape the future of work.