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The future of work: How COVID is reshaping the future for businesses


Jul 13, 2021

I joined Xero in the midst of COVID-19 and in the six months I’ve been at the company, I’m yet to meet my own team face-to-face. Remote working has meant that I’ve had to work on my skills and adapt myself to change, and I’ll be the first to admit that this new way of working hasn’t been easy to navigate. We are forced to explore new ways of staying connected in a meaningful way on digital platforms, but are challenged with exercising the ability to disconnect, when our home lives and work lives are so closely merged together.

It’s no surprise that business leaders, as a result of the pandemic, are having to re-examine every part of their business and they crave new perspectives. Even when businesses try to return to ‘work as usual-, the concept of a 9-5 job in an office will probably for many be a relic from a different era. 

But as businesses adapt, the future of work will vary depending on the sector, as there have been broad differences in the pandemic’s effects on industries. As we slowly emerge from COVID-19 and ever-more onerous restrictions, we look at how the future of business has been altered, what the world of work might look like and how business leaders can prepare for the road ahead.

Reimagine the workforce

With traditional work arrangements being completely transformed, businesses can now use the strength of the ‘open talent economy’ to connect those who have been furloughed, or layed-off, to embrace immediate opportunities. Business leaders should also be actively planning for how to use the alternative labour market to scale, recover and thrive after many have had such a difficult year. 

As we move into a new semblance of normal, it will also be important for businesses to focus on upskilling their employees. Developing engagement, putting emphasis on employee’s wellbeing and career growth will reverse the culture of specialisation with, now much desired, adaptability.

Simplifying the workforce

As the government encouraged us all to stay at home, organisations were forced to shift to remote and virtual working. These adjustments disrupted work environments and patterns, and to what extent that practice continues is one of the big unknowns. At Xero, we also asked ourselves whether we were setting up our employees to be successful in their role. We listened and adapted quickly, introducing our Future of Work initiative giving our employees the freedom of conversation as part of our flexible working guidelines.

In a post-Covid world, some employees may prefer working in an office for structure and collaboration, while others will require flexible working to flourish. Although, according to our Future of Small Business report, 46% of SME owners say that the new ways of working they pivoted to during the pandemic means they’re better set up for the future. However, it’s undeniable that it will be challenging for employers and employees to strike the right balance. The companies that stand out post-Covid will be the ones that paid attention to how the pandemic affected their employees’ needs and working styles, and simplified their lives by adapting accordingly. 

For instance, working while parenting has always been a balancing act, but the pandemic has led to any existing structures and routines being abandoned. At Xero – as part of our wider diversity and inclusion work – we’re committed to supporting working parents on their journey, before, during and after parental leave. By giving working parents the time and support they need to care for their children, workplace family-friendly policies – like paid parental leave, partner’s leave, keep in touch days and flex-return – will help to reduce the burden on families.

The road ahead

It’s undeniable that COVID-19 has accelerated the future of work, completely altering the concept of the workplace. The pandemic has shaken up the business world, but amid the chaos lies a range of opportunities.

Embracing the road ahead means moving past the traditional notions of refining existing solutions and instead aiming for a complete reimagining of what work is, who does it and where it’s done.

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