Two years have passed since the coronavirus pandemic changed the world. It's easy to forget just how far we have come and how Zoom found itself being thrust into the spotlight to suddenly become worth more than the world's largest seven airlines combined. We have all emerged from the enforced remote working experiment that put us on a path to hybrid working, virtual offices, and even VR meetings. But where do we go from here?
As many countries begin to open up their borders again and adopt a "living with Covid" model, there are already several tech trends driving contactless convenience and a new low-touch economy. As a result, businesses are challenged with adapting to their customer's continually evolving needs. But to do that, they can no longer ignore the importance of technology in ensuring business and life continue as before.
The increased appetite for touchless transactions and contactless digital payments famously prompted the unlikely resurgence of QR codes. Many have become used to scanning a code to open a menu on their smartphones. Some restaurants even allowed customers to enter their payment details on a website or app without needing to touch a paper menu, touchscreen, or credit card terminal. With friction removed, these experiences have set a new standard for future expectations in other venues, and the workplace is no different either.
Is the tech skills shortage slowing down the digital transformation?
Early in the pandemic, the BBC predicted that as many as 200 million people could end up out of work, warning it could be the beginning of the most severe employment crisis since World War Two. In addition, the rise of automation in the workplace and the suggestion that many current job roles might not exist in 10 years quickly caused concern across the employment landscape. But these headlines only told half the story.
A decade ago, roles such as social media managers, digital marketing specialists, and mobile app designers didn't exist. However, many more roles continue to emerge with unfilled vacancies because of the increasing skills shortage. For example, there are around 3 million unfilled cybersecurity roles across Asia-Pacific, forcing contract rates up to $2,000 per day. It’s time to fix the tech skills gap.
There has never been a better time for anyone to retrain or reskill to enter a career in tech. But rather than risk leaving anyone behind, employers have the responsibility to help upskill employees. Not only to do the right thing by their people but also help solve the talent crisis that is sweeping across every organization.
The future of work
However, it's not just the job roles that are changing. Jobseekers emerged from lockdowns with a very different set of priorities. Employees are now demanding flexibility to work from home and great company culture in a kinder, more inclusive workplace where their well-being is taken seriously. In September alone, a record-breaking 4.4 million workers left their jobs in the US as the great resignation inspired a new future of work.
Some HR teams made the mistake of not trusting their employees during the pandemic. There are many examples of businesses that implemented workplace surveillance tools and ignored the pleas of their staff, who were asking for the right to disconnect outside of their working hours. As a result, employees spent more than 11 hours a day staring at a screen. Unsurprisingly, many began leaving corporate life in droves, searching for an alternative to micromanagers who were using tech for all the wrong reasons.
By putting the human back into HR, we can expect employee mental, physical and digital wellbeing to become a hot topic. Leaders that commit to being more human-focused and use tech for the right reasons might succeed in keeping their employees engaged and business in the green. But this will require a significant cultural shift where we finally begin to bridge the digital divide.
Building a sustainable future for all
Environmentally conscious consumers are increasingly looking to businesses for assurances around their commitment to sustainability. For brands, making a big difference in the fight against climate change could soon play a more significant role in attracting new customers than low prices. These changes are already impacting the world of fashion, but whether we will see affordable battery replacements and OS upgrades that don't degrade the performance of older smartphones remains to be seen.
As the world begins to open back up, the biggest winners will be those that seize the renewed demand for everything people missed from their pre-pandemic life. However, future success will also be built on meeting consumers' evolving expectations and creating new experiences that will quickly become the norm in a post-pandemic world. Especially if being carbon neutral or reaching net-zero carbon becomes a deal-breaker in the eyes of audiences.
The consumer and employee experience is already reshaping our world. For example, the great resignation is forcing employers to look after their staff inside the workplace. But outside of the office, consumers are embracing sustainability and using their shopping preferences as a way of forcing entire industries to change their ways.
Technology will continue to be the driving force behind these significant changes as hybrid working, online learning, and telehealth get all the headlines. But maybe Patti Smith was right all along when she sang how the people have the power to dream, rule, and wrestle the world from fools.