Events that changed the world of work in 2020

The world changed in 2020. I am not a prophet and cannot determine whether the changes are for better or worse. What I do know is that the change is irreversible and we will never go back to exactly where we came from. With all the events that took place over the last 12 months, there are five in particular that significantly changed how we work – now and forever. Here is a closer look at them and how they’ve pushed organizations and those who run them to make quick changes.    

1. COVID-19: Let us start with the most obvious one on the list. One has to be blind to not have noticed the work-shattering changes that the pandemic brought with it. In a matter of weeks, the term ‘essential workers’ made its way into everyday conversation, everyone who could work from home was doing so, health and safety took a meaning of its own, businesses went bankrupt at a mind numbing pace, remote & virtual work took on a whole new meaning and literally everything we knew about how work gets done was challenged and changed. As organizations begin to make sense of it all, let’s accept that most organizations will never return to their 100% workforce in the office model. After a year of most people working from home, it will be hard to justify why someone absolutely needs to be in office all the time. While dynamics will shift drastically once people select to be physically present at an office, 2021 & forward will always be a combination of a hybrid presence model, hot desks and changing work benefits. 2020 pushed us into the land of no return.   

2. Black Lives Matter: Events in the United States of America have far-reaching impact into all corners of the world. When George Floyd was murdered, the world was taken by storm. From protests against brutal police actions, to taking a stand for Ethiopia, advocating to teach American children black history – the impact, rage and determination touched the corporate world too. Organizations have gone global and many are American-based. No global organization could now afford to pretend this never happened. As a result, the agenda on diversity and inclusion got pushed ahead and BLNA (Black, Latin, Native American) got a special place on it. A not so new word ‘equity’ also pushed its way into the agenda. While many organizations are trying to understand what diversity means for countries outside of the US, the added attention has led to unprecedented progress in this space. All said and done, ID&E (inclusion, diversity and equity) is now on every senior leader’s radar and the pressure to make a difference will only grow larger in 2021. While positive discrimination and output measures are still widely debated, the part that is doesn’t need debate is that we are heading to a more inclusive workplace.  

3. The Election, Australian & California Fires: Here are two more US events that had an impact – more on global organizations than local ones. However, it makes it to the list because it exposed one managerial trait that almost never gets assessed in interviews but should.  COVID did its part in attempting to level the playing field in some aspects, but organizations quickly realized that leaders who struggle with empathy struggled to make the right decisions this year. Add to that the Black Lives Matter movement, the California fires and the nerve-wrecking election, leaders now needed to communicate on matters previously considered private. It became important to recognize that employees are being impacted by events across the globe, acknowledge how they feel and speak out. Silence was no longer acceptable and innumerable emails made their way to inboxes everywhere, reminding teams that the leaders stand with them. In addition, we now expected organizations to go beyond previous expectations and support employees and families through these situations – by providing required paid time off, monetary and emotional support, temporary accommodation and more.

4. Brexit: UK finally completes its withdrawal from the European Union on 31 December 2020. This comes with multiple questions on the impact of the Brexit trade negotiations, Right to Work rules and the points-based immigration system for EU and non-EU talent. These questions took the front stage in organizations that operate out of the EU for a major part of the year. While we still figure Brexit’s impact on international mobility and hiring; this coupled with increased support for right wing political parties (Italy, Poland, Hungary, Scandinavia and Germany) and high unemployment rates in countries like South Africa, (currently at 30.8%)–global talent mobility will become a watch and learn game over the next few years.

None of these events in isolation would have created a similar impact. Yet, all put together, they’ve created tailwinds (or headwinds, depending on how you look at it) like never before. The virus amplified the strength of these events and it would be foolish to not recognize the year that was and that work will probably never go back to the way we recognize it.

Remember how we rang in the new decade wishing for change? Who knew…

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