How Work Will Change in 'New Normal'

In the post-COVID world, organizations will need to prepare for pandemics and be able to react almost instantly once an infection appears.

The last several months have shown the fragile and connected nature of our global economy. If four months ago you would have told someone that we would be in a situation with record global unemployment, historic government economic stimulus, people sheltering in place, all occurring in less than six weeks, you would have been met with disbelief and disdain. Our bitter reality, however, is that the changes that we have experienced in the last 60 days will continue and will accelerate the impact and consequences for the future.  

In many ways, we have been contemplating our current situation for years, as evidenced by the numerous models, books and films that have all described a “post-apocalyptic” world that fundamentally changes society.  The previous contemplations were like an amusement park roller coaster experience, fun to momentarily experience the fear and uncertainty, but then easy to return to solid ground when the ride was over. The primary issue is that the entire world is now on the roller coaster and desperately wants to get off but has to wait for the ride to end.  

Several authors who focused on historical crises and their long-term impact see common patterns. The crises create fundamental shifts in society, business and culture. The Covid-19 situation will inevitably lead to some of the greatest changes we have seen in the last 100 years.  

See also: 10 Moments of Truth From COVID-19 

One of the primary factors underlying our future “new normal” is the steady march to more detailed and prevalent public information about people and their physical state. We have been moving down this path for many years through the ubiquitous sharing of data in both social and business settings. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a slew of other software is primarily designed to be a data sharing platform. The virtual sharing of data is done literally by everyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. In our post-pandemic world, data that describes our health and physical state will become more valuable than currency.

Narrowing this data focus on the worker, the new normal will be greatly different than what we left behind just 90 days ago. First, and most importantly, worker health and safety will be monitored and evaluated more than ever from a strategic, operational and financial perspective. 

Strategically, companies will need to rethink worker roles, locations, supply chain and output models. The work from home shift for a majority of historically white collar industries occurred in a matter of hours. Our networking infrastructure, software and excess home working space were quickly converted into a new working model. Moving forward, this more fluid work model will continue with an inevitable reduction in physical office space and the ability to work within different environments. Company campuses will become virtual; physical location will be secondary; interaction will be through a digital camera and microphone. The consequences of this shift are still developing and will change the office working model.

For those blue collar workers where the worker’s body is the means of production, there will also be fundamental shifts. Tracking of worker-specific data and location will become commonplace. Prior to the “new normal,” we saw regulation and case law about the use of biometric data and limitations based on privacy concerns. The new normal, however, will require that people expose specific biometric data (temperature, antibodies) to ensure that workers are not creating or accepting undue risk. Access to locations will be based on a physical and biometric review of workers and will inevitably extend to clients, customers, vendors and any others within company locations. A driver's license and other forms of ID will now include your health card and current physical state.

On the foundation of this additional information, the speed of risk identification will become a primary metric, and the ability to respond will become a determination of operational and management efficacy. The experience with cyber-attacks provide a good parallel. An organizational leader’s responsibility is to take reasonable and rapid efforts to protect the organization and its assets from cyberattacks. We have seen large D&O cases brought for the failure to meet these reasonable standards. A similar effect will occur with infectious diseases, related to how to mitigate and avoid the risk across an organization. The organization's need for identification and response will be measured in minutes.  

In 12 months, the only accurate statement is that the world will be a much different place than today. The “new normal” will include the use of people’s personal health and biometric scanning. Temperature scanners will be implemented for access to locations including work, school and entertainment. Our personal data tracking and sharing will take on greater importance, to show the employers, public entities, schools and others our current state of health and ability to safely interact with others.  

See also: How to Win in the New Normal  

Technology and data are, and will continue to be, the primary driver of this awareness for our health and safety. As more people are willing or required to share data for the collective safety in the connected world, our privacy standards will evolve.  

The direction is clear. Data creates insight, insight creates action and action avoids risk.

Doug Turk

Profile picture for user DougTurk

Doug Turk

Doug Turk is a recognized innovator and leader with extensive experience in starting, growing and managing organizations. His career spans over 20 years in both technology and insurance.

Read More