As the world moves through the management phase of this historic pandemic, the ultimate “new normal” remains elusive. Countries that seemed to have flattened the curve are seeing a resurgence in daily case rates. Meanwhile, the pandemic has eroded global economic growth. Most businesses have been affected by two dominant factors:

  • Dramatic changes in consumer behavior. We have retreated indoors. Most of us are no longer considering that new car purchase or taking that vacation we’d planned. This has hit several industries hard. For example, Singapore Airlines announced its first ever loss in almost five decades this May. Real estate markets in many Asian nations are falling off a cliff. Meanwhile, as people remained homebound binge-watching Tiger King, the demand for online consumption grew — particularly among younger demographics. During the pandemic, convenience and risk aversion have been driving consumer behavior and, in turn, digital consumption habits. For instance, from a recent World Economic Forum study, over half of all youths between 16 and 35 years of age in Indonesia and Singapore increased eCommerce buying during the pandemic, and 87% increased usage of at least one digital tool.
  • Radical disruption of the workplace. We are also adapting to new ways of working. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella anecdotally pointed out in April, the world has undergone two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. Short-term changes include the rise of videoconferencing, collaboration, online learning, and telehealth in the hunt for automated ways to carry out important or mandatory business processes (such as the push for video-based know-your-customer processes for Indian banks) in the absence of face-to-face interaction.

With all these changes, one thing is certainly true: Digital transformation is happening faster and irrevocably across Asia. The new normal, as it emerges, will be unstable and will force policymakers and business leaders to act in ways that were earlier considered impossible. Take, for example, the future of work:

  • COVID-19 has accelerated the future of work. Even before the pandemic, we were on the path toward a massive change in the way we work. Forces such as AI, automation, and robotics were poised to transform the workforce, as well as working styles. The pandemic has accelerated this advance, and behaviors and changes adopted during the pandemic will remain with us. The scope of these changes will be profound. The pandemic will result in a protracted jobless recovery that will go hand in hand with a renewed focus on risk mitigation, automation, and rampant digitization. These factors will reshape the workforce.
  • Four shocks will shape the future of work. COVID-19 has created a new list of must-have priorities that let your firm adapt to these turbulent times. At Forrester, we outline four shocks that will accelerate the future of work. From the rise in automation to the impending tsunami of employee data, and from the heightened awareness of systemic risk to the growth of employee power, these shocks will play a fundamental role in the creative destruction that will pave the path for the consumer and employee experiences of the future.
  • We are not prepared. Many organizations showed impressive resilience in being able to transition from nearly 100% working from a specific location to nearly 100% working from home in a matter of weeks. But the true test lies ahead. Forrester’s pre-pandemic research into organizational readiness for the future of work shows that employees do not feel skilled enough to work side by side with automation such as robots. Employers struggle to establish trust and optimism for the future among a diverse workforce. And our organizational structures and support frameworks lack the ability to envision and realize future-ready worker experiences. Take, for example, approaches to remote working: Facebook, which allowed its people to work from home, faced a backlash when it suggested reduced salaries for employees who opted to work out of cheaper cities.

We believe that engaged employees, supported by empathetic leaders, situated in an organizational environment that motivates the workforce to become customer-obsessed, and backed by the tools and technologies to manage that workforce strategically, are crucial to succeeding and thriving in the new, unstable normal.

I invite you to download our new eBook, The Executive’s Guide To The Future Of Work for Asia Pacific, to learn more about the forces shaping the future of work and gain insight into how IT and business leaders can prepare for the coming changes.