Imagine that it’s January 2020 — an eternity ago — and that you have been asked to gather with a dedicated group of your peers to give definite shape to a massively important topic: the future of work. Imagine that your first steps were to fly the leaders of our work-related content — covering employee experience (EX), automation, human capital management, and leadership — in from afar to have a multiday conversation where you would discuss and debate the definition of work itself and how that definition was changing.

This is precisely what a dedicated team of us here at Forrester did at the outset of 2020. Our group featured analysts who have been laboring to advocate for a strategic approach to the future of work for several years. We were given a clear mandate: Define the future of work in a way that goes beyond the headlines and the hype. Help Forrester clients embrace a vision of what it is, build a strategy for how they can make it happen, and begin to execute. We drafted a report that would build on our years of effort, declaring our vision and strategy for the future of work. We wrote with conviction that this topic was urgent and our approach to it would be valuable.

We knew our vision was powerful, but we had little idea just how urgent it would prove to be. Throughout February, as we finished principal research and writing on our collective report, we watched as the world was swept into its battle with the novel coronavirus and ensuing pandemic. And as we watched, we kept looking back at our in-process report to see if our work was as relevant as we expected. We were happy to see that our analysis was not only holding up, but it was also proving prescient.

But we were wrong in one major way: The future of work was no longer going to happen in the future.

Thanks to COVID-19, the future of work starts now. This week, we share with you the report we started in January and monitored through the earliest stages of this crisis. In this report, “The Future Of Work Starts Now” (for Forrester clients), we identify four shocks that were already going to pass through today’s workplaces, affecting employees, leaders, and organizational mandates. Now, they are all accelerated. Those four shocks, as we introduced them in the report, are:

  1. Systemic risk makes every company a globally exposed enterprise.
  2. Robots and automation have barely begun to make you feel their presence.
  3. Employee data is a tsunami that is about to drown you in obligations and possibilities.
  4. Employee power, like customer power before it, will redefine workforce strategy.

We’re eager to get these four shocks out to you with all their detail so you can see and understand all four of them, not just the obvious first one, systemic risk, which includes the current and future pandemics as well as other systemwide economic, climate, and political risks.

While you read this report, I’ll share that we are busy writing the follow-up report, “The CEO’s Guide To The Future Of Work.” This guide for executives will turn from the shocks that are exerting force on all of our organizations toward identifying vulnerabilities and building strengths to not only manage risks but to positively thrive under stress. We believe that engaged employees, supported by empathetic leaders, situated in an organizational environment that motivates the workforce to become customer-obsessed — all of it backed by the tools and technologies to manage that workforce strategically — will be a differentiating factor in determining not just which companies survive this current crisis but which ones go on to create the employee and customer experiences that make the future of everything else possible.

Stay tuned for more from this outstanding team:

Mark Brandau, principal analyst, covering talent and human capital management strategy and tools
J. P. Gownder, vice president, principal analyst, covering robotics (including the robotics quotient), automation, and the adaptive workforce
David Johnson, principal analyst, covering EX, including our EX Index
Katy Tynan, principal analyst, covering leadership and talent management