Tuesday, 19th January 2021

What's next for the future of work?

Nearly half of global businesses (49%) expect the COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on traditional, non-digital businesses that are not aggressively transitioning to digital, according to a new global report from Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and Oxford Economics, The Work Ahead: Digital First (to Last). In fact, 46% expect less personal and social interaction with customers, and well over one-third (37%) say they’ll need to rely on digital channels for customer interaction.

Building on previous Cognizant research published in 2016, this latest report is part of a global research series that examines the role digital has played in separating business winners from stragglers over the last five years. The Work Ahead: Digital First (to Last): report presents observations and recommendations on how the next wave of digital will manifest itself over the next three to five years.

The report’s key findings include:

  • The pandemic is skewing employer/employee relationships: Business leaders cited employee safety (59%) and worker recognition (58%) as the top areas of focus. Looking to the long term, more than half of business leaders (52%) indicated that digital working practices and organisational agility (50%) will increase, as a result of experts working across functional and departmental boundaries. Other changes on the horizon include 43% of respondents expecting to see a drop in pay for highly paid executives and 41% expecting to adjust their HR policies to accommodate flexible approaches to remote working.
  • The skills touted as most important for advancing careers are changing: 40% ofbusiness leaders chose innovation skills as most important for succeeding at work today, behind decision-making skills (39%) and leadership skills (35%). When compared to 2016 results, global operating skills have fallen the furthest (voted the second most important skill by executives in 2016 but not even making the Top 10 in 2020). Due to the COVID-19 crisis and supply chain concerns, many executives were forced to bring supply chains back into the business’s country of domicile.
  • The impact of digital technologies on jobs accelerates: Business leaders today say they are less concerned that new machines will take over their jobs than they were in 2016. Today, 44% agree that digital technologies will protect them from being replaced by robots and AI (compared to 34% in 2016), and 46% say they believe these technologies will help them stay employed (compared to 37% in 2016). However, the belief that business leaders have in the power of digital technologies to improve efficiency is dwindling. Only 46% agree that it improves their productivity (87% in 2016) and only 44% state that it helps them collaborate with others more effectively (69% in 2016).
  • IoT is the tech du jour to augment and improve business processes: Although more than 70% of business leaders have implemented data analytics or AI as pilots or full projects, the Internet of Things (IoT) is seeing the highest implementation of full deployments (16%). Over two-thirds (67%) are at some stage of implementation. Despite widespread endorsement of the value of 5G for businesses, the report found that only 9% of respondents have a 5G pilot underway.
  • There are no technological silver bullets to guarantee results: When rating the impact of technology on the business by 2023, business leaders identified AI as having the greatest potential influence (43%), second only to hyper-connectivity (47%). However, when comparing results to 2016, business leaders’ expectations of most technologies, including business analytics, AI, and cloud services, dropped. Today, only 34% cite cloud as a force shaping the future of work compared to 52% in 2016, telling us that cloud is a table stakes strategy, rather than the force multiplier it once was on the future of work.

Euan Davis, Associate Vice President, Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, EMEA, comments:

Over the course of this year, we have seen how COVID-19 has exposed the pre-existing condition of many organisations around the world: They were pre-digital enterprises, unfit for purpose in the modern world, holding on by their fingertips by custom and inertia.

As 2021 begins, and enterprises around the world attempt to chart a course for the post-pandemic era, one thing is certain: Digital competency is no longer a nice-to-have, but rather, an absolute necessity.

Businesses need to be confident in their ability to integrate machines into existing business processes, but also forge lasting partnerships between humans and machines. Technology will undoubtedly play a massive role in every organisation’s future success, and flexible, data-intensive, and digitally oriented ways of working will be indispensable for weathering what is expected to be a global recession.”

The Work Ahead: Digital First (to Last) is based on a survey of more than 4,000 C-suite and senior executives across 23 countries, including U.S., Canada, UK, Germany, France, China, India, Japan, and Australia.

This global report will be followed by three regional reports for North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific, as well as 10 industry reports, including banking and finance, consumer goods, education, healthcare, insurance, life sciences, manufacturing, retail, transportation and logistics, and utilities.

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