How a global pandemic catalyzed a long overdue transformation in the world of work

the world of work
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Morten Petersen, CEO and Co-Founder, Worksome, discusses how COVID-19 has transformed the world of work and enabled employers to find the best talent wherever its location may be

The fundamentals of how we work have essentially remained unchanged for the past century. Apart from ditching typewriters, getting computers and sending emails, our working lives haven’t dramatically changed. We’ve commuted to our place of work, worked a 9-5 day, or longer, and worked for our employer for a number of years or even decades. 

COVID, however, has forced a dramatic rethink of this.

The pandemic has catalysed digital transformation in the world of business. New technologies and practices that we might have expected businesses to adopt over the next 5-10 years have already been adopted. Businesses simply had to adapt to ensure that their staff could continue working. 

Culture has also dramatically changed during the pandemic. Before lockdown, remote working was not considered a possibility by the majority of the workforce. Now, people have had no choice but to work from home and to become familiar with the Zoom meetings and Microsoft Teams presentations that make remote working possible. 

Even before COVID, work had become much more flexible, with average job tenures far lower than they were just one generation ago. The days of staying in one job for your whole working life have long passed, with increasing quantities of project-based work and mass digitalisation creating new working and career realities.

However, recruitment and technology have not kept the pace with how working practices have changed. As COVID created widespread economic uncertainty, shutting off income streams for many businesses, companies often began to opt for hiring freelancers and contractors over permanent employees. 

The transformations to work-life that COVID caused have been popular: with one study finding that 41% people considered themselves more productive while working from home, and 28% equally as productive. Employers now need to consider that workers prefer this dynamic shift in work style, want to work remotely, and want to work to short-term contracts.

Predictably, the tech companies are leading the way though. In May, Twitter told its employees that they would never have to go into the office again. Facebook not only employs a large proportion of its workforce as contractors, but founder Mark Zuckerberg also expects half of the Facebook workforce to continue working remotely for the foreseeable future. 

The time is ripe for a true transformation of the working world. I want workers to wake up in the morning and think, what is the most exciting thing I can do today? What is my dream job? The shift to short-term freelance contracts makes this entirely possible for workers, enabling them to be picky about contracts, taking a risk and going after a passion project, and not worrying about where the office is versus where they live.

This is great news for hiring managers. They are no longer constrained by having to hire candidates who live in the same city. This makes a huge difference if you are looking for someone with a very specialist skillset – something that is becoming more common as technology develops. With remote working, hiring managers in London can easily hire someone who lives in Scotland, or even Scandinavia to work for them, particularly if it’s a fixed-term contract. Similarly, it enables workers to secure their dream role, irrespective of whether the company is based locally or on the other side of the world. 

An executive at a leading European Bank recently told me that hiring freelancers is no longer merely a cost solution to get through restructuring times. It is about bringing very specific skill sets to the organisation. 

There has also been a great deal of digital transformation in the more bureaucratic aspects of recruitment. Onboarding is now done entirely online, and at Worksome repetitive tasks like contracts, visas and paperwork are completely automated. 

All of this goes to say that the post COVID world of recruitment, with its greater focus on freelancing and remote work, will make work more flexible and allow for greater choice, both from employers and employees. However, it should be noted that to necessitate a black-and-white switch from entirely office-based, permanent roles to entirely remote, freelance work is not the answer to truly flexible recruitment.

Yes, working from home may have increased productivity for many, but it has also highlighted inequalities. For parents, for example, or for those who could only work in their bedrooms, working from home led to reduced rather than increased productivity. 

What we should take from this pandemic into future recruitment, then, is the fact that working styles and contract lengths cannot be set in stone. Just as a black and white belief in office-based, 9-5 working was misguided, so too would an approach that only advocated for another type of working be. A truly flexible approach to recruitment and work lies in the grey area; the understanding that what works for some may not work for others. 


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