Crisis set to accelerate workforce trends already underway

A new survey from McKinsey & Company highlights how Covid-19 is speeding up automation, digitisation and other trends such as greater demand for independent contractors.

woman coding at laptop


A disruptive period of workplace changes can be expected due to the crisis-fuelled acceleration of automation, digitisation and other trends, including increased demand for independent contractors and more remote work, according to a new survey.

The responses to a McKinsey global survey of 800 executive also said that the mix of jobs that emerge from the Covid crisis is likely different than those that were lost. It says people with the lowest incomes and educational attainment have been disproportionately affected, putting strains on achieving inclusive growth and potentially raising income inequality and it adds that SMEs and disadvantaged communities are more vulnerable to the impact of automation on jobs.

Coronavirus restrictions have brought digital transformations in a matter of weeks rather than months or years, says the report, with 85 percent of respondents saying their businesses had somewhat or greatly accelerated the implementation of technologies that digitally enable employee interaction and collaboration, such as videoconferencing and filesharing. Roughly half of those surveyed reported increasing digitisation of customer channels, for example, via ecommerce, mobile apps or chatbots. Some 35 percent have further digitised their supply chains, for example, by connecting their suppliers with digital platforms in supply chain management.

Adoption of automation technologies – including robotics, autonomous vehicles and AI-driven software that can perform processing workflows – has also accelerated during the pandemic, although to a lesser extent than digitisation. Nearly half of executives polled said that their adoption of automation had accelerated moderately and roughly 20 percent report significantly increasing automation.  While executives in all sectors report increased adoption of digitisation and automation, those in the financial services and technology sectors have seen the greatest acceleration of such technologies since the COVID-19 outbreak, says the report. Some 88 percent of finance and insurance executives and 76 percent of information and technology executives reported increased implementation of automation and AI since the outbreak.

Adoption of automation and AI has expanded most among firms that had a greater shift to remote work since the outbreak of COVID-19, according to the survey. Among executives of companies that moved most of their employees to remote work during the pandemic, 80 percent said they had increased automation, while only 51 percent of executives from companies that adopted remote work for just a few employees said automation had grown.

Across all sectors, 15 percent of executives surveyed amid the pandemic said at least a tenth of their employees could work remotely two or more days a week going forward, almost double those who expressed that intention before COVID-19. This varies by country, with 20 percent of executives surveyed in the United Kingdom and Germany saying that at least a tenth of their employees could work remotely two or more days a week going forward, which drops to only 4 percent among respondents in China. Extending remote work beyond two days a week, however, was less popular among respondents overall, with just 7 percent saying at least a tenth of their employees could work three or more days a week remotely. Openness to remote working was highest in sectors such as finance, technology and insurance.

When it came to hiring intentions, 35 percent of survey respondents said they would need more workers skilled in automation, AI, and robotics and 70 percent of executives expect to use more temporary workers and contractors onsite at their companies than they did before the crisis.


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