The old ways of doing things are clearly not going to help us through the disruption to come, from viruses to global heating. We need new ways of doing things and that includes work.
We’re just over a month into 2020 and it seems like a decade. First came the apocalyptic Australian fires, then coronavirus and the threat that it could tip the world into recession and now widespread flooding. It seems unreal that while for some in the UK the storms have just meant a few broken branches and fences for now, for others it means moving out of their homes for months, possibly losing businesses and God knows what else. I work with someone who lives in Wales and the impact is huge. It’s not just homes that will take months to clean; it’s failed crops, drowned cattle, ruined buildings…some of which will have long-term consequences for all of us.
We keep on working, plugging away as if nothing is changing when the very ground beneath our feet is getting more and more unstable with the realisation that, while it wasn’t us this time, it could very well have been and it could be us tomorrow.
In parts of China, students are confined to their homes, studying online. Any businesses that can are continuing remotely, from home. A world that was so international, that is so international where we are all dependent on each other, can almost overnight be reduced to the hyper local.
This kind of disruption, like its economic counterpart which sees technology wreaking havoc on traditional businesses, is something we are clearly going to have to get used to because it seems to be the new normal and we will just have to adapt.
That makes it all the more important for businesses to plan ahead for a variety of different scenarios, some of which are difficult to predict. Being agile and adaptable to change will become ever more important, not just for retention and recruitment purposes, but for survival.
Standing still and pretending that it is business as normal is to ignore reality, which is why there is a growing interest in flexible working among risk managers. A recent survey by IWG, the parent company of flexible workspace providers Regus and Spaces in SA, recently surveyed 19,000 business people in 96 countries. Seventy three per cent said flexible working helped them mitigate risk.
Regus clearly has its own vested interest in flexible working, but it makes a good case, pointing out how flexible working can not only mitigate risk in terms of ensuring business continuity in the face of unpredictable events, but also in terms of company expansion overseas [using remote workers to establish relationships and avoiding office costs].
Flexible working is only one aspect of how we address an increasingly uncertain future. Radical reform is needed and wide-scale investment in infrastructure to avoid the worst effects of global heating. Government appears reluctant to address the kind of change required. At some point it will surely be forced to do so.
The way we learn also needs to change. People have been banging on about resilience for a while, but resilience will surely become as important as maths and English for our children. Everything about how we learn, what we learn, the skills we rate, the jobs we consider to be important, the things we aspire to, will have to evolve and we will have to pull together and look after each other.
While politics around the world is moving towards isolationism, the idea that we can somehow escape what is happening to our neighbours and turn inwards is surely for the birds. Even if it is only for self protection, we must help each other. The alternative isn’t worth contemplating.