Unlocked subscriber content: The future is now

Melanie Lepine reflects on the pandemic and offers some ideas of how we manage our new reality.

In almost every conversation I’ve had recently, people are talking about ‘the new normal’, about what the future looks like, how we recover from recent events and what that means for the working world, and in particular the people functions. 

The pandemic certainly shook things up, accelerating the focus on some areas of work like: technology; remote working; digital learning; mental health and wellbeing while it has potentially slowed down other areas, with reduced budgets and uncertainty about what the coming months will bring.

There have certainly been plenty of public examples demonstrating the effects of the pandemic with many businesses folding and larger businesses like Dixons Carphone and M&S making sweeping cuts to adapt their structure to address changing customer habits.

With M&S talking about turning a three-year plan into a one-year plan, it is clear that recent months have accelerated the future plans of many organisations.

To ensure we are future proofed and future ready, we need to be focused on the skills within our organisation – building empowered teams who are curious, agile and want to learn

It goes without saying that something as significant as the Covid-19 pandemic should impact public behaviour and consumer trends, and make us question how things are done and what our role is.

The future skills we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years are required more than ever and we need to act now to ensure that we survive this challenge and prepare ourselves for whatever the future may bring…

‘Survival of the fittest’ has never been more true, and considering how the future looks, recognising that we are unable to definitively predict it and considering what skills will see you and your teams through is what will help to differentiate organisations, not only driving results, but ultimately helping them succeed in the battle for top talent. 

The CIPD have recently held a Hackathon to talk about exactly that, some of the areas of focus that came out within those conversations were: 

  • Technological and digital transformation
  • Social Responsibility
  • Globalisation
  • Industrial change and organisational agility.

These topics created a lot of discussion and have a myriad of different dimensions all of their own, but from my perspective, when we look at all of these topics, it suggests we need to think about our people, and how best to engage them.


I could talk about the different generational needs, and there is some value in recognising that those joining the workforce today often have very different views from those who have been in work for the last 40 years, but the skill of our leaders in the future will be to address individual needs, and personalise their leadership accordingly, rather than adopting a one size fits all approach. 

To address future needs, we need to look for specific skills and abilities, rather than just thinking about age, gender, culture or other demographic indicators.

As technology continues to evolve at pace, and the digital transformation enables greater connectivity, intuitive support and service and access to data that was previously unavailable, we will need to manage our workforce differently. 

Helping them to move away from some of the more basic functions that robotics or AI can address, and empowering them to use their human capabilities to emotionally connect with people while managing more complex situations.

We will need to look for people who have a passion for lifelong learning, those who do not rely on their current expertise to take them forward, but embrace new and exciting opportunities and thrive in ambiguous environments – who want to develop and grow and try new things.

One of the things that the pandemic has certainly shifted for many people is their view of the working day and the commute into the office. Someone I know recently shared a post talking about their first day back in the office.

They lost three hours of their day in travel, felt rushed all day long, spent more money on coffee and food, missed bath time with their child and got less work done than when they worked at home. The upshot wasn’t that they didn’t want to commute into the office, but that they needed to make sure they maximised their time in the office to make the effort worthwhile. 

To address future needs, we need to look for specific skills and abilities, rather than just thinking about age, gender, culture or other demographic indicators.

Allowing people to work remotely, where it suits their lifestyle, not only supports the recent focus on health and wellbeing, but also allows us to source talent from a broader geography, meaning access to a bigger talent pool than before – this definitely feels like a win for everyone. 

We need to treat everyone as individuals – I know a number of people in my network who were desperate to get back to the office, and as such our flexibility to meet the differing needs of our workforce once again comes into play.

Social responsibility has also become a significant factor for organisations, with more employees seeing this as an important part of the overall value proposition for a company, organisations need to think carefully about how social responsibility fits with their overall culture and values, and identify opportunities that fit well with their own brand. 

CSR for the sake of it can have the opposite effect, by appearing inauthentic and short termist – involving the teams across the business can really help to identify things that resonate with your organisation and build engagement in the purpose.

In essence, to ensure we are future proofed and future ready, we need to be focused on the skills within our organisation – building empowered teams who are curious, agile and want to learn. 

We need to build our strategies with enough clarity of purpose to help people see the way forward, and understand the goals of the organisation, but with enough flex to enable us to change direction without having to rip everything up and start again.

We need to embrace change and help our teams to do them same, and really focus on the engagement of our people, letting them know that they are front and centre of all our plans.


About the author

Melanie Lepine is head of learning and devlopment at CBRE Workplace Solutions


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