Five Lessons From The Pandemic Light A Path Forward To The Future Of Work

Finally, we are nearing the end of the 2020 tunnel and seeing encouraging glimmers of light. While the pandemic is not yet under control, we do have promising vaccine news as 2021 approaches, and many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have returned to on-site work. We see stabilization in US government after months of uncertainty, and the beginning of commitment and action to address longstanding racial and social justice inequities.

At a more granular level, these months of operating in survival mode have provided valuable insight into how organizations and people can truly move forward from this disruption and position themselves to navigate the future disruptions that are bound to occur. In short, we see a path toward thriving, not merely surviving.

The lessons learned over the past eight months bring sharp focus to global human capital trends that have been evolving for years—trends in well-being, reskilling, superteams (combining humans with machines), workforce strategies, and the role of HR. Even more, these lessons reinforce the overarching need to build the human element into everything an organization does in order to create lasting value for workers, organizations, and society at large.

1. Human potential is our greatest untapped asset.

Organizations have tended to think about what people can do in terms of the bullet points on their resumes and job descriptions. But none of us really knows what we’re capable of and what our limits are until we’re tested and pushed to those limits. The past eight months have been a defining test. They’ve taught us that people can operate differently. They can adapt and perform in ways far beyond what their jobs and roles specifically call for and do what has to get done.

We must now challenge how we think about the workforce and use technology to help identify and unleash human potential within and beyond the organization. This includes retaining the magic that comes from empowering people to break through hierarchy and bureaucracy, lead at all levels, and roll up their sleeves to get the job done.

2. True top-of-the house leadership looks like nothing we’ve seen before.

For years we’ve talked about “tone at the top” and the importance of top-down leadership. Now we have stellar examples of what that looks like: examples of CEOs being more transparent and human than they’ve ever been before. This includes opening dialogues on tough issues like racism and well-being and allowing them to be front and center, and generally leaning into issues that go way past the traditional C-suite agenda.

Senior leaders now have the opportunity to embody the organization’s purpose—its set of values supporting economic, social, and human interests—to infuse meaning into work that mobilizes employees around common, meaningful goals.

3. Leadership and culture are about connection and empowerment.

As people isolated at home, team leaders became the organization’s lifeline. It became their responsibility to not only focus on outcomes and organize the work accordingly, but also think about the moments that mattered culturally and foster trust in the organization. If they didn’t have empathy, listening skills, the trust of their teams, and the ability to communicate, manage, and lead, work suffered or at times didn’t get done at all.

Going forward, leaders and teams at all levels (not just higher levels) must develop capabilities that enable them to work and lead effectively while supporting the human needs of their team and representing the organization’s culture.

4. Work is the most underutilized source of value.

Work is more than simply the output it produces. It’s a powerful human force—a way for people to connect to a purpose, feel motivated, build relationships, and showcase their true capabilities. Yet no one is responsible for driving work transformation, keeping up with the pace of change, or harnessing what it can bring to the enterprise.

Organizations now have the opportunity to re-architect work for the future, not as a mechanized process, but as a flow that aligns with ways humans think and engage, and that continues to evolve. By its handling of COVID-19 challenges, HR has earned the right to spearhead this effort on behalf of the organization.

5. Ecosystems are essential to extend organizational capabilities.

The sheer enormity of the past year’s challenges proved the value of being able to leverage external partners and resources to accomplish what organizations couldn’t do on their own. For example, one transportation industry CEO related to us that, given the company has no Chief Medical Officer, he was able to enlist a top academic medical center to provide that guidance. In another example, we’re working with a group of 10 CHROs to build a cross-organizational learning program aimed at moving Black and Latinx professionals from the director to the executive level.

Going forward, organizations should deliberately cultivate an ecosystem of partners, vendors, alternative workers, and professional networks, realizing it’s the new reality of how work gets done.

From hard-learned experience to a leap forward

It would be a tremendous waste to treat the past year as a detour—a momentary delay that leads us right back to the path we were on. Instead, we need to treat 2020 as a shortcut that showed us how to leapfrog to our desired destination: a place where we’re not merely surviving, but thriving.

With the end of 2020 in sight, we have the means to createthe light we want to step into. There’s no “waiting for a better time”—the time is now. We’ll be sharing more insights on how organizations can get this done in the coming weeks in Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends (sign up to receive a copy here).

This piece was co-authored by Jeff Schwartz, principal and US leader for the Future of Work, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Erica Volini

Erica Volini

Erica Volini is the Global Human Capital leader for Deloitte Consulting. Throughout her career, she has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations to link their business and human capital strategies. She is a frequent speaker on how market trends are shaping the future of work and the HR profession and is a recognized thought leader in the trends shaping the world of human capital today.

Steve Hatfield

Steve Hatfield

Steve Hatfield is a Principal with Deloitte Consulting and serves as the Global Leader for Future of Work for Deloitte. He has over 20 years of experience advising global organizations on issues of strategy, innovation, organization, people, culture, and change.

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A new global initiative will use nuclear science to better manage pandemic threats, such as COVID-19. The IAEA Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) project will establish a global network to help national laboratories in monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of animal and zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, avian influenza and Zika. ZODIAC is based on the technical, scientific and laboratory capacity of the IAEA and its partners and the Agency’s mechanisms to quickly deliver equipment and know-how to countries. Subscribe for more videos: http://goo.gl/VxsqCz Follow IAEA on social media: Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/iaeaorg/ Twitter – https://twitter.com/iaeaorg Google+ – https://plus.google.com/+iaea Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/iaeaorg/ LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/company/iaea © IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication http://iaea.org

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In Rural America, Resentment Over COVID-19 Shutdowns is Colliding With Rising Case Numbers

As COVID-19 spreads through rural America, new infection numbers are rising to peaks not seen during this pandemic and pushing hospitals to their limits. Many towns are experiencing their first major outbreaks, but that doesn’t mean rural communities had previously been spared the devastating impacts of the pandemic.

Infection rates in rural and frontier communities ebbed and flowed during the first seven months, often showing up in pockets linked to meat packing plants, nursing homes or prisons.

Even if they had no cases, many rural areas were under statewide public health orders that left businesses closed and events canceled. And that has become part of the problem today. The early compassionate and cohesive community responses to COVID-19 quickly gave way to growing anger and compliance fatigue, especially when some isolated towns didn’t see their first positive cases until summer.

That resentment toward public health recommendations, including mask-wearing, is now on a crash course with rising case numbers in the Mountain West, Midwest and Great Plains. For the fifth week in a row, rural counties witnessed a sharp increase in cases, to the point where over 70% of the nation’s nonmetropolitan counties had earned a “red zone” designation, suggesting local viral spread was out of control. The reality, though, is COVID-19 has never been “under control” in the U.S.

As professors of family medicine with experience in rural health policy and medical practice, we have been studying the barriers rural communities are facing during the pandemic and how they can solve COVID-19-related challenges.

Understanding the drivers of increasing COVID-19 cases in rural places is critical to both curtailing the current surge and limiting flareups in the future.

Why rural cases are on the rise

Several factors have contributed to the rise in rural case numbers.

The politicization of the pandemic – and of mask-wearing – has hampered both public health efforts and collaboration among businesses, community organizations and health care entities. Political tensions have given rise to misinformation, reinforced on social media, that can be difficult to turn around. If people aren’t taking protective measures, when COVID-19 does come in, it can easily and quickly spread.

In some communities, the resumption of small-town activities, such as school, church and sports events, has led to more infections. Experts have pointed to social gatherings, including the nearly 500,000-strong Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota in August, as sources of the recent COVID-19 surge in the upper Midwest.

Working from home is also nearly impossible for many rural jobs. Paid sick leave may also be difficult to come by, prompting some people to choose between working while sick and isolating at home without pay. Meat and poultry processing plants and other farm industries often employ immigrants whose living and commuting realities can make social distancing difficult. Many rural places are heavily dependent on recreation and service industries. When visitors arrive from out of town, they may bring COVID-19 with them.

A man partially wearing a mask waits for an employment interview in Imperial County, California.
Unemployed workers wait to fill out job applications in a region hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Local health care is already short-supplied

Pinpointing COVID-19 outbreaks early and stopping the spread can also be harder in rural areas.

Funding for rural public health departments has long been anemic, crippling their ability to test, share data and conduct contact tracing. Limited resources also constrain education and outreach efforts.

Many rural hospitals and primary care practices entered the pandemic in financial trouble and chronically short-staffed. They reside squarely at the end of the supply chain, making acquisition of needed personal protective equipment and testing supplies difficult. Rural hospitals have fewer ICU beds per capita than their urban counterparts. Lack of consistent broadband coverage can make access to telehealth difficult, as well.

These factors, compounded by caring for a population that is comparatively older, sicker and poorer, leave rural communities extraordinarily vulnerable as cases continue to rise.

How to turn the tide of rising cases

Intervening now can slow the rate of rise of COVID-19 cases in rural hot spots while simultaneously building a more robust long-term response.

To be most effective, each rural area’s unique demographics, economies and perspectives should be considered as policies are developed.

For example, allowing rural communities to exert control over their reopening and closing decisions based on local disease transmission dynamics would allow them to better balance disease mitigation with economic impacts. Some states allow rural communities with few or no cases to apply for waivers from statewide public health orders. These applications generally look at local infection data, containment measures and health care capacity.

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Changing the nature of the conversation around COVID-19 in the community can also help in implementing simple, effective measures like mask-wearing. When communications are personal, they may be more accepted. For example, a public service message could remind people that wearing a mask keeps your favorite business open and your grandmother healthy. Framing levels of risk in understandable terms for different types of activities can also help, such as how to exercise or socialize safely. Working with trusted local messengers, such as business owners and faith leaders, can help convey evidence-based information.

A cafe owner wears a protective face mask in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Stillwater, Oklahoma, pulled back on requiring people to wear masks in stores last spring after officials said some customers threatened store employees. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty

Planning is also essential. Communities need to prepare so they can get supplies, testing and treatment when needed; protect the most vulnerable community members; educate the community; and support people in isolation and quarantine. A rural regional approach to testing and contact tracing, sharing supplies and swapping staff could help bridge some of the gaps. Getting test results closer to home could decrease wait times and courier costs. Sharing resources across health care organizations could also minimize the burden of response.

3 ways to strengthen systems for the future

COVID-19 isn’t likely to be the last pandemic rural America will see. Here are three ways to strengthen rural systems for the future.

  • By partnering with universities and local and state agencies, communities can incorporate their unique susceptibilities into dynamic epidemiological models that could better inform local public health and economic decisions.
  • Aligning public health and health care measures could help governments better balance pandemic responses and ensure all parts of the community are moving toward the same goal.
  • Increasing broadband access and internet speeds in rural and frontier communities could also help. During the pandemic, people everywhere have appreciated the need for internet connectivity for education, remote work and purchasing goods, as well as virtual health care.

By: Lauren Hughes / Associate Professor of Family Medicine, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus & Roberto Silva / Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Colorado Denver

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CBS This Morning 1.64M subscribers The number of new coronavirus cases is rising across the country as the death toll approaches 200,000 in the U.S. Infectious disease experts are criticizing a reversal to critical guidance from the CDC on how COVID-19 spreads. David Begnaud reports.

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