While the early days of the Great Lockdown of 2020 will fondly be remembered for Dalgona coffee and singing on balconies, they will also go down in history as the time corporations had to swiftly adapt to transitioning employees en masse to working from home.
Almost overnight, employers had to make decisions about what virtual communication platforms to use, standardize video conferencing options, troubleshoot tech issues and familiarize teams with digital tools.
HR departments sunk into long discussions - via Zoom, of course - about virtual happy hours and how to set a tone for workplace culture from a distance. Project leads devised new ways to assess productivity and keep tabs on their teams. Employees located the best lit areas of their homes and set up backgrounds that would make them look professional on video calls.
And so, the great remote work experiment took flight.
After several months of experimenting with what the future of the workplace would look like, scores of companies are starting to commit to a long term shift to remote working. The promise of cutting costs on renting glassy buildings at the center of the world’s priciest cities, and access to a location-agnostic talent pool have made recruiting pundits declare that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to taking work online.
Big Tech was the first to catch on. Twitter and Square decided their employees could work remotely forever. Facebook announced a 10-year plan to move most of its employees to remote work. Shopify said it was going all in, with no plans to bring people back to working in offices. Even companies in “traditional” industries like Nationwide jumped on the bandwagon, with the exception of a few corporate offices.
A recent Gartner survey of 317 CFOs and finance leaders found that 74% of companies plan to shift “at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID 19.” Nearly one-quarter (23%) plan to convert at least 20% of previously on-site employees into permanent telecommuters.
And according to BCG, companies on the whole expect about 40% of employees to utilize a remote working model in the future. Further, 37% of companies expect that more than a quarter of all employees will work in hybrid models that combine remote and onsite work.
COVID19 has clearly disrupted the way we work, which means it must disrupt the way we prepare our workforce to work.
So here’s the big question: how does higher education need to adapt its offering to remain relevant?
Michael Griffiths, who leads the learning consulting practice at Deloitte, believes experiential learning is the way to go.
“Educators have to catch up with commercial organizations, who are way ahead when it comes to delivering experiential learning and recognizing its value,” he says, noting that in many cases major organizations, from Google to Apple, no longer require candidates to demonstrate competency by having a degree.
“Our top advice to universities in a post-COVID world? Break your business model. There’s still value you can offer, but not in the way you’ve traditionally done so. The four year degree where you have historically made your money is not going to be sustainable, but offer an agile, micro degree and there is significant value and opportunity in the market for you. Schools really need to invest in virtual technology, rather than continue to brand their campuses.”
Skills that are of value in the workplace are constantly changing and 53% of organizations expect that half of their workforce will need to be reskilled in the next three years.
“If you’re doing a three or four year course on a hard skill, chances are by the time you finish, industry requirements have changed dramatically,” Griffiths says.
“That’s why organizations have realized they need to be hiring people based on capabilities rather than qualifications.They recruit people who can demonstrate resilience, creativity, innovativeness and critical thinking. So when we consult with education groups, we tell them to come up with ways to embed skills of that sort into the programs they offer, so they create employable student bodies.”