Should we stay, or should we go? The post-pandemic return to work is fast becoming a controversial and complex issue for leaders to navigate. Everyone has an opinion on the subject. Some are desperate to escape months of Zoom fatigue, while others see little point in commuting for an hour to sit in front of another screen. If that seems like a tough choice, it is because it is a false one. The real issue is not remote vs. office work - it is how do we reinvent the workplace for a new era of AI-powered competition?
The real lesson of the pandemic was not we could run meetings remotely, but rather that the key to our survival was embracing the hard science of digital transformation. When everything turned upside down in early 2020, demand spiked, supply chains splintered, and business processes shattered. The organizations that made it through the crisis did so because they rapidly deployed AI, algorithms, and automation to handle the harsh new operating environment. That worked then, but now, something more is required.
We face a new set of challenges. Implementing automation alone will not be enough to deliver the kind of creative solutions required to reshape industries. Nor will simply allowing people to work from home be enough to reboot conservative and traditional corporate cultures.
We are about to discover that remote work was just the beginning of a much bigger revolution that will reshape the future of all organizations. Rapid shifts in technology, customer needs, and competitor dynamics are a prescription for a more agile, adaptive, and resilient type of firm capable of integrating not only cutting-edge technologies but also embracing a new generation of talent as well.
The pandemic has accelerated the forces of digital transformation, making it more critical than ever to embrace new ways of working and a data-driven approach to decision making. Every workplace in the future will be powered by data. Whether it be how we engage and evaluate our talent, how we automate our processes, or even how we make decisions as leaders - the ability to effectively leverage AI, automation, and algorithms will be at the heart of any 21st-century business.
While many fear imminent change, a bigger opportunity awaits. The question is not whether AI will eliminate jobs, but rather: how will it change them? The leaders of the future need to embrace an entirely new set of skills, capabilities, and mindsets in order to be successful. We have to become algorithmic rather than analog leaders - which means we have to both cultivate a deep understanding of human complexity as well as a flair for computational thinking.
What is the future workplace? Faster and smarter, more inclusive and equitable - future organizations will combine AI factories, flexible workforces, and agile teams empowered to solve customer problems at scale. At home or in an office - it is not the where we work that is changing; it is the how.