How might we...
support employees given the uncertainty and ambiguity of COVID-19 and the Future of Work?

What is the future of work, and what does it mean for one of the biggest coffee chains in the world? That’s what the Culture and Methodologies Innovation Team at our international coffee chain client wanted to find out.

When COVID hit the country in March 2020, this question gained greater urgency. Our client wanted to have a better idea of how reskilling would impact the service worker in the future. The chain also wanted to consider the near future as COVID was changing work in real time. 

A question as big as this can be daunting. To answer it, we needed to explore the changes that were and are disrupting industries and cultures globally. With the help of a little research and interviews, it was much easier to define the landscape — and develop some hypotheses about what all of this might mean for the future of their organization.

How We Did It

When we started the project, COVID was just beginning to take hold. Research on the pandemic and its impacts was limited. So we did what we do best: use a design-driven research approach to get closer to some answers. 

We conducted secondary academic research, sourced scholarly articles from stakeholder groups, and interviewed key stakeholders. Then we synthesized this research to uncover insights and pull out trends. For the question around the future of work, we also used this information to identify a number of core tensions that highlight the dichotomy of approaches and thinking informing approaches to the future of work today.

Core tensions in the thinking around FoW:

  • Workers as people vs. workers as headcount
  • Job-specific training vs. social-emotional training
  • Purpose-driven work vs. jobs as a means for income
  • Tasks that human thrive at vs. tasks that machines are efficient at
  • Remote work vs. a need for community
  • Efficiency of workforce training delivery vs. quality in workforce training
The results
A comprehensive view of a changing landscape.

Research work by definition is not often about tangible ‘solutions.’ That’s why this work aimed to help our client  gain sight of their blind spots. Clear eyes are critical for better decision making.

In the short term, we helped our client identify what employees wanted in the context of the pandemic: more control over how and when they work. They also wanted better supervisor support, coupled with transparent, regular communication. Armed with these findings, the C-level executives now feel more equipped to make better informed, real-time decisions.

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