An open letter to organizational leaders and the HR community: The Future of Work Is Not Now

Mar 18, 2020

As President of Challenge Factory, a research-based consultancy focused on the Future of Work, I collaborate with hundreds of policymakers, post-secondary leaders, and corporate executives from around the world. We focus on five drivers that are shaping the Future of Work – including the freelance economy and digital platforms that are leading to different types of remote work. At conferences, it’s become a common mantra for speakers to urge their audiences to consider and accept that the Future of Work is already here.

Five drivers

Things have changed. The Future of Work is not now.

I might not have felt so strongly about this statement three months ago. Or even two weeks ago. But, today, I want you to know that the decisions you are making for your workforce in this fraught moment need to serve the best interests of your employees, customers, and company—right now. Long-term planning needs to be paused in the face of short-term challenges and needs. Prioritization is key. There will be time to gather lessons learned in the coming weeks and months that can lead to a better informed and more innovative workforce strategy down the road.

Now is a time for creative, practical, and clearly communicated action.

If your company has been thinking about how different work modes and arrangements might become part of your future strategy, these next few weeks should not be used as a proof-test.


For example, faculty members at universities and colleges must now shift in-person classroom learning online—immediately, and without substantial preparation. It would be a mistake to think that the coursework delivered in the coming weeks reflects a true online learning experience. Now is not the time to become experts in online learning, or to try to implement complex solutions. Instructors need to deliver the best learning environment they can using available tools, while paying attention to the current needs of their current students.

You need to do the same.

In the short term, leaders need to focus on maintaining and modifying current operations. Providing teams with the resources they need right now will help them deliver the best experience to your customers and remain committed to the overall mission of your company.

Today is a time for concentrating on the immediate, creating calm and stability, and building resiliency in the face of uncertainty. I promise there will be time later to reflect, strategize, and emerge with clear workforce innovation plans in the future.

For now, you should focus on these four priorities:

1. Employees may need new or different tools to do their jobs. Who can help you get what is needed?

PRO TIP: If you need technology solutions, consider approaching your current service providers, customers, or partners. You may find companies (that you otherwise wouldn’t consider) are willing to share, loan, and provide you with support or resources.

2. Employees need to understand new policies, know that their work matters, and feel how it’s connected to the work of others.

PRO TIP: Now is the time to increase your support for employees, especially open lines of communication. Create a weekly schedule with regular updates on different topics that you can share across the company. Stick to the schedule so everyone knows what to expect.

3. People need to feel connected. There’s a big difference between being remote and being isolated. Your frontline managers also need help staying connected to their staff in ways that are useful, authentic, and encouraging.

PRO TIP: Create or modify simple templates, checklists, and suggestions that can you provide to your managers. Your goal should be to help them ensure consistency across teams. Start with the basics, such as daily or weekly team check-ins over Zoom or other video technology.

4. Everyone needs to stay focused on being productive—while also being given some slack as work and life truly lose their boundaries for a bit. We know these are tough times, and there are more ahead. But there’s also a lot of work to do. If your business slows down, think about short-term tasks that may be useful and achievable. What new sales, marketing, or product development work can be done instead? What kind of customer feedback can be gathered to improve your product or service? What do you have that your customers, partners, or community members might need?

PRO TIP: Share stories or hold video calls for 1) leaders to share their experiences as work and life shifts, and 2) employees to share successes, concerns, and ideas for how to keep improving your business.

One thing that is now certain: we are in this together. Be kind to yourself. The best way to solve the world’s problems is to take care of yourself, those close to you at work and at home and your business.

Until the end of April, if you need a sounding board or a source for specific resources and tools, let’s book twenty minutes together and talk. To book a time, please send an email to: [email protected]