New research reflects on the different changes that COVID-19 has brought and will continue to bring to the workplace after the pandemic. This includes how it has altered employer-employee relations, skills that employees should display, the role of AI and digital technologies.

Research conducted by the Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work and Oxford Economics analyses many major facets of the workplace and reflects upon how COVID-19 will change the future of work.

When looking into the changing nature of employer-employee relations, almost six in 10 (59 per cent) of leaders expressed that employee safety would become more of a priority over time. Along with this, a similar number of employers (58 per cent) also highlighted worker recognition, including valuing and paying essential workers more, as a growing trend.

Over half of those questioned believed that the pandemic has accelerated digital practises (52 per cent) whilst half believed that organisational agility will increase, reflected in more flexible working and less functional departments (seeing different teams working more commonly together on a shared goal).

Looking more deeply into the digital acceleration spurred on by the pandemic, almost half of all businesses (49 per cent) surveyed expect COVID-19 to have a “significant impact” on traditional, non-digital businesses that are not already aggressively transitioning to digital.

However, despite this, more leaders cited faith that digital technologies would actually be a key factor in protecting their jobs. Compared to a study undertaken in 2016, 44 per cent of leaders stated that digital technologies will protect them from being replaced by robots and AI, compared to only a third (34 per cent) in 2016.

Furthermore, a higher number (46 per cent) of respondents believe that these digital technologies will help them stay employed in comparison to only 37 per cent expressing this view in 2016. This ultimately suggests that the fear surrounding automation may have given way to a new view of digital technologies being important in assisting with “human augmentation” as opposed to “human substitution”.

Finally, when examining the skills for a successful workforce, four in 10 senior executives (40 per cent) stated that innovation, decision-making (39 per cent) and leadership (35 per cent) were the most critical.

This contrasts considerably to the results found in 2016 which placed strategic thinking (64 per cent) and global operating (62 per cent) as the most important, suggesting a shift from planning and analysis to more decisive action.

Euan Davis, Associate Vice President, Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work, EMEA, comments:

Over the course of this year, we have seen how COVID-19 has exposed the pre-existing condition of many organisations around the world: They were pre-digital enterprises, unfit for purpose in the modern world, holding on by their fingertips by custom and inertia.

As 2021 begins, and enterprises around the world attempt to chart a course for the post-pandemic era, one thing is certain: Digital competency is no longer a nice-to-have, but rather, an absolute necessity.

Businesses need to be confident in their ability to integrate machines into existing business processes, but also forge lasting partnerships between humans and machines. Technology will undoubtedly play a massive role in every organisation’s future success, and flexible, data-intensive, and digitally oriented ways of working will be indispensable for weathering what is expected to be a global recession.

*This research was obtained from the Cognizant Centre for the Future of Work’s report entitled ‘The Work Ahead: Digital First (and Last)’. It surveyed more than 4,000 C-suite and senior executives across 23 countries, including U.S., Canada, UK, Germany, France, China, India, Japan, and Australia.