Posted: 23 Nov. 2020 2 min. read

Changes in technology, processes and culture required for the future of work

If there has one thing that COVID-19 has taught us all, it is to be as optimistic and as forward focused as we can be. The world will ultimately reopen for business and those that succeed will be the ones who have used this imposed ‘downtime’ to look ahead, predict and prepare for what the future of work will be like in the years to come. 

We have known for a long time that digital adoption is essential to an organisation’s ability to be resilient, and this pandemic has really shown that to be true. Those who were already ahead of the game in this respect have coped much better, allowing productivity to continue, whereas others have been left behind and are playing catch up.

This is a time when the roles of digital technology leaders have been and will be pivotal in shaping the future of their organisations. Almost overnight they have been tasked with changing to remote working platforms, enhancing off-site security measures, moving consumer demands to digital platforms, reconfiguring supply chains and enhancing communication.

In the future it may be that the quick fixes and patchwork solutions adopted during the immediate response to the pandemic may not stand up to rigorous testing and the focus during recovery will be on stabilising and strengthening many of the solutions and processes rushed into place.

Northern Ireland has made good progress in recent years to forge new centres of excellence, including in Blockchain, Fintech and Cyber Security, and there is a strong need to continue to invest in areas of innovation and in technology to address new sectors of growth and science-based activity.

It is important that individual businesses look ahead to the future competitive landscape of their sector and understand what changes will stay and become the new normal and which ones will disappear again. We are encouraging our clients to reimagine their customer experience by focusing on human-centred design, to bridge the physical and digital worlds to deliver new value and establish trust as a key business value.

Empowering and upskilling workers in line with this vision will be key. Workers of the future need to be digitally savvy and for many in Northern Ireland, particularly in the public sector, this will require significant investment and a major culture change. Indeed many of those on furlough may have already taken advantage of the courses being offered through colleges.

I think there is a gap between the public sector and the private sector in terms of how workforce management is delivered. With the changing nature of work, public sector organisations including the Northern Ireland Civil Service need to find new ways to lead, manage and coordinate teams and talent. The notion of one worker, assigned to one area, to carry out a particular set of responsibilities for years on end is outmoded. 

To make the most of automation and technology investments, the NI public sector needs to consider redesigning talent strategies so a job is viewed not as an individual production function, but rather as a collaborative problem-solving effort, where a human defines the problems, machines help find the solutions, and the human verifies the acceptability of those solutions.

As we move to the future of work, in which working from home more often seems very likely, we need to ensure we have the right support and communication mechanisms for our staff in place. Working from home has presented its own challenges with isolation, and people need to have the option of being able to interact with their colleagues and clients on a face to face basis as well. 

Technology is of course a big enabler to a different and better way of working but so too are changes in culture and processes. Technology alone will not revolutionise work. We need to be realistic about what can be achieved in the digital realm and what will need to be managed in other departments to reach the best possible outcome for the future of work in every industry. 


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Key contact

Marie Doyle

Marie Doyle


Marie is a Partner based in the Northern Ireland Public Sector Practice and is an Economist by background. Marie specialises in large scale technology enabled public sector transformation. Marie has led the development and implementation of transformed operating models for public sector organisations in policing, health, education and social security. Marie is also an expert in the development of Green Book business cases for public sector clients. Marie is a member of the CBI Northern Ireland Regional Council and Chairs the CBI NI Economics Forum representing the views of business across Northern Ireland. She is also on the Board of Directors of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.