Changed working and learning patterns

For many, the ‘new normal’ will be different to what we were used to back in March; some will have lost their jobs or they know someone who has. We are already seeing a shift in the willingness to commute to central London offices, with many companies having announced that their offices are closed until the end of the year. We are also seeing an increase in requests for permanent home working to avoid commuting, but also to ensure a better work / life balance and reducing the carbon footprint. 

Covid 19 has caused a sudden, dramatic change in our lives, but there is a slower change happening as well; a change to the whole structure of our lives. Life used to be simple, with three distinct stages; the learning stage where we went to school, followed by the working stage where we often worked for one company until the long-coveted retirement (recreation) stage started when we turned 60. This three-stage life was easy to plan for, both for the individuals and governments. 

As our life expectancy is increasing, we are seeing a shift to a multi-stage life, where learning, work and recreation are interspersed throughout our lives, rather than happening sequentially. We are having to realise that the education we were so proud of when we graduated in our twenties is more or less obsolete when we turn 30 (if not before!). 

The number of freelancers, contractors and 0-hour contractors are increasing (sometimes not entirely by choice) and it is not uncommon with staff changing companies every two or three years. We are also seeing a shift where employees are no longer staying in one industry, but rather using their softer skills across various sectors. The gig economy is booming, especially among those recently entering the job market, but even for the more experienced. Digital nomads are working wherever there’s good wifi. More and more ‘standardised’ jobs are being automated by developments in artificial intelligence and deep learning. The definition of ‘job security’ is no longer clear and it’ll also be interesting to see what happens in the aftermath of Covid 19, when we enter the ‘new normal’. 

We are seeing more and more ongoing learning, and relearning as we go through life, to ensure our knowledge is up-to-date meaning it is no longer limited to our late teens or early twenties. We no longer need rich parents, huge student loans or a company paying for an MBA later in life as many of the top global universities are offering degree courses online; with just a small charge to get an official certificate. 

It is clear, that the three-stage life (learn, work, retire) is no longer a sustainable model. Age is no longer the same as stage (i.e. experience and seniority). For many in senior positions, this is still somewhat uncomfortable, but true leaders and forward-thinking companies are already embracing the opportunities. 

If you are interested in finding out more about how our working lives are changing, a good place to start is The 100-year life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity written by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. [Link to Amazon]

Article originally written for the LinkedIn group Women's Infrastructure Network UK (WIN UK), July 2020.