On 4 June, SDA Bocconi’s Digital Strategies Roundtable (DSR) met on the topic of the future of work, the workforce and the workplace. Some 20 senior executives from large global companies, mostly Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and human resource executives, met with SDA Bocconi professors and other experts to discuss this timely topic. Dean Giuseppe Soda, Prof. Gabriella Bagnato, and Prof. Laura Baruffaldi joined the director of the DSR, Prof. Hans Brechbuhl, who moderated the discussion. Levi’s CIO, Chris Clark, hosted the meeting online rather than in San Francisco due to the pandemic. Participating were senior executives from the American Bureau of Shipping, Airlines Reporting Corporation, Chevron, Eaton, Huntsman, Owens Corning, Tenaris, and Tetra Pak, in addition to the host Levi’s.
The discussion centered on the fact that the nature of workplaces and workforces continues to evolve, as so does the nature of work itself. While globalization, outsourcing, technology and the cost of real estate had started us down the path of change in the workplace some years ago, the coronavirus pandemic greatly accelerated this with the relatively immediate shift to “remote” working for many. New generations of tech savvy, connected employees, the ubiquitous availability of data, along with the increasingly fast pace of changing demands of the marketplace, were already transforming the character of work and making the nature of the employer-employee relationship seem more temporal. For some, digital, the fast pace of change and being data-driven is enabling, for others befuddling.
Not surprisingly, everyone acknowledged that the pandemic had propelled remote working and the use of digital capabilities forward much faster than otherwise would have been possible, and confirmed that their digital investments of the last few years really paid dividends in the crisis. More interestingly, few companies plan to move forward by returning to how work was done prior to the pandemic. Not only is everyone taking a very measured approach to the “return to the workplace”, placing employee health and welfare at the front of the list of concerns, but there was a strong sense in the group that much greater flexibility would be given to employees to work from wherever they could best get their work done into the future. There was also a clear perception that work and career paths needed to and would become more personalized as well as flexible, and that this was a change that would be welcomed not just by younger generations, but by many. With this would come the need for leaders at all levels to manage more by performance, not by supervision, a change likely to be difficult for some management. Less time together at a “place of work” would also offer a corresponding challenge to all to maintaining a common company culture and sense of mission, requiring more frequent and clearer communication from all levels of leadership.
The Digital Strategies Roundtable (DSR) delivers an ongoing series of business dialogues for chief information officers (CIOs) and top-level executives of large global corporations to share insights on the enabling role of digital technology in meeting business challenges. In focused discussions that cut across organizations and industries, participants from non-competing member corporations examine key business issues and topical challenges they have in common.
SDA Bocconi School of Management