What 800 Executives Envision for the Postpandemic Workforce

Responses to a McKinsey global survey of 800 executives suggest a disruptive period of workplace changes lies ahead to acceleration of automation, digitization, and other trends.

The responses to the survey point to a period of disruptive change ahead. Not only has COVID-19 thrown millions of individuals out of work, but the mix of jobs that emerge from this crisis is likely different than those that were lost. People with the lowest incomes and educational attainment have been disproportionately affected, putting strains on achieving inclusive growth and potentially raising income inequality. Small and midsize businesses and communities of color, already more severely affected by COVID-19, are also more vulnerable to disruption from increased automation.

These insights are based on a recent survey of 800 executives, representing a full range of industries in eight countries. Half of the respondents are based in the United States, and the rest work in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The respondents represented businesses of different sizes, with a quarter from companies with less than $1 billion in revenues, and the remainder split between companies with revenues of $1 billion to $10 billion and those with revenues over $10 billion.

Since the start of COVID-19, executives say adoption of digitization and automation technologies has accelerated:

Unprecedented restrictions on travel, physical interactions, and changes in consumer behavior since COVID-19 took hold has forced companies and consumers to change the way they operate. This has spurred digital transformations in a matter of weeks rather than months or years. As nonessential workers shifted to working from home, 85 percent of respondents in the McKinsey survey said their businesses have somewhat or greatly accelerated the implementation of technologies that digitally enable employee interaction and collaboration, such as videoconferencing and filesharing. Roughly half of those surveyed reported increasing digitization of customer channels, for example, via ecommerce, mobile apps, or chatbots. Some 35 percent have further digitized their supply chains, for example, by connecting their suppliers with digital platforms in supply chain management.

Adoption of automation technologies—including robotics, autonomous vehicles, and AI-driven software that can perform processing workflows—has also accelerated during the pandemic, although to a lesser extent than digitization. These trends reflect automation’s ability to facilitate contactless interactions at a time of social distancing and heightened awareness of hygiene, as well as cost pressures that may arise from the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. Another plus: robots don’t get sick.

For example, during the pandemic, American Eagle Outfitters deployed robots to help it sort clothes in its warehouses to meet a surge of online orders, and IBM saw a surge in new customers in the second quarter of 2020 for its AI-driven Watson Assistant, a platform for deploying chatbots and other customer services. Use of such technologies allows contactless customer interaction in a period when human contact is discouraged and builds resilience by limiting reliance on virus-susceptible employees. Providers of cloud services, such as Amazon and Alibaba, have announced plans to markedly step up investment in cloud services, an indication that they expect increased demand related to changes in the workplace post-COVID.

Nearly half of executives note that their adoption of automation has accelerated moderately, and roughly 20 percent report significantly increasing automation. Across countries, the United States and India stand out, with 83 percent of executives surveyed in the United States, and 70 percent of executives surveyed in India, reporting faster adoption of automation.

Companies across industries are reporting increased adoption of automation. Brain Corp, for example, reported that the use of robots to clean retail locations in the United States had risen 13.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 and 24.0 percent in the following quarter, compared with the same periods in 2019.4 With a higher volume of packages moving through sorting centers, FedEx and other distribution companies have deployed more robots to mitigate the impact of having fewer employees on site because of social distancing.

Nearly half of executives note that their adoption of automation has accelerated moderately, and roughly 20 percent report significantly increasing automation. Across countries, the United States and India stand out, with 83 percent of executives surveyed in the United States, and 70 percent of executives surveyed in India, reporting faster adoption of automation.

Companies across industries are reporting increased adoption of automation. Brain Corp, for example, reported that the use of robots to clean retail locations in the United States had risen 13.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 and 24.0 percent in the following quarter, compared with the same periods in 2019.4 With a higher volume of packages moving through sorting centers, FedEx and other distribution companies have deployed more robots to mitigate the impact of having fewer employees on site because of social distancing.

Further reading…

https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/what-800-executives-envision-for-the-postpandemic-workforce

Courtesy McKinsey & Co. by a collaborative effort from Susan Lund, Wan-Lae Cheng, André Dua, Aaron De Smet, Olivia Robinson, and Saurabh Sanghvi.

 

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