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The future of work: how HR can lead the post-pandemic reset

Watch Ken Ferguson, Chief Revenue Officer, Orgvue, speak at HRD Summit: A Virtual Experience

Published by Ken Ferguson 

The 2020 global pandemic has created the most significant upheaval in working practices in a generation. Now, as focus shifts to coordinating the return to work, or more specifically the return to office, HR must lead the executive team on what that should look like for a healthy and productive workforce.

In this 15-minute session, Ken Ferguson talks about the impact of the ‘remote revolution’ on industries, businesses and workers. He explains what needs to be done when planning your post-pandemic organization.

Speaker: Ken Ferguson, Chief Revenue Officer, Orgvue

Recorded on Thursday, September 17th 2020 at HRD: A Virtual Experience.


Welcome. My name is Ken Ferguson, Chief Revenue Officer of Orgvue. Today, we want to speak about the future of work and how HR can lead through the post-pandemic reset. Appreciate your time today.

At this point, most organizations have reached this compromise between operational fitness and mandatory working at home. At no other time in my career, and probably for most of you in your careers, has this statement been more true: “The pandemic shut the door on the post-industrial age and is likely to be the true start of the digital age.” It’s these moments that matter. It’s that ability to adapt quickly to change.

I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this before in business where being able to adapt is now the superpower of HR. I don’t believe there’s any shortage of lessons learned in the last couple of months that we’ve all experienced. Many organizations didn’t have contingency plans in place for immediate mandatory work from home. They didn’t necessarily understand all of the concerns, not just about the work and the workforce, but also wellbeing and all the things that would come into place.

So, if you look at 2020, this is really the year of the remote revolution. A lot of organizations saw this. One organization that really experienced it in a very positive way, that has changed the trajectory of their organization, is Lululemon.

If you’re not familiar with Lululemon, a great retailer in the athleisure space, this new space of athletic and leisurewear. Their stock saw an amazing shift in March where they went from $139 a share on March 16th to $398 a share, a 260% jump because of the changing environment as we all went into lockdown and a work-from-home scenario and people wanted to be in comfortable attire.

And so imagine your organization, Lululemon, where now you have to move from a retail context, where everyone’s coming into stores, to a production context, where you’re having to fulfill orders online, and you’re having to make that switch very quickly. Then whipsaw back several months later, as things open back up and you need to ramp back up the ability to consume in-store as well as online. They have navigated that so well and their organization has grown.

Imagine all the restructuring and massive growth and change that Lululemon has been through in such a quick amount of time. That structural change is something we’ve never really seen before. And that quote that we’ve all heard before is so true: they say that there are decades that go by where nothing happens and there are weeks that go by where decades happened. That’s happened in 2020 and is a part of the remote revolution.

What have we also see in the rest of business and in the world? What we saw was how people were not necessarily ready for this change. Before the COVID environment, only 40% of organizations said they felt prepared technologically. Now, about 62% say they now have the technology to allow for remote work. And if you look at how many organizations in this study pushed to remote work, about 68% of US workers reported to work from home.

What does that tell us? There’s a vast disparity in how prepared people were for a work-at-home environment. What does that look like post this environment as we go through the great reset? And the real key here is change is happening so fast. I believe this will continue. We see analysts and influencers saying this will continue over time, that pace of change, that rapid change in how we work, and the choices we need to make and how quickly we need to adapt is going to continue to cycle quicker and quicker.

Another great example that we heard through some of our research, one of the largest retail banks in all of North America went through a very similar shift in their business as lockdown happened and their branch employees were forced to work from home. So, in a matter of three weeks, they had to move 75,000 workers to remote work. And what they did is they pivoted them to the online 800 number where they could talk to customers online, either on the phone or online through a help desk.

And what they found through some of the feedback is they were able to develop a series of products to offer financial advice to affected customers. And this is not only how HR and the rest of the organization had to adapt and how the workers work, but also how they interact with their customers. And once again, this is happening at such a rapid pace, like something we’ve never seen before.

One of the big challenges is that not everyone can work from home. So, in this situation, not all sizes are the same, there’s no one size fits all approach. As you start to look at the different types of work, you really need to understand how work gets done in your organization and connect that to the workforce and the strategies that you need to employ.

Clearly, not all organizations are suited for a high work-from-home population, so how do we make those choices? How do we take the work that needs to get done and effectively and profitably position ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities as they come?

As we start to look at organizations like ours, we’re a SaaS software company, many of our employees are knowledge workers. And so for us to make the shift to remote work was very simple. But for organizations like retailers and manufacturers, CPG companies, agriculture, all of these different industries, obviously that work can’t be done from home. The demands put on a business are rapid, and they are changing, they’re everchanging.

And it’s not just about taking into consideration location. What we’re also seeing now – and Forbes highlighted this in a recent study in a report that they put out – that there is now this movement towards what they’re referring to as liquid workers. These are temporary, specialized workers that have very specific knowledge bases that can drop in and out. This is a strategy that we’re seeing a lot of organizations starting to think about and employ to look at how work gets done.

Also, people are pulling back and looking at their office strategy and saying regional offices are emerging as a trend, where we can curb fears of travel and what that means for people’s wellbeing and health as well as limit social interaction from a numbers perspective, but also allow social interaction for people to collaborate and change the way in which the dynamics of remote work are done.

So, these regional office hubs are becoming a conversation that people are having. Even banks, we’re seeing retail banks reviewing whether or not they repurpose some of their space in their branches for reducing long-term commutes for people.

In the UK, 49% of companies in a recent study also said that they plan to reduce or reinvest in their workspaces to create what many are referring to as a work-life shift around innovation hubs and collaboration zones, where people can meet and can congregate.

Interestingly enough, the Japanese company Fujitsu has announced they’re halving their office spaces, and they’re going to take their 80,000 workers in an unprecedented move, give their workers flexibility in where they work and how they adapt to their environment.

So, what do we know? We know as it comes down to understanding the work and the job roles, it’s not just the role itself now, it’s understanding the work and where it can be most efficiently, effectively, and profitably done.

As we looked at our future work as an organization, we did a study internally and found some very, very interesting pieces of data that I want to share. This was one the highest employee survey responses we’ve ever received, which says one thing: it’s really important that people get a chance to give their opinions on how and the ways in which we work.

And so we put this questionnaire out, what we found was 87% of our employees felt that after several months they could do all aspects of their job remotely. This was really interesting as before the pandemic I think this was a much smaller percentage. Most of our organization was working from our central offices in London for our UK employees, in Philadelphia, for US employees, and in Toronto, our Canadian office, as well as some satellite offices.

To hear that kind of feedback that 87% could do all their work remotely. Interestingly, the next layer down from that, 77% said they’d prefer to work in an office maybe once a week and 52% prefer the office once or less per week.

What are some of the things we took from this? Although 77% still want to come into the office, as HR professionals we need to consider the negative impacts of what that might mean. So, things like people development, the community aspect of the organization, the creativity and brainstorming that comes from being in an office setting, customer relationships and cross-team collaboration.

All of these things, specifically for individuals in the early stages of their careers, are a real challenge. How do we work together through that? What do we do to create an environment where we can create some optionality, create some efficiency but also get the best out of our work environments?

There’s also a final concern. If you look at this last section, 30% today feel safe traveling to the office. This was an interesting statistic that shows there are two parts to wellbeing: one is feeling safe coming in – and that will change based on data and statistics – but there’s some negative wellbeing that happens both from the work environment that people find themselves in, maybe with the complexity of having young children or homeschooling, as well as long commutes and other factors.

So, what we also have to think through is the wellbeing of our employees as we make these choices, getting good data, understanding the opinions of people, looking at the efficiency of what can be done from a work perspective to get the most out of our organization, to get the best out of our employees and to create the highest wellbeing and optionality for people.

There’s a number of factors to consider as you start to go through the workforce planning component but it’s clear a hybrid model is the way forward. And if you’re not thinking about what that means for your organization, you need to do that both for your employees and for your business.

So, how do you adapt? How do you build the organization of the future today? We believe and what we have seen is this is now a continuous model, a continuous value chain that can’t be broken. If you want to adapt, you have to be able to properly design, plan and monitor your organizational systems.

Firstly, from a design perspective, you need to understand the work that’s being done, then design and model future states to effectively connect the work that’s being done and the wellbeing of people and how they feel connected to the work.

Secondly, in that same continuous process, you need to be able to execute that plan operationally. So, how do I put together an effective operational plan and strategy, model that out and have different plans to adapt to changing dynamics?

Thirdly, I need to be able to monitor that over time, meaning no longer can I just set a plan in place and operationally move forward with it. I need to monitor what’s happening, use real-time data as much as possible to make in-flight course corrections, so that I can take advantage of, and not miss, opportunities.

What do we know? Data will unlock agility. This is what we’ve seen, what we believe, that you need to know your workforce, where they fit in, what they cost and how they can help us adapt. So what’s most important in this new paradigm? It’s to be able to make decisions quickly.

We need to get our organizations out of spreadsheets and into an environment where we can visualize data and use analytics to spot trends and opportunities, trying to understand the dynamics of the systems, the work and the workforce, so we can spend our time making faster-informed decisions about our organization.

What we also need to do is be able to model those new answers, to model different workforce scenarios and understand ahead of time what happens, for example, when people move to remote work in such a fast fashion. So, I can look at what work can be done most effectively remotely or what would be better done on-site. What activities need to be redesigned and redeployed? What things can we make redundant because they’re adding no value and not driving any efficiency or profitability for the organization?

If we can do these things, we begin as an HR community to lead with confidence. We’ll be able to have our seat at the table in this new era and guide the C-suite to make future workforce decisions in real time. We can use data to mitigate risks in decision making and create opportunities to adapt in an ever-changing landscape.

What did we learn this year? That the world is changing at an ever-rapid pace. Learning to adapt to that change and being a force for change as we use data to look at a continuous cycle for planning is paramount to our success.

Once again, my name is Ken Ferguson from Orgvue. You can follow me on LinkedIn. Would love to see a follow and get a conversation going or you can join us at to learn more. Appreciate your time today. Have a great HRD conference.

Ken Ferguson

Chief Revenue Officer, orgvue

Ken is the Chief Revenue Officer at orgvue. A proven leader, Ken enjoys solving complex problems for customers, delivering results and seeing his team members grow and succeed in all that they do. Ken writes about the future of work, using data to plan the future organization and how to successfully manage continuous change.

Photograph of Ken Ferguson