It may be that in years to come; COVID will be recognised as the primary catalyst for changing how we work in the 21st century.


Can you re-imagine the work of your business or company, so you are bringing the future into the present?

This sounds like an oxymoron; how can you bring the future into the present? However, this has already occurred. The rapid shifts in the workplace because of the pandemic have bought the future of work into the present.  COVID broke the symbiotic relationship built up since the Industrial Revolution between work, the workforce, and the workplace. 

Before the pandemic, it was accepted practice that the workforce came to the workplace to perform the work of the organisation. This relationship between the three elements of workplace, workforce, and work, allowed businesses to grow. Success was often interpreted according to the size of the organisation and its workforce. 

COVID disrupted this relationship because work could be carried out away from the workplace for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. Employees now had to work from home, and budgets were re-adjusted so that more was being re-invested in IT and technology to enable the work to be done. Occupations traditionally carried out face-to-face, particularly in the health profession, were done online.

Although for many, life is returning to some semblance of what it was before COVID, it is unlikely that how we work and our relationship with the workplace will revert to pre-COVID times. The relationship between work, the workplace, and the workforce has to be re-negotiated for this disruption.

Businesses that want to thrive in the post-COVID era must consider the implications of this disruption for their industry.


As it is easy to become overwhelmed by all changes and the constant necessity of adapting to them, starting with what remains the same is essential.

Two fundamental questions remain the same for businesses. These are:

  1. How do we make money? And
  2. How is the work done?

For not-for-profit organisations, the first question may be re-phrased as

  1. How do we provide a service?

Just as for-profit organisations had to make money or a profit pre-COVID as they do post-COVID, not-for-profit organisations had to provide a service to the community pre-COVID and post-COVID.

While this article addresses these questions from a for-profit business perspective, the upcoming article will consider these questions from the perspective of the not-for-profit landscape.


This question looks like it came out of the playbook of rampant capitalism, where the goal was to make as much money as possible by any means. 

In today’s business world, savvy leaders know the question – “how do we make money?” relates to the value agenda of a business and how the business delivers its value to the broader community. Leaders are aware of the need to strongly align the company’s purpose, with its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. How the company makes money is intrinsically woven between these factors.


While the question, “how do we make money?” may be the same. The answer is different post-COVID because the rules that businesses used to rely on to create value and profit are rapidly evolving.

Some of the factors that are influencing this evolution are:

  • A stakeholder economyLeaders must respond to society’s pressures on large companies to address social issues and not just run a profitable enterprise.
  • A competitive landscape: Value is placed on data-rich businesses with scalable tech and visionary companies with “start-up” cultures.
  • Large-scale acceleration in every business area: The era of incremental change is over. 

The answer to how organisations and businesses make money in a rapidly evolving environment is answered by considering the second question.


This question looks at how the work of making money or the value agenda of the organisation gets done, in other words, the workforce, and how the workplace is re-imagined.

The workplace is not only the physical location of a business or company but also the organisation’s norms and ways of working. COVID disrupted the workplace because staff could no longer go to the office’s physical location. Staff working from home disrupted or no longer followed organisational norms and working methods.

This has meant a disruption to the workplace that is continuing. For example, the practice of quiet quitting, of which much has been written is an example of this disruption. Quiet quitting is not so much quitting the workplace but employees re-aligning their priorities to balance their private and working lives. 

The fact that staff continues to work from home in many cases has meant leaders have had to adapt their leadership styles to cope with the new reality. This change in leadership style has also been a response to the large-scale acceleration in businesses mentioned above.

Businesses that have entrenched hierarchical structures, where decision-making is the responsibility of a few senior managers, are no longer seen as best practice.


To answer the question “how is the work done?” requires re-imagining the workforce and the workplace.


There is a much greater emphasis now on how organisations attract and retain talented staff whose skills enable them to respond nimbly to emerging demands. The most effective organisations are moving away from entrenched hierarchies, annual review processes, and lock-step promotions to reconfiguring systems so people get faster and more effective feedback, and initiative and skills that meet emerging demands are rewarded. 

Attracting, retaining, and rewarding talent is a priority for organisations re-imagining how they carry out their work to answer the first question, “how do we make money?”


Retaining talent requires re-imagining the organisation’s norms and ways of working. Employee benefits, well-being, and inclusion have a higher priority now. Staff want their well-being prioritised.

Leaders who are coaches and can encourage staff to question the accepted norms and develop new solutions are essential in retaining talent. Organisations with flatter hierarchical structures where decision-making authority is devolved down to teams will generally be more effective in adapting to the new realities of work.

It may be that in years to come; COVID will be recognised as the primary catalyst for changing how we work in the 21st century. The impact of the past two-to-three years is still felt by many businesses struggling to recoup the losses they experienced.

What has been demonstrated during COVID is that when faced with a crisis, businesses can respond quickly and effectively to the situation. Decisions that would have taken months to arrive at pre-COVID were made in a matter of days. Budgets were re-aligned to ensure greater use of technology and staff given greater responsibility.

Having demonstrated that they can make quick, effective decisions, businesses that wish to survive will no longer be able to return to long, drawn-out decision-making processes. Hence it is essential for business survival that we take the time to re-image how we make money as businesses and how we do the work to ensure our profitability.