By Laura Gordon

What a difference a few months makes.

If you’d asked me in January what the long-term future of work looked like, I’d have said more reliance on technology, more flexible working and more remote working.

But I’d never have predicted it becoming the norm so soon – the pandemic has accelerated the process while throwing up other challenges.

Fear of using public transport has created a barrier for those who rely on it to travel to work. And those working from home are starting to question what the workplace is actually for, because they’ve gained valuable hours back every day without the commute.

But this rapid transition comes at a cost for our cities – and not least for the transport, retail and hospitality sectors.

The Centre for Cities has released its predictions on the future of cities and it’s predictably grim in parts.

It says service sector job losses are likely if working from home continues, and virus phobia will prompt people to move away. It also calls on policy makers to make our cities better for cycling and walking because a mass return to using cars isn’t viable.

But I take heart from the fact the report isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, it contradicts some of the scare-story headlines we keep reading and says the ‘death of the office’ predictions are “overdone”, and a mass exodus is “unlikely”.

Instead it reckons we’ll see a hybrid model with time split between home and office. I agree that’s a far more likely future for our cities, and it’s corroborated by a lot of the conversations I’m having with my business contacts.

Because despite the advantages of home working, people miss the community aspect and social interaction of the workplace. Conversation and collaboration lead to great ideas. If we lose this type of creative environment it will affect skills development and business growth.

I hosted a Vistage workshop last month with Russell Beck, director of Imagine Think Do, who has worked with names like Yahoo, McAfee, John Lewis and many other global brands. He noted years-old research showing blended working breeds productivity – and says Covid has simply forced employers to trust staff enough to implement it.

And he also believes the pandemic will see businesses put more of an emphasis on wellness in future, with attributes like “caring” becoming sought after USPs.

We also need to focus on the advantages tech can bring, because if the monotonous, process-led stuff is taken care of, us humans are freed up to create, think, solve problems and add value.

In as little as ten years’ time a good percentage of the jobs we know today simply won’t exist. As Beck notes, it leaves the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” somewhat redundant.

That’s why right now, anyone choosing their university course or getting set to climb the career ladder needs to think carefully about their skillset.

Transferable skills are the key to success because if we work in a changing landscape, workers must be ready and able to adapt if they are to thrive.

Beck also encourages us to ask ourselves what computers are unable to do, and focus on honing skills like creativity, innovation, thinking, analysing and showing emotions like empathy.

As we look to the future of our cities, we’re facing tremendous challenges, and regretfully some businesses will not survive. But in the long term I have faith that we’ll also see some wonderful positive benefits as the companies that remain, or the new ones that emerge, become more flexible and adopt fresh and exciting ways of thinking.

Laura Gordon is a CEO coach and group chair with Vistage International, a global leadership development network for CEOs