What does the future of work look like?

The pandemic has changed the way we work and live, but how will it change the way we work in the future?

Female employee working from home on her bed with laptop

Seismic shifts in how we work and live always follow in the wake of major world events: The Industrial Revolution (country to city migration), World War I (women in the workforce), and the invention of the internet (speed of communication and information), just to name a few.

Now COVID-19 has struck, and inevitably it will change our working world again. We spoke to several experts to get their insights into changes that may be on the way.

The future of jobs

Health and manufacturing will be the two biggest job growth areas in a post-COVID world, according to Alison Pennington, Senior Economist at the Centre for Future Work. 

"To get through the pandemic and ensure other businesses can function we’re going to have to expand the number of jobs in the healthcare sector," she said.

Onshoring manufacturing, however, will be driven by our need to sure up our supply chain.

"Australia is a country that has depended on offshoring manufacturing capacity and importing at reduced prices. And what this pandemic has done is disrupt the 'just-in-time' supply chain. In the coming years we’ll see a push to onshore manufacturing," she added.  

Closed borders will also create a fundamental shift in employment, with drops in migration levels impacting employment options. 

"We’ve depended on migration to expand our workforce to drive economic growth and plug our skills gaps," she said.

"Border closures cut migration channels and change the environment for jobs in Australia. High unemployment will see some workers take the lower-paid and skilled jobs filled previously by migrants. But we will also see skills shortages, requiring efforts by government and business to skill-up domestic workers to get into those spaces," she added.  

Flexible working

Flexible working is the way of the future, according to Kate Lee, Engagement Executive Manager, Workplace Gender Equality Agency. 

"Prior to the pandemic there was still a lot of uncertainty about flexible working, with many believing unless they could actively lay eyes on their employees at their desks between 9am to 5pm in a work environment, that their staff may be slacking off," she said.

"I think what the pandemic has shown us is that flexible working is about outcomes, rather than just accepting presenteeism. A lot of employers have seen how well their employees are working and the outcomes they are producing, and it has proven to them what we have always known: flexible working has wide-spread organisational benefits," she added. 

With an ageing population impacting on labour participation rates in the future, flexible working will also be used to increase female participation in the workplace, allowing a workable balance between caregiving and employment.  

"The business case for flexible working is very clear, it reduces barriers to work participation for women because women still do a majority of home and domestic work," Lee said. 


The speed at which we automate is accelerating, as organisations look to optimise ways of working, safety and efficiency in a post-COVID future. 

According to a recent PwC COVID Navigator Survey taken in May 2020, 48 per cent of organisations are looking at accelerating automation and digital ways of working. 

"While businesses continue to understand and manage the ripple effects of COVID-19, it is likely we will see a surge in the adoption of automation as they embrace the digital disruption that COVID-19 has fast tracked," said Peter Wheeler, Partner PwC. 

For customer-facing businesses like cafes, restaurants, salons and hairdressers, automation will be used to enhance customer experience.

"We expect human interactions in service delivery to remain high despite the rapid adoption of digital tools to complete part of the customer engagement in response to COVID-19," said Wheeler.

The future: where to now?

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way we work and will continue to do so in the years to come. We will see growth in some industries, decline in others, and change across the board. 

Anticipating these changes and factoring them in to business planning is important for every business: large, medium and small. Ultimately businesses can either look for the opportunities in the shifting landscape, or get left behind.