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Opportunities for change in how we work, live

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While COVID-19 brings disruption, it is also providing opportunities to change the way we live and work for the long-term.

The future of work is about agility, creativity, and flexibility. Technology will both reduce jobs in some sectors and increase jobs in other

Prof Greg Clark | Head of Future Cities & New Industries

The COVID-19 global pandemic has arrived at a time in history when the way we live and work was already being rethought, and it has the potential to accelerate changes that many would like to see happen anyway.

As people have been working and learning remotely on an unprecedented scale, there could, as a result, widespread permanent changes, according to Professor Greg Clark, HSBC’s Global Head for Future Cities and New Industries.

At an HSBC webinar on the Future of Work, organised in collaboration with the UAE’s Federal Youth Authority and Youth Hub, Clark told participants that traditional offices could be replaced by local co-working hubs, or working from home, as businesses recognise the efficiency of remote working.

A poll conducted during the webinar showed a shift in attitudes that suggests remote working is becoming a desirable outcome for many. Prior to COVID-19, those working from home was not a large trend even with international firms having optionality and structures to do so here in the UAE, but HSBC’s webinar poll showed that 62 per cent would prefer a mixture of remote and office-based work.

“The future city may be a blended city, where the physical city and the virtual city combine to enable people to have more choice about how often they travel to their place of work, and how much work they do at home, or near home. As that becomes more possible, people may decide to live further away from their place of work as they may only need to visit four or five times per month,” says Clark.

Network cities

Networks of cities may emerge, for example, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Al Ain, as it becomes more common for employees to live in one city and work in another.

“We think the future, the uptick in digitalisation will change the way we use our built environment, so that the tall towers that we now use almost 100 per cent for workplaces for people working in large companies, will probably not have such a large working population,” Clark said.

Clark explains that such buildings would be repurposed, potentially as apartments, or as social or entertainment venues, or to serve the meeting point requirements of work.

In addition, there could also be a shift away from cities or regions focusing on one sector: “One outcome of COVID-19 may be that city and regional economies need to become more diversified, offering a wider range of employment options in the future,” he added.

A growth in creativity

Clark says industries such as oil and gas, automotive, aviation, hospitality and tourism are suffering, and international higher education will contract, but there are more opportunities in the digital economy, the sustainable or circular sectors and health and wellness. The pandemic is accelerating change and offers opportunities to revolutionise the way we live and work.

Another aspect of the future of work is that jobs themselves, which were already beginning to evolve prior to Covid-19, would also change faster, Clark said.

“The future of work is about agility, creativity, and flexibility. Technology will both reduce jobs in some sectors and increase jobs in other. Being ready to create one’s own jobs and to change jobs regularly will be necessary,” he said.

An online poll of webinar participants showed a trend in line with this, as the majority said creativity at work was more important to them when finding a job, ahead of monetary reward or work location.

Clark concluded: “COVID-19 is a human health tragedy, and an economic shock, but it may also be an opportunity to make changes that are beneficial for the future.”

Nicole Whitworth, Regional Head of HR, MENAT, HSBC, said: “HSBC is proud to collaborate with the Federal Youth Authority, as leaders in the support and development of young Emiratis. We believe dialogue between the private and public sectors are incredibly valuable in these unprecedented times.”

Mohamed Alhammadi, Project Manager at the Youth Office for The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs & The Future, Prime Minister’s Office for UAE said: “The partnership of the Federal Youth Authority with global entities is considered one of the most crucial elements to achieve the desired institutional goals in terms of promoting participation among youth. The knowledge and experience shared by global bodies, such as HSBC, contributes to enriching the knowledge of youth, giving them a global view on various issues and an understanding of the future post COVID-19.”