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A glimpse into the future of industry, work and society in the UK

As British business continues to grapple with COVID-19, our adaptability sets us in good stead for the future. Lucy Clayton, Head of Business Thought Leadership takes a look at what’s coming next for work, industry and society in the UK.

With the UK facing various stages of lockdown over the next few weeks, it’s creating new pressure and uncertainty for businesses and workers across the country.

As we collectively feel our way through these unusual and challenging times, I’m finding it useful to reflect on the discussions that took place at our Blue Door Expo just a few weeks ago.

We brought together business leaders from many different industries and subject domains to share their experiences of this year, and their views on what our post-pandemic future might look like.

The pandemic has been a lesson in adaptability

Over the course of nine panel sessions, we explored possible futures for industry, for work and for society as a whole.

The discussions were very wide-ranging – from the re-imagining of the office as a creative space to the need to preserve our wildlife – but I was struck throughout by an overwhelming feeling that when it comes to adapting to change, British industry has got this.

We heard stories of how whole workforces pivoted to remote working overnight, without missing a step. We heard about teams who found new ways to support each other – cooking together over Zoom, or seeking out new tools for creative collaboration.

We heard how leaders rediscovered the art of listening, taking time to understand the pressures their people were facing, and offering compassion, empathy and practical help. And we heard how digital workplace technologies, from videoconferencing to productivity tools, kept businesses going.

British industry is well placed to weather future change

All of this suggests that British industry is well placed to weather future change, too. And we need to be: this year has shown how fast our plans and assumptions can change when an unforeseen crisis hits. Even when this pandemic is over, we’ll still have to contend with the ramifications of Brexit and the intensifying climate emergency.

But what I saw at Blue Door 2020 was that British industry is ready for what’s to come. We have the will, the stamina, the tools and the adaptability to be resilient in the face of change. As O2 Business managing director Jo Bertram said in her opening welcome:

“The last few months have fuelled my faith in British industry. When the odds were great and uncertainty was prevalent, I saw businesses adapt and people step forward to make a real difference.”

Looking ahead to the future of work, industry and society

You can read more about how British business is gearing up for the future in these three white paper summaries of the event discussions:

The future of industry

Organisations including British Sugar, Sainsbury’s, Experian and Highways England share their views on:

    • Digital transformation: With exciting new Industry 4.0 technologies emerging, what are the opportunities for UK businesses to rebuild for a sustainable digital future?
    • Data, analytics and AI: Which capabilities will help organisations to extract more value from the data they collect – and what new risks and challenges might these capabilities create?
    • Innovation: As the pace of change continues to accelerate, and new technologies emerge, how can British organisations innovate and stay ahead?
    • Cyber security: New technologies mean new cyber threats, while bad actors also continue to exploit existing weaknesses in organisational security. How can UK plc best protect itself?

Read the paper: The Future of Industry

The future of work

Organisations including Nokia, LinkedIn, Samsung and England Rugby share their views on:

    • Embracing change and opportunity: As we look back over the pandemic period, what can we learn from the way we adapted, and what new opportunities are open to us?
    • A changing workforce and culture: As we start to settle on a hybrid model of office and remote working, how do workplace tools, leadership practices and strategy need to change?
    • Tools and technologies in evolution: Connectivity and digital tools helped us to shift to new ways of working. How will those technologies evolve to support work in the new normal?

Read the paper: The Future of Work

The future of society

Organisations including Costa Coffee, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, West Midlands 5G and the Conscious Advertising Network share their views on:

    • Diversity and inclusion: With organisations of all sizes pledging to build a more diverse workforce and leadership team, how can we make this happen?
    • Smart cities: The lives of city-dwellers can be greatly improved by smart city technology, but progress has been slow. How can we accelerate it now, in a way that benefits everyone?
    • Smart investments: As we battle a health crisis, inequality and climate change at the same time, how can technology help to address pressing social and environmental challenges?

Read the paper: The Future of Society

An opportunity to ‘build back better’

It was clear from the discussions that there’s a strong desire to re-think and re-imagine, rather than return to a ‘business as usual’ that’s fast becoming outdated. Instead, businesses see an opportunity to ‘build back better’, to create a world that’s equitable and sustainable for the long term.

That’s definitely our feeling at O2 – and we’ve produced a short paper that outlines our own vision for the future of industry, work and society. You can read it here.

In summary, though, the discussions I saw at our Blue Door Expo left me feeling hopeful for the future – and I hope that these papers will inspire you to feel the same.

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