The global pandemic's upheavals and subsequent debates, especially over returning to the office or continuing to work from home, have prompted a global rethink of what ‘work' actually means for us.
With time to reflect, people have decided that they want to gain more purpose from their daily commitment to work - or see their work making a genuine difference, at a personal level or for society, whether we call it the 'Great Resignation', the 'Great Reshuffle', or something else.
But it's not just attitudes within workplaces that have changed: the last two years have seen millions engage with technology for the first time - and to grasp its lasting potential to help themselves live differently, or better. As a result, employers, employees and customers' attention is switching towards IT initiatives that change the world.
Post shutdown, businesses are looking beyond simply rebuilding their operations towards using technology that helps us build back to a better place.
Climate change and making our lives more resilient to its effects is a growing concern for governments and societies. This global challenge poses fundamental questions for the IT industry too, such as how to limit energy consumption as demand for computing power increases or how to enhance the cooling of data centres without simply defaulting to using diminishing water supplies. Innovative technology can address and solve many of these urgent challenges.
For example, advanced weather forecasting technology that integrates on insurers' historical claims data is enabling businesses to plan ahead and mitigate the effects of climate change. As a result, airlines are adjusting flight plans to changing weather conditions to cut overall fuel consumption while improving flight profitability.
Buyers' RFPs are increasingly asking questions about suppliers' sustainability, showing businesses' willingness to reduce supply chains' carbon footprints. Wider use of data analytics will enable businesses to grasp how sustainable their operations actually are - and identify potential improvements.
But rapid adoption of new technologies can accentuate the gaps between affluent and developing countries. To achieve sustainable growth in less wealthy societies, Western organisations must become smarter about how they use innovations to ensure they reach the widest audience.
For example, the cloud underpins so many mobile-first experiences today - but the key question for Western firms is how to rethink services to ensure they are relevant and useful to wider audiences in developing nations that don't have general access to up-to-date technology and must still rely on early-generation mobile phones.
Building economies and trust
Leading bank Finastra Kenya has long operated in a cash-based economy, with many citizens often reliant on unregulated lenders. Addressing these needs, Finastra introduced a mobile app that connects potential lenders with approved borrowers, giving citizens easier access to microloans.
This advance is not only improving the way established businesses help to create trust in commerce but also wider inclusion in Kenyan society and its economic activity. As societies become increasingly globalised and workforces more inclusive, embedding trust will help avert wider economic development being derailed by unidentified risks.
On a wider level, boosting workforce diversity and cohesion will deliver profound benefits in the future since successive research tells us that more diverse teams make faster decisions while solutions from diverse teams are also likely to be better performing and longer-lasting.
Towards a global citizenship
While Western economies have successfully used technology to boost their living standards, socially aware organisations are now using their knowledge to deliver such benefits on a wider scale.
Food supply giant Cargill developed a mobile phone app that gives farmers in Africa access to crop husbandry, disease identification and harvesting insights, based on data aggregated from farmers in multiple countries.
Cargill's knowledge-sharing app shows how businesses can make a difference on a global scale without compromising their ability to generate profits, while such technology-for-good projects delivered at scale help Cargill's own employee retention and its teams finding a personal purpose in their daily work.
But transformative technology can be a double-edged sword with positive benefits shadowed by opportunities for misuse. While facial recognition systems help organisations to rapidly identify customers and deliver personalised products, the same tools may also be used in some societies to monitor citizens in real time and operate social credit scoring programmes that discourage anti-government activity.
As businesses advance technology deployments, they must mitigate the risk of misuse. Take the case of employee activity monitoring, which proved useful in helping companies understand their remote workforces' behaviours in the pandemic but as the lines between work and private and work life were blurred, many employees experienced rising stress and anxiety caused by what was, in effect, remote surveillance.
Inclusivity and sustainability
Post pandemic, corporate and social responsibility is evolving rapidly. Customers and employees, especially younger groups, are taking the evidence of inclusivity and sustainability very seriously and are more likely to leave an employer that does not demonstrably share their concerns.
Recent research indicates that technology and the wider availability of corporate data will play a key role in helping businesses better identify and then innovate to address these crucial issues.