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While the economic effects of recession can be dire, in the long term the effect on work and working habits can be positive."
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So what impact will the current recession have on work over the next decade?
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First, while the focus is still on shoring up finance and the economy, in time we will begin to question the prevailing norms of leadership and decision-making. The dominant “command and control” leadership style that allows a chief executive such as Richard Fuld at Lehman Brothers unilaterally to make decisions about the whole company will increasingly come under scrutiny. If the crowd is indeed wise, why do we put our faith in the decisions and knowledge of a tiny fraction of people?
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Next, past recessions have often served to accelerate the development of practices and processes that had limited popularity pre-recession. Before the 1990s recession, for example, off-shoring was seen to be too complex and difficult an option. It was only with the cost imperatives of the recession that off-shoring was initially pushed and then eventually became a norm, later to be broadened and deepened into its current application. The same is true of group-ware technologies, which have had limited uptake as people said they would prefer to meet face to face. Now, however, those who last year would have jumped on a plane to attend meetings have had their travel budgets slashed. They are being forced to use video conferencing and webcasts. . . . . Others, however, will have fundamentally changed their habits and begun to build working communities that are virtual.
Finally, the 2008-2009 recession will profoundly change the way occupations are seen. Each previous recession has had some impact on perceptions. The 1990s recession slowed the rush to technology and start-ups. The current one may well have the same impact on banking, which has been a huge magnet for talent. The upside would be that our most talented youngsters might look to more than just investment banking for a career.
Recessions are a time of destruction of the old order, a time when assumptions are questioned and nascent practices and ideas are given space to flourish. That is little cheer for now but, in the longer term, an enormous stimulus for change.