By David C. Ewald
For Ewald Consulting, the past year was shaped by two society-wide events, the continuing impact of COVID and the resulting effect on the workplace. The emerging impact and opportunity of artificial intelligence, along with curiosity about the future of work, are giving us things to think about as we end this year and move into the next.
The past year, as the year before, found our world remaining in the grip of COVID-19. The pandemic continues to ravage people, overwhelm health care systems, disrupt family lives and negatively affect businesses. People are weary from compliance with safety measures and as compliance wanes — along with immunity wearing off in the vaccinated and non-existent in the unvaccinated — we are seemingly in a deep pit with no ladder to use for escape. In Minnesota, COVID deaths in 2021 now equal deaths from 2020, a year when the virus had not yet fully spread in the state. In 2020, we spent the first half of the year transitioning events from fully in-person to hybrid or fully virtual. Considering the uniqueness of the situation and the short amount of time to deal with it, the results were at minimum satisfactory — and at best, they helped clients find new and profitable ways to deliver content to their members. Heading into 2021, we anticipated a return to more normal conditions later in the year. But now cases are rising and the omicron variant is rapidly spreading — causing a new wave of cancelations and other disruptions.
The much discussed “great resignation” continues to affect the workplace. Much of this is healthy, as workers feel the ability to move up in their careers by putting their experience gained in entry-level jobs on the market and take higher-paying and more challenging positions. Vexing is the disappearance of four million American workers that helps explain why unemployment is now lower than before the pandemic and job openings outnumber those officially seeking work. Sizeable numbers of workers have opted out of the workforce for a variety of reasons. The tight labor market is driving supply chain issues and inflation. In our industry, associations are dealing with significant turnover, impacting their ability to provide services to members. We’ve seen an uptick in the number of freestanding associations that are looking for ways to more effectively or efficiently provide value and advance the mission of their organization.
I’m interested in how AI will increasingly affect society, and specifically, the association industry. As tools become more widely available and their use more adopted, how will AI disrupt, change and improve the ability of associations to serve their members? On the positive side, AI will help anticipate and meet the individual needs of members and help their associations do so more effectively. This will be balanced with the many yet-to-be enumerated risks from AI to the members’ own professions that may negatively affect the long-term nature of many industries and call into question the utility of their associations’ long-standing services.
How we work
COVID, workforce and AI combine to raise interesting questions about how we work. Most organizations are still sorting through the changes wrought by COVID and emerging variants. Few workplaces are fully back to the way they were in 2019; most organizations don’t anticipate that soon. The coming years will be interesting as employers balance the desires of their employees for flexible work arrangements with the need to fully function as businesses. We signed a short (2 year) extension on our lease which expires in 2023. The extension shrunk our footprint by 50 percent to deal with the reduced number of people working in the office. Even that smaller footprint is currently underutilized.
Our employees are familiar with my mantra that what got us here won’t get us to the future state we want. We will continue experimenting and innovating to help our clients and our company achieve outstanding results. What are your hopes, dreams and questions for the year ahead? How can our company help to answer or achieve them?