For the first time in history, the business problem of all organizations in any part of the world is the same. The need now is, to define and develop the survivor’s guide to work in the times of Covid-19 and beyond. All businesses are exploring innovative and disruptive solutions to keep business operations sustainable and flexible, now and in future.
Who would have thought that this leap year would be all about continuing to stay locked inside our houses with zero travel, tourism, hospitality, fine dining, retail therapy, events, exhibitions etc. In one stroke of a highly contagious deadly virus, the world has changed upside down overnight.
Only one thing that we leap-frogged into is FUTURE. What had been continuously deliberated upon as operating in a virtual world in various forums, showcased through different demos, shaped up by startups and predicted by intelligentsia has actually operationalized in a BCP mode instantaneously! The How and the What of the future of work, workforce and workplace would look like is not a question any more. While we may not have all the answers but we do know the concept of work is changing rapidly and the world is NOT going back to the old normal - The NEW NORMAL is here and the future is now!
Evolution of Work: The Big Bang of 2020
What kept the world going when everyone was under lockdown? People + Technology. Evidently, this is the only secret ingredient, which will help organizations navigate their NEXT. During the pandemic, organizations have been jolted, many have faltered, some have stood up then stabilized.
The last few months have changed our life view of everything forever. The focus and the importance of self, family, health has triumphed over transitory materialistic comforts and an extravagant lifestyle. Working from home has nudged people to reflect on their priorities. The daily hustle of crowded roads, traffic, noise, pollution, commute to work and late working hours all have reduced significantly. On the other hand, the ‘Work from Home’ (WFH), has converted itself to a new challenge with newer terminologies, phrases and emerging challenges. Home-office has metamorphosed into ‘h-office’ and WFH now becoming ‘living at work’!
Extensive digital fatigue, no time for breaks, extension of work timings breaching family time are slowly becoming the norm resulting in newer challenges. Clearly, it will not be a unipolar world. Instead, a hybrid model with a widely distributed heterogeneous workforce having individualized needs, working from anywhere, anytime, any device.
Drawing lessons from the experience and having a realistic picture of the future, the organizations now need to rewind, reset & reimagine to not only survive but thrive:
- Rewind: Go back to the time when this started and understand how the challenge was tackled
- Reset: Evaluate the response to the situation: what is working, what is not and what still needs attention
- Re-imagine: Use this data and experience to draft a roadmap for future, which will address the possible scenarios the world would experience
The REWIND phase
Rewind: Several studies predicted some percentage of workforce would work remotely, either as a full-time or contingent workforce by the turn of new decade or so. However, no one envisioned that organizations would have 100% of workforce working from home simultaneously. This resulted in shifting of hardware, procurement of software licenses and no lead-time to test the efficacy of the solution that assessed the agility of the organizations who had to hit the ground running. All of this while servicing the needs of their customers. The new normal envisioned every transaction that happened in the physical space transitioned to the virtual world in a jiffy. Np organization had any template to draw references to address this situation. Whatever actions companies took were all new, sudden and constantly evolved on daily basis.
The RESET phase
Reset – This critical phase in adapting to the new normal was both a big challenge and an exciting opportunity. Humanware– where the best of human ingenuity when combined with the power of technology was the game changer in the employee life cycle in the new normal. This situation created an opportunity to go back to the storyboard stage to rebuild the Employee Experience Roadmap to meet their aspirations while building their careers.
Real-time survey: Dispersed workforce and unusual circumstances of working and living need constant assessment of employee’s needs. AI-enabled “mood-o-meter” surveys to capture employee sentiments and enable real-time actions, while providing impetus on future work arrangements.
Employee engagement: Virtual meetings are a new norm. Organizations are now bringing events, exhibitions, onboarding, training, townhalls, annual meetings, DJ nights, Panel discussions, Conferences, Summits – in short, everything mainstream back, using virtual platforms by leveraging technology. There’s no show stopping or waiting for the world to go back to normal. Silver lining is more participation than ever before while it appears business as usual with 100% virtual participation. These are not stopgap solutions. Companies are investing heavily, though wisely, in technologies to make all things possible in the virtual environment of new normal.
Technology is also being leveraged to make Healthcare accessible to all, like virtual counselling through an app, and it does appear to be extremely effective in outreach and efficacy. It has helped in assuaging fears of uncertainty and addressing mental and physical health woes of employees.
On the other hand, Digital fatigue and employee burnout is something to watch out with the overuse of technology. In the virtual workplace, the need is to ring-fence employees’ personal space and time vis-à-vis- work. This calls for a cultural shift to respect work and personal life integration.
The REIMAGINE phase
The world is re-opening, albeit with some trepidation, in a phased manner. Future of work would necessitate a hybrid model to meet customer requirements, business needs and employee safety. Uberization of the workplace as an exception will now become mainstream. Blended work model would comprise on-site teams at office locations, remote employees at home or co-work spaces or public spaces or anywhere. This gives a clear mandate to the organizations to invest in new Technologies that enables employees’ work efficiencies and collaboration.
DigiTech skill is what will fuel business growth. Workforce needs to reskill or upskill in trending technologies related to e-commerce, AI, Robotics, Analytics, virtual communication, social media etc. Virtual assistants, chatbots can help employees to manage their work and learnings better. Calendar organization, meeting invites, curated training lists, learning assistance, work assistance, raising incident tickets, searching information – it is a whole world of tasks that chatbots can assist for productivity efficiencies.
This also brings to the fore the core values of trust and integrity, as data and confidential information moves to the personal spaces of the workforce. Organizations need to ensure that distributed data in distributed environments still meets data security compliance norms by deploying data security software to protect and safeguard the systems and data.
Technology will be the X factor of people experience and would play a key role in developing a fully digital integrated environment. More distributed the teams, greater is the need to formulate policies to relook at the Technology infrastructure that will support in building a cohesive ecosystem. What might have taken a lot of time for any technology to become mainstream has become commonplace in matter of few months due the pandemic. As I mentioned earlier that the future is now, don’t be surprised if unprecedented accelerated pace of technology adaption witness 3d holograms, drones, 3D printers as the new norm in the near future. Technology is not the game-changer any more, it’s the secret sauce in the survivor’s guide – to not only survive but to thrive, as we experience our next to realize the full potential of opportunities that are there or being created.