Future of Work

Circa early 2020, Covid19 caught the world by surprise, to say the least.

The last couple of years have been crazy in many ways. Organizations, big and small, went from a status quo that was essentially unchanged for decades, to work-from-home (WFH), to work-from-anywhere (WFA). New buzzwords like ‘blursday’ entered our lexicon, the common man picked up a few concepts about epidemiology, and every one and their third cousin got acquainted with Zoom.

Technology led companies and consulting firms were already used to working across the globe with tools and tech that made it somewhat easier to coordinate remotely. Most other businesses, however, had to hurriedly learn how to cope with the demands of WFH, while simultaneously addressing growing cybersecurity threats.

Customers across the globe faced difficulties of their own: Ever-changing lockdown conditions by local governments made it nearly impossible to access any thing more than just the basics. Senior citizens learned how to navigate food delivery apps, children coped with schooling via video calls on Google Classroom, and the average family embraced digital channels of service, as best as possible.

For some enterprises, there may have been savings in terms of infrastructure, while others stared down fixed-cost assets that remained unutilized for months at end. Employees facing a harsh commute were happy with WFH/WFA flexibility, while others missed the connect and conversations that can only happen in the workplace. The pandemic certainly made it harder to collaborate with colleagues – especially those engaged in complex cross-functional work, not to mention newbies being onboarded entirely in remote mode.

The hardest hit of all were daily workers, those whose work cannot be done in WFH mode, families with school-children but no access to mobile devices or spotty Internet, and of course those in essential services and healthcare that were fighting at the forefront every day.

Two years down, problems still abound and there are no easy answers to be found. Yes, “hybrid work” is the phrase most talked about these days, but no one knows what the future of work will really look like. May be we can use this opportunity to re-imagine how we organize our work and ourselves. Or is it just wishful thinking?

The Role of a ‘Role Model’

When I was growing up, I didn’t have any role models in my circle of family and friends – folks who had achieved the heights of success in their professional lives, and could serve as a guiding path to those who are just starting out on their journey.

I had to overcome several obstacles and navigate uncharted waters, to graduate from one of the top colleges of the country (St. Xavier’s) with honors. Soon after a brief stint in Sales, I pursued a Business Management degree in Marketing, and once again, found myself with more questions than answers. Once more, there was hardly any one I could personally approach to seek guidance from, in terms of the significant life choices that lay ahead…

Should I join a small firm (with a wider exposure to work) or a large, well-known brand (with a much smaller role in it)? Will industry X have better growth prospects than industry Y? If I wish to ultimately head a function or department, what’s the best path to it? What does one actually do in senior roles in a mid-large size organization?

Do bear in mind that this was circa 1990-1998, well before the Internet had democratised information access for all.

Even in later years, as my awareness of the world improved and I had better access to organizational resources, there were many questions I faced as a young professional. In these situations, I wished it was possible to seek help from other, more experienced, role models.

The sad reality is that, even with all the information we want, now available at our fingertips, some of these answers are still hard to come by.

If we come from privileged backgrounds or families, we don’t quite realize how hard it is for many folks to get good advice, or shape their career paths & aspirations on the lines of senior (and successful) professionals that can ‘show them the way’.

This post is an attempt to fill some of those gaps.

As someone who has experienced organizations of all shapes and sizes, and worked across many functions, I am often asked for advice from students and junior colleagues. I do what I can to encourage and address those questions to the best of my abilities. That’s a big part of why I teach as Visiting Faculty in business schools, and occasionally take up a budding, young professional to mentor him/her through a difficult phase.

I urge you folks to do the same – use every opportunity to help others who are struggling to find answers to the tough questions. Speak to young professionals (and students) regularly. Ask questions, so you can understand their reality better. Encourage questions, so you can help them navigate their dilemmas. Make some time for this in your busy lives, even if it means weekends, so you can be accessible to them.

If you are past 50 years of age, seriously consider ‘reverse mentoring’ in your organization to stay in touch with changing realities – it will only enrich your own Life and perspective. If you are in a desk job, take the opportunity to get out more and interact with your channels & customers – it will give them a chance to reach you. If you have forgotten your modest beginnings, take a moment to remind yourself where you came from and what you used to struggle with – it will enable you to offer help in a way that is relevant to others.

Providing jobs is not the only way to help people. And, you don’t have to be a CxO to be able to offer good advice. Every one can make a difference – we only have to commit ourselves to it.

2020 is behind us… It’s time to set some worthy goals and get cracking, don’t you think?

The Crisis Is Here

At the time of writing this, the #Coronavirus pandemic has already claimed more than 1 Million deaths and infected more than 54 Million people, worldwide. Countless lives (and livelihoods) have already been affected by the #Covid19 virus, and most of the year 2020 has really been all about dealing with the crises.

Could we have done more?

Yes, having virtual meetings using a video-calling service like Zoom or Teams is now the de facto way we work. But the way we conduct these meetings is broken, and adds to the strain of hard-working #WFH employees.

Yes, students now attend virtual classes using a mobile device (or two) coupled with a home broadband connection. But, not every child has access to this kind of infrastructure, on demand.

Yes, governments in every country have been working overtime to balance the health and safety of their citizens with the needs of the economy. But, the best way forward is still elusive.

The testing is not standardized, the protocols are not uniform across countries, the economic constraints are not the same from one region to another. And, when the vaccine comes, there will be added pressure on governments to find the right way to distribute it among the population at large.

We could have learnt from each other, instead of reinventing the wheel. We could have joined forces, instead of fighting our battles like a divided people

Technology giants could have combined efforts to help enable infrastructure for children who need to attend online classes. Large corporations could have re-imagined ways of working that are more conducive to virtual/remote presence. Politicians could have learned from politicians (and scientists) in other countries, what really works and what doesn’t.

Instead, some of us got busy coping with the demands of work-from-home, while others used the time to learn some new recipes, enroll in a few certificate courses or see more cat videos online.

Remember those end-of-the-world movies in which the Earth is facing a global crisis of epic proportions, and a coalition force (led by America) finally saves the day?! Hollywood writers would have us believe that when it really came down to it, the citizens of the world would unite to fight a common enemy, and ultimately triumph.

Well, that crisis is here. And, it’s not too late to take corrective action.

Or, is it?