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?

Making Sense of Data

A thread on a LinkedIn post got me thinking about how “data” is often confused with “insight”…

99% of the ‘insights’ I encounter are mere associations. E.g. ‘X% of millennials prefer Y’ or ‘X% of our customers switched from contract Y to Z’. These are observations, not insights.

Robert van Ossenbruggen

In every industry and market across the globe, customers are embracing the abundance of Technology that now comes practically embedded in products and services. Access to low-cost Internet is no longer a problem for most of us. And, cheap, always-on, Internet access tends to generate a whole lot of data.

To make matters worse, in today’s context, that data (structured and unstructured) no longer resides in neat database tables inside the enterprise. Mobile devices, sensors, microphones, GPS devices, software, social media, cameras – almost every electronic device or service around you is contributing to the data pool, every minute.

The Paradox of Data is that little data leads to little insight, but too much data can also lead to little insight!

Organizations need to learn how to work with the vast storehouses of data being generated each day; Actionable insights are key to building Customer Engagement.

Patterns can often emerge from large data-sets of seemingly trivial information, which raises the question: What should you begin capturing, when embarking on a new journey?

Customers may say one thing in formal C-SAT or NPS surveys, but behave differently when it comes to repeat purchases, referrals or ‘lifetime value’ realization. Which insights should key decisions be based on?

How often should data be analyzed? Which systems ought to be monitored in real-time? What happens when the instincts and hunches of key executives don’t quite match the dashboard reports and data streams being reviewed?

“Big Data” thinking allows you to do things at a large scale that simply cannot be done at a smaller one. But, it also requires a different mindset.

In a “Big Data” world, ‘more’ trumps ‘better’, messiness (in a very, very large data set) trumps high accuracy (from a small sample), and tags yield better insights than taxonomies. That said, tools do not equal analytics, and Data certainly does not equal Insight.

As always, Business goals need to drive Data & Analytics, not the other way around.

One consumer study eloquently reported: We now inhabit a world that shares more content, from more sources, with more people, more often and more quickly. Today’s cloud-native tools and advances in computing already provide us the means to collect, store and analyze enormous quantities of data, with ease.

Making sense of it all, though, is a whole different ask.

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?