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?

Search and Retrieve

I was talking to a close friend about the need to create connections at work, and also save relevant information about those connects. One thing led to another and we started talking about data structures. He wanted to see what columns I would add in my Excel sheet when I save their contact info. I told him that I stopped using Excel for such things more than a decade ago.

Let me explain why this old, linear way of thinking doesn’t work anymore.

We live in a world of abundance, not scarcity. We generate more data from more sources, more quickly, and with more frequency than ever before. However, Technology also keeps evolving at a scorching pace, and Search tools have got much, much better with time.

Think about how you use email at work. Chances are, you have multiple folders created in your Inbox, and take the time to save every email in its respective folder. But folders are a linear way of working. The same email can’t be stored in two folders, but it is possible to classify the same content in more than one way. As a result, when you save that email, you may think it belongs to the “Projects” folder, but when you try to retrieve it, you may first look for it in the “Key Clients” folder instead. Precious time is wasted in searching through folder after folder, until you eventually locate the item you are looking for.

An easier way to manage this is to simply have one Inbox folder, and use the Search tool to search and locate anything you want, from that one place! If you also use your inbox to manage your to dos (like I do), you can add a folder for items you have already processed, and have just two folders instead of many.

That second system works much better than the first since it leverages very powerful Search tools to store and retrieve your emails, without adding any cognitive load to classify them in linear (limited) ways. If your email service allows for tags (like GMail does), that also adds an additional dimension to your data, but without the limitation of folders, since the same content can be tagged in unlimited ways.

Taking the same approach to your contact list, the idea is to use powerful search tools (built into all smartphones) that can find whatever you are looking for, without thinking about how you classified that information originally.

On the phone, I don’t even use tags to categorize my contact entries any more, and instead use the Notes field to write all the keywords I think are important, while interacting with any person. The “classification” system is fluid and non-standard. It varies from person to person, since for some I may save family-related details, and for others I may save info related to their work. But that does not matter, since Search cuts through all structures and looks inside every contact entry to find the keywords I am looking for.

At work, a Global Address Book in Outlook already saves every one’s work info including location, department, contact details, etc. All I need to do is save select entries to my Outlook address book, and add some relevant content in the Notes field, to help me remember contextual details. This also has the added advantage of the contact entry being linked to the Global Address Book at work, so that all the contact info stays automatically updated.

So, no more Excel files or columns or reinventing the wheel on which attributes should be saved, or how the data should be categorized. Embrace non-linear and interconnected ways of working with data – that’s the world we live in now. Once you do, you will find that the possibilities are endless.

See Also: Making Sense of Data

When Work Is Fun!

It’s been a couple of months since my last blog post, and I’ve been busy settling into a new role at work.

As some of you may know, I recently joined Microsoft India as a part of the Industry Solutions team, to help strategic BFSI clients leverage Cloud & Enterprise solutions. Needless to say, it is a huge organization with an exciting canvas. And, it’s inspiring to be a part of something that has the potential to ‘make a dent in the universe’.

Microsoft’s mission is to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more“. I’m sure you will agree that with a mission statement like that, one cannot help but feel stoked.

Here’s a sample of how the last two weeks have transpired…

  • Got introduced to key partners at the annual Partner Leadership Conclave 2021 in an intensive two-day expo
  • Participated in the Microsoft Global Hackathon 2021 as an Business Strategy advisor, collaborating with colleagues across the globe on a ‘Hack for Society’ – the team is trying to build a solution that makes it possible to digitally donate to those in need, especially the homeless and un-banked
  • Joined the Discover Day Asia expo to learn more about how to navigate the larger, global organization
  • Attended insightful sessions by thought leaders in industry, academia, and government on how interdisciplinary research and Technology can impact society, as a part of the Microsoft Research Summit 2021
  • Participated in a Strategic Account Summit workshop focused on improving engagement with key accounts
  • Completed the requisite Training modules, and am now Microsoft Certified on Dynamics 365 (CRM) Fundamentals
  • Attended a Masterclass on Accessibility tools already built into Windows 10, Office 365 and Microsoft Edge, that can be used by folks with learning or comprehension disabilities

Of course, all this is in addition to internal catchups, review meetings, technology deep-dives and the day-today operations of the job!

Sure, you need to juggle your task lists, and attend some early morning / late night meetings to make it all work. But, that’s a small price to pay for such a rich exposure to the breadth and width of the solution landscape, don’t you think?

In any case, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years – at work or outside it.

P.S. I’ve received a lot of positive reactions and encouragement to this post! I should mention that most of the activities I’ve listed were entirely optional.