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The Show Must Go Online
Futurologists had predicted significant changes to the future of work due to the impact of AI, automation and robotics, all of which were to happen by 2025.
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2020 has a new name! A new order! And a new number! It’s 2025 – a date that has arrived before its time. Not by choice, but thanks to a tiny, invisible micro-organism, a virus which has spread across the world. Futurologists had predicted significant changes to the future of work due to the impact of AI, automation and robotics, all of which were to happen by 2025. But suddenly, the rug has been pulled from under our feet and we have been catapulted, almost like a five-year fast forward.
The new order defines that we “work from home”. Will this permanently change the way we work? Will the model of a centralized office where people came to work, to clock in the required number of hours and get paid at the end of the month disappear? Will work be distributed across regions and geographies? Will people continue to work from home on a regular basis even after the threat of the COVID-19 virus dissipates? In a scenario like this, is it the beginning of the end of the culture of the “Head Office”? If these old offices remain empty, will they get converted into museums which will be showcased as the legacy of a company to an awestruck visitor? “The HO is dead, long live the HO” – more than ever, it is likely that the first para of the obituary to the HO culture will be written in 2020.
Should the demand for office space reduce, it is likely that office rentals of prime locations may decline. Large spaces could be replaced by a few meeting rooms, where the staff may meet once a quarter. In fact, this could also be done with a “rent-as-you-go” model of co-working. The rare physical meeting will be marked with social distancing and an alacritous approach to completing the meeting as soon as possible. Greetings at such meetings are likely to change. Handshakes, hugs and air kisses will get replaced by the safe “Namaste”. Kings, Presidents, Heads of State and even the common man will embrace this new method of greeting. Namaste will get global ubiquity and become the next big soft export from India.
Incessant travel was part of a job profile of many company executives, who zipped across airports and cities, dealing with this work necessity because of the benefits attached to it. Some were essential, but a lot was voluntary. Perhaps, it was seen as essential. That is likely to change! Travel will now be frowned upon and only if there is absolutely no choice, will a person be allowed to travel for work. Virtual meetings will become the norm and not an exception. Another likely change is in the gig economy which will see a huge upsurge as more people will prefer to work as professionals at a time of their convenience. For employers, the line between a permanent worker and a temporary worker is also likely to blur and the social benefits which were denied to temporary workers will probably be made available to them. With all these tumultuous changes on the anvil, HR professionals will have to rewire their strategies of dealing with a distributed workforce which is working remotely and treating everyone equally. More than ever, many people may miss the “social aspect” of working in an office and it will pose another challenge to HR professionals in tackling the resultant emotive issues and emotional well-being of the individual.
As the culture of working from home seeps in, there will be an inevitable huge spike in the demand for online Apps and tools for effective communication and collaboration. Chatbot interfaces will now become a standard feature for all companies, responding to any customer query and indulging in other interactions. The earlier assumption of a gradual change in working habits to online meetings and discussions is likely to be thrown to the winds. Will this change which has been foisted on our result in a permanent new work culture? After the threat of COVID-19 subsides, will we have a mid-path? Either way, one change is certain -- any work activity which cannot be done online will now get low priority. This attitudinal change will require a different skill set of communication and collaboration in a non-physical environment. The demand for data at homes will skyrocket and so will the need for allied services like home delivery of food. Will we see the demise of the “9 am to 5 pm” job? Will, everyone work 24x7 was picking up a thread of work any time of the day will become a norm? More likely than not, both the scenarios are likely to pan out and as everyone embraces the online world, the demand for re-skilling and online courses will increase
And if all these tectonic changes happen, what is the flip side? Lesser travel will result in a lower carbon footprint. Companies will be able to cut the flab and operate more efficiently at a lower cost, with lower rentals, and reduced office expenses and travel cost. The resultant increase in technology and data cost will not cause any significant dent in the overall cost structure. A leaner cost company will be able to scale more rapidly and improve its competitiveness. Individuals will now have more personal time with their family, as they cut out the commute and travel time and become more productive in online meetings and discussions. Although not empirically proven, physical meetings tend to prolong discussions and with online meetings, there will be an enormous amount of saving of time. Buying and consumer habits will also shift to the online world and companies will need to fast track their digital strategies. All in all, one hopes that all these changes will lead to a greener world where individuals will get more time to themselves and companies get more competitive.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.