Unprecedented times lead to unprecedented problems, and the future of India Inc. has never faced greater uncertainty. While organizations move at breakneck speed to define what the pandemic means to them, they are also being forced to rethink everything they believed about work and how it is done. If there were ever a defining moment for the future of work, this is it. As we weave our way through, here are five questions Indian organizations need to answer.
Over the years, increased flexibility at work has developed into a popular demand from the workforce. From easing work start time, to allowing work from home and flexible work hours, vast strides have been taken by most. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but it would be unfair to say organizations have not improved.
The pandemic is a crash course in this lesson. Businesses have quickly determined what kind of work can and cannot be done from home. The utopian view that paints a picture of absolute flexibility is a dream reserved for a privileged few. There are innumerable jobs that cannot be done from home. These include people who work in laboratories, sales, parts of retail, the hospitality world, or in hospitals. Add to those scenarios unique to our country where transformers burn, electricity fails, and internet gets patchy. Other unique conditions include employees staying in shared accommodation or not having a home office—all leading to loss in productivity.
India Inc. is quickly learning that there are a lot more elements to working from home than just wishful thinking, and that the utopian view will likely never be realized for large segments of the workforce.
Remember our friend, artificial urgency? I wonder which bush it is hiding under now. Organizations have entered the uncomfortable space where targets will be missed, productivity will drop, and timelines will extend. Priorities are being reshuffled at a rapid pace and organizations are coming to terms with what is truly important and what can wait. Managers are suddenly realizing that what they believed to be urgent and important might not be that urgent after all. The crisis is a great time to reassess what we believed indispensable and realize that work is important but maybe not worth ruining our sleep over. It is a good lesson in prioritization for individuals, managers, and organizations as a whole.
The pandemic is no less than a crisis. New situations arise every day. In India, a few days before the lockdown, a lot of paying guest accommodations were shutting down, leaving employees homeless. While some decided to head back to their hometown, some wanted to stay in the city. When employees looked to their organizations for help, decisions needed to be made. How involved do organizations get? Is it a mandate or a suggestion to give out increased pay, flexible salary advances, and supplies? There are examples where organizations have swung both ways.
While Cognizant said they would pay a 25% extra on base pay to its associates, news went around that PWC had deferred promotions, increments, and bonuses until the situation stabilizes. Organizations have claimed employees to be their biggest assets. However, it is only during crisis that organizations really prove just how valuable the employees are and the best way to demonstrate that.
Imagine the competitive advantage for organization that had already built a rapid response team for a global crisis such as this—a team dedicated to planning for worst-case scenarios and deciding how to respond when it happens. The CEO of such an organization would either have to be extremely paranoid or forward thinking to have made such a move. Call it what you may, COVID-19 has organizations wishing they were better prepared. One way to be better prepared for the next pandemic (God forbid), is to assemble a rapid response team.
Organizations need to analyze whether this is a good idea, how much it would cost, what kind of talent it would require, and in a country where crisis is not that rare, what the benefit is. Business continuity planning is not a new concept. However, extending that globally for an indefinite period is new, and if predictions are to be believed, this may not be the only time an organization faces such a situation.
The biggest question: When the world acquires a sense of normalcy, will organizations return to how they were? Will they pretend that nothing ever happened and tuck the incident into the books of history? Or will they choose to rebuild based on everything they have learned?
If they choose to redesign, what will work look like? Will building be restructured to ensure higher levels of hygiene? Will mental health take center stage? Will hiring and exits be managed remotely? Will bite-sized training be the new normal? Will increased flexibility creep its way in? Will employees choose to work from office spaces instead from home? The questions are endless. The answers will determine just how much COVID-19 has taught us.
We have experienced many defining moments in history. We lived through a couple of world wars, the influenza era, terrorist attacks, and a few recessions. Yet, over the past decades we have forgotten how truly connected the world is and how little it takes to disrupt everything we believe in. What remains to be seen is whether, over the next decade, we will take everything 2020 has taught it and weave it into our organizations.
What beliefs does COVID-19 have you questioning?
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