Knock, Knock! Future of Work, At Your Doorstep!
Anshuman is a project manager and he leads a fairly large team at work. When work demands are high, he engages freelancers to augment his workforce. It was quite easy to get additional manpower since the gig workforce was emerging and growing rapidly. All seemed to work really well when business was booming. Then came the year 2020 and brought with it the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Anshuman was worried about sustainability. Would organizations be willing to engage gig workers? Would they relook their budgets? What about the social security of the gig workforce? These are questions that remained unanswered in Anshuman’s mind and he started seeking answers. He went back in time to trace the emergence of the Gig economy.
About 5 years ago, we were debating whether gig working is a disruption or a distraction. A couple of years ago, we wanted to check if it is working well. Early this year, we have started looking at it as the solution to the workforce challenges in the future. Today, aren’t we looking archaic if we don’t have a way to adopt gig working and adapt ourselves to it? Let’s take a look at how the job markets have started to look now. Back then, organizations had ‘casual workers’ under the category of blue-collared workers. This started changing slowly with the advent of service aggregators. Freelancers found this as a boon to find job orders. The seasonal requirements of certain skills paved the way for strengthening of this model.
Emerging Trends in India’s Gig Economy
According to the National Skill Development Corporation, around 70 million young people are expected to enter the country’s labour force by the year 2023, of which about 59 million are expected to be below 30 years of age. While it is more important to invest in establishments of polytechnics and in imparting new skills, for the millions already in the workforce, the State, as well as private sector organisations, are looking at driving upskilling and reskilling programmes to prepare them for the future of work.
“In the Indian context, the gig economy in India is growing. In January 2020, ASSOCHAM had predicted that India’s gig economy would grow at a CAGR of 17 per cent to $455 billion by 2023.”
It is argued that during this time of disruption, job losses and wage-cuts due to the Covid-19 pandemic, gig economy platforms can provide a glimmer of hope.
There are other questions that came up in Anshuman’s mind around workplace behaviors and what his team could do differently. He wondered what are the short term and long-term steps that organizations could take? The pandemic has changed the workforce demographics drastically and HR has come into the spotlight to rise to the challenge. While there are many challenges, managers have had to consider in transitioning their organisations to working from home, here are three of the most pressing ones that Anshuman felt is going to be the demands of the workplace of the future.
Empathy Driven Two-Way Communication is the Key
Organizations would not be restricted to the confines of the office space and hence the formal communication channels would be strengthened to ensure that information is transparently shared to prevent any ambiguity. Interpersonal informal communication would come into prominence. Managers would be seen playing the role of coaches and move away from command and control and towards encouraging and empowering.
Leaders would have an important role to play in ensuring clear standards for engagement and communication, as well as the organisation’s vision and purpose, are communicated regularly and consistently through all channels and by leading through example. Messages would be consistent from the top down and people managers would prepare themselves and other stakeholders on how to manage people working from home, especially as they face challenges such as homeschooling, blurred boundaries between work and home, and the effects of social isolation.
Consistency in thought and action would be crucial to enable stress-free working. Probably managers would consider the things that people enjoyed and appreciated in the office environment and emulate it for the digital setting wherever possible. It would also be wise to have as many data points as possible across the communication platforms that are being adopted to gather information and take pulse checks that can help inform decisions about ways of working and what may need to be tweaked.
Wellness and Wellbeing
Workplaces of the future would be more focussed on wellbeing and not just on wellness especially in the remote working environment. Managers as coaches would be demonstrating certainty and stability to reassure employees and generate a sense of calm. Staff who could be feeling uneasy about job changes, new expectations, and potential or actual lay-offs would be addressed with empathy and transparency. The Human Resource jobs of the future would work on building bridges between people rather than paper pushing and policymaking.
Redesigning Processes and Procedures for Remote Working
HR is responsible for ensuring that all staff have access to and understand the organisation’s policies and procedures for a variety of operations and situations. It’s likely that these policies will need to be reviewed for the working from home context to ensure that they are still relevant and feasible and that they can be enforced in this setting.
In summary, Anshuman sees that one of the positives that the pandemic has left us with is that it has been a great leveller. The formality of board rooms and business suits has been replaced with a view into people’s regular lives, with relaxed clothing, kids and pets included. This less formal arrangement serves to humanise jobs a lot more. If not sailing in the same boat, atleast we know that we are all braving the same storm.
While on the other hand, the ability to read body language when the workforce is remote seems to be getting compromised, it could result in challenges and make it difficult for managers to identify potential issues affecting a staff member and to be proactive in responding.
Organisations and people leaders are rising up to face the future by identifying and training leaders within smaller workgroups who can be responsible for keeping teams motivated and on track, and to watch out for any fractures in working relationships or signs of poor mental health. Building a resilient and cohesive culture in the organisation doesn’t happen overnight, so hopefully this is a solid base to begin with that can be strengthened to support better team relationships in a remote work setting.