Part 1:The Pandemic Pivot & Future Challenges
(This is the first instalment of a two-part article.)
Change is inescapable, yet rarely does it happen at the blink of an eyelid. Organizations have reshaped the workforce, overturned age-old business models, and embraced digital technologies, from chatbots to blockchain, in rapid response to the pandemic. There has been more innovation in the last one year than in the last one decade. This has always been the case – crisis has often spurred innovation.
No wonder that hotels found staycations a new way to soften the impact of lost businesses from travel bans, healthcare digitized to offer remote care, as patients shunned hospital visits, schools and colleges went online, and airlines were flying vaccines around the globe creating new supply chains. A flower grower found a new market in supplying to hospitals. The empty streets of Wuhan, China, proved ideal to operate autonomous vehicles to deliver medicines and foodstuff to the locked down population.
At the heart of each of these examples is speed—getting things done fast, and well. Organizations have removed boundaries and have broken down silos in ways no one thought was possible. They have streamlined decisions and processes, empowered frontline leaders, and suspended slow-moving hierarchies and bureaucracies.
COVID-19 was the catalyst that emerged, drastically changing corporate agenda, and forcing organizations to accelerate their digital transformation journey as survival and opportunity became intertwined. Simply put, the pandemic-driven disruption permitted companies to take unconventional and uncharted paths to strengthen customer relationships, engage employees, and serve a higher purpose.
It was time when companies rediscovered their higher purpose or their north star and aligned employees with it. At the same time, organizations put employee health and wellness at the centre of their strategies of business continuity and gear up rapidly to meet the challenges. Entire IT teams worked round-the-clock to enable remote employees to deliver, teams to collaborate over virtual platforms, and invest in creating the right ambience at homes to ensure wellness. This has led to significant productivity increases but at the same time heightening a feeling of isolation and impacted organization culture.
The future of work has arrived
With digital transformation, the future of work that we have been talking about for a long time was suddenly a reality. The migration to digital platforms to connect with customers, partners, employees, and the multitude of devices creating the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystems, meant that employees had to be digitally dexterous or be rendered redundant.
Acceleration of digital transformation created a major challenge for organizations. The speed at which it happened meant that a large number of skills were made outdated, it also meant that retraining employees for the new kinds of job became mission critical. Intelligent Automation (IA), a combination of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies which together empower rapid end-to-end business processes, became the driving force of this transformation.
Growing research says automation may make certain jobs obsolete, but it will also create new ones that will allow employees to use their time better. The value of IA is also changing how individuals define the term “workforce.” The term now includes both human employees and intelligent machines. Workers have come to understand the role of automation and how it fits into a larger organization. Investment in upskilling, which has become a private sector and government priority, has the potential to boost the global GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030, including by $570 billionin India alone – the third highest after China and the US, as per a World Economic Forum (WEF) report.
Three clear shifts about the Future of Work are visible:
- Unbundling of work from jobs: jobs are no longer the organizing unit for work; rather it is a redistribution of tasks between humans & machines, depending on who or which is best suited to do the job;
- New work new skills: With the rise of new technologies, we will see the emergence of new roles associated with the design, development, and maintenance of new technologies; and
- Higher cognitive complexity of human work: The human workforce of the future will execute tasks requiring higher cognitive and emotive complexity, and activities requiring the application of general intelligence.
Pivoting in a pandemic
The pandemic has changed the landscape of many industries’ ecosystems — leading to an existential crisis for many organizations. Consider Airbnb, whose business suffered a loss of a billion dollars due to guest cancellations — all while paying out some $250 million to compensate their hosts for their losses. Airbnb decided to refund guests for cancellations, the company faced backlash from angry property owners.
As countries eased travel restrictions, Airbnb saw an uptick in reservations in local areas. Over half of Airbnb’s August bookings were within driving distance–300 miles–of the guest’s location. So, Airbnb adjusted its recommendation algorithm to show more local stays. By leveraging industry trends and data from their consumers, companies can make better-informed decisions and stay aligned with what customers want and need.
Airbnb’s core business model is and always has been connecting homeowners with short-term renters. The company went back to basics and dropped plans to open hotels and other expansion projects. By downsizing and pivoting, Airbnb has been able to stay afloat during the pandemic and, after suffering a 66.5 percent year-over-year reduction in revenue in the second quarter, it was back on track to report profits.
Over 64 per cent of Indian businesses reported that they were ready to meet the new workplace demands in the wake of new coronavirus pandemic and are leveraging collaboration tech tools to ensure uninterrupted work, as per a new survey by leading job portal Indeed. While 43 per cent of small and medium businesses (SMBs) said they are well prepared, 39 per cent of large businesses said they are gearing up for the future.
The nationwide lockdown came with a warning for FabIndia and its 250 retail stores. The popular ethnic wear brand — built over 60 years — shut its stores in March. However, it was quick to notice that the government was allowing the sales of essential items and hygiene products during the lockdown and decided to ramp up its organic foods production. The company scaled up its production under the Organic India food brand. Before the lockdown, food and hygiene products contributed two to three percent of the total business. With the increased production, it quickly grew to 15 to 20 percent of the business.
Real estate developers offered virtual walk-throughs of properties on sale and negotiations are being conducted via video conferencing, while the government has done its bit by enabling e-registration. Real estate services company Anarock claimed in April that they had successfully closed the digital sale of homes worth Rs 214.6 crore and office spaces worth Rs 37 crore across India.
(To be concluded)