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The Great Reshuffle

The pandemic has led to one of the biggest reshufflings in the concept of ‘work’. Today, a workplace is no longer just a physical location, a workforce is no longer just a group of people operating at the same time and space. The defining trait of this new world of work is that there is no single standard or blueprint for operating.  

The pandemic affected each of us differently. The needs of working parents or of caregivers are likely very different from those early in career. Customer facing professionals are likely to work with different constraints and needs compared to those in functional support roles. Almost everyone has also had the opportunity to think about what they really value and what might not be so critical, both for their personal selves and for their careers. Therefore, every organization and every individual will need to create their own unique roadmap as we move forward. This diversity of experiences and perspectives is best summed up by what we call the ‘hybrid work paradox’. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey, which reveals insights, challenges, and motivations that will shape the future of work, found that nearly 74% of employees in India want more flexible, remote work options, while at the same time, 73% of them are also craving more in-person time with their teams. In summary, more than half the workforce wants work from anywhere with physical connect at the same time. This necessitates organizations and individuals to redesign and refresh their work contract with each other. 

The data is clear: extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace. The narrative on “the great resignation” is therefore just one aspect of this broader change. For organizations to take a broader and longer-term direction they should think of this change as “the great reshuffle” and the early movers and broader thinkers will have the opportunity to shape and manage it to their advantage. 

Organizations will need to empower employees with the flexibility to work when and where they want, with the tools they need to equally contribute. Hybrid work will require a completely new operating model, spanning people, places, and processes. And technology will be critical to power this changed world, enabling flexibility, inclusion, and wellbeing for everyone. 

Empower People: Among the biggest shifts the pandemic accelerated that will shape the future of work, is the deep focus on flexibility, wellbeing and effective collaboration between remote and physical workers. Digital overload is real and rising. Our Work Trend Index data shows that more than half (57%) of Indian employees feel overworked and 32% feel exhausted. We need tools that not only keep us ‘always on’ but that help us pause when needed and prioritize our health and wellbeing. Data and analytics are powerful tools for organizations to understand the needs of employees in a hybrid world and enhance employee experience. Technology is also a key enabler of inclusion for everyone in the hybrid workplace, including people with disabilities. Or as simple a feature as recording meetings or transcripts can help users not in the room come back to it at a time that works for them and even search to find out if their name was mentioned so that they can pick up any actions due for them. The world around us is changing fast and technology is helping everyone participate equally.  

Redesign workplaces: Creating equitable, inclusive experiences starts with designing for people not in the room. Every organization will need a new digital fabric for collaboration that brings together both digital and physical spaces and empowers everyone to participate, whether they are in office, at home or on a factory floor. Culture will be a key determinant of success in a hybrid world. Building culture at a time when half of the people are working from anywhere and the other half are at office is no small challenge. Organizations will need to find new and unique ways to keep employees connected and engaged to sustain culture across the organization. Technology will play a major role in creating this unified hybrid experience, enabling secure and accessible collaboration for all. Technologies like AR, VR and mixed reality are enabling organizations to create a ‘real’ experience of being together for employees across different geographical locations. The use cases of immersive tech in hiring and onboarding experiences has immense potential. 

Rethink Processes: Every business process will be impacted by the move to hybrid, and every business function will need to transform with technology at the core. In the era of hyper connected businesses, data and AI are powering the next level of real-time insights that will be crucial for transforming the hybrid workplace experience. Data driven employee experiences will be key to moving from merely adapting to thriving at hybrid work and creating a truly inclusive workplace. One area of paramount importance is security. Today entry points for attacks – identities, devices, apps, networks, infrastructure, and data, live outside the protections of traditional perimeters. The modern digital estate is distributed, diverse, and complex-leading to an exponential increase in attacks.  Data from CERT-In finds that cyberattacks in India rose by almost 300% in 2020 as compared to 2019. As corporate networks are suddenly without firm borders, there needs to be a change in our approach to security. Embracing a Zero Trust architecture is now more important than ever. Organizations need end-to-end security tools to build cyber resilience and protect their workforce and data. 

We are already in the midst of a monumental transition in the way we work. It will require organizations to create a completely different playbook in the way they look at collaboration, productivity, inclusion, and learning. Empathy will be the guiding principle in this evolving world. This will shape the future of work and the great reshuffle is the path to get there. Technology will play an even more fundamental role in empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. 

This article is authored by

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Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India 

This article first appeared in Business Today

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