Future of Work

Historically, every few decades, work got disrupted by major events like the industrial revolution in the 1800s, WWII in the 1940s, the adoption of PCs and the internet in the 1990s, and the pandemic in 2020. The pandemic forced us to reimagine the way we used to work. Last year, it took us by surprise, forcing cities into complete/ partial lockdown to contain the virus. It made the global workforce stand still and forced organizations to rethink the way we work. It forced employers to make changes to enable work without the need to physically come to offices. This led to the adoption of remote work globally. Companies were forced to rethink how they operate, managers had to find ways to manage distributed teams without compromising on productivity and employees had to find tools to collaborate with colleagues/ clients while working remotely.

The pandemic fundamentally questioned the nature of work. Bringing all employers whether MNCs, tech startups, or homegrown businesses to adopt remote work. In some ways, remote work has made our lives much easier. It has removed the hours of commute and the frustration of being stuck in traffic. No need to wake up early, get ready in a suit and leave hours before the office timings to avoid traffic. It gave us the flexibility to work from the comfort of our homes in our jammies or from the Himalayas or from the beach. People got the opportunity to stay with their parents for months. Internet consumption has increased as more people are stuck at home, looking at their mobiles for learning/ entertainment. The gig economy has thrived as people have realized they can earn decent money without a regular 9 to 5 job. The creator economy has grown exponentially in the lockdown, we have seen more creator focussed startups than ever. On the flip side, working from home for months has dissolved the boundary between work and home. People are working more than ever with no real break time with their colleagues/ friends to relax. Employees feel more disconnected, lonely, and dissatisfied leading to anxiety and depression.

From the past couple of months, things are getting back to normal with increased vaccination and a decline in active COVID cases. Cities have started to open up. Even if some employers are ready to get back to offices, employees are apprehensive. More than 3/4th of executives expect the typical core employee to be back in the office for 3 or more days a week, whereas ~3/4th of employees globally would like to work from home for 2 or more days a week, and more than 50% want at least 3 days of remote work, according to a McKinsey survey. This expectation gap might lead to a decline in job satisfaction and higher attrition. According to a McKinsey survey, 40% of workers globally are considering leaving their current employers by the end of the year.

Companies are contemplating whether to keep working remotely or get back to offices. Many companies across the globe are opting for hybrid, which is a mix of remote work and work from office, giving more flexibility to the employees. Google has announced 60% of their workforce will be working together from the office a few days a week, 20% working from home and 20% working in new office locations. Spotify announced the transition to a permanent flexible-work model with its Work From Anywhere policy. Twitter announced that employees can work from home forever if they wish. Uber earlier announced 3 days per week from the office but it received pushback from employees and had to change it to 50% of the time from the office.

People are choosing to leave their job rather than go to the offices. We are a knowledge-based economy and talent is the biggest asset of the organizations. Demand for good talent has skyrocketed recently as it is not only the Indian startups/ MNCs with which you are competing for the talent, you are also competing with the global companies. The workforce has truly become global, dissolving the boundaries of space and time. Tech hiring has become really challenging for early-stage startups. Developers are sitting with multiple offers in hand. Working from home provided the much-needed push for some people to start up or work on a side hustle. It can be seen by the explosion of users on no code low code tools like Bubble and Webflow. It has become very difficult to hire or retain good talent. To attract and retain good talent, you need to be at least as flexible/ hybrid as other companies.

Remote work has brought a global culture shift. Organizations need to make changes to bring more flexibility in the system on when, where, and how people work. The challenge is to decide how to be more flexible, and how to structure the hybrid workforce. There are some functions that can work in remote setup effectively like engineering/ design teams. Other business-focused functions like sales and strategy, where the degree of collaboration is more, might need to physically sync up more often. There are many questions that need to be addressed before going hybrid: How many days of remote/ WFH in a week? Which functions can go completely remote and which functions require some work from office? Deciding on full-time vs contract-based employees. How to ensure collaboration with some employees working from home and others from the offices? How to ensure productivity and innovation along with keeping the safety of employees in mind? Which tools to use to enable inter and intra-team collaboration, engagement, and team culture?

Now, the question is not “whether to go hybrid or not”. The future of work is hybrid. The question now is “how to go hybrid?”

There is no set framework for hybrid. Employers are experimenting to find a balance between their needs and employees’ expectations. Policies, processes, technology, and collaboration softwares need to be in place to make work more flexible. Tech focussed on the future of work is very broad, anything that makes working and collaborating easier whether you are working from physical offices, fully remote, or working in a hybrid setup. We will cover more on different tech platforms building for the future of work in the next article. If you are building software for the future of work or want to have a discussion, please write to veenu@kae-capital.com.

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