The future of work is here, perhaps a bit sooner as a result of COVID-19
The future of work isn’t on its way; it’s here
As COVID-19 continues to impact communities around the world, it’s become clear to me over the past few weeks that the way we conduct business will never be the same again. While remote working has been part of corporate culture for some time, offices around the world are now going entirely virtual at a pace and scale not seen before.
High-level meetings with CEOs and their boards are increasingly dependent on and enabled by technology. Employees are no longer interacting with clients in-person but are expected to anticipate, meet, and exceed their needs more effectively than ever before. And company culture now rides on keeping people engaged without physical interactions.
When this crisis passes – and it will pass, eventually – I believe that corporate processes will be forever changed, thrust by necessity into a digital-first future in every aspect of business.
At Genpact, we recognize this moment in time as one of the biggest workforce shifts of this generation. Having already offered remote-working arrangements to our employees for many years – and even ranking as a top-10 green leader among enterprise users by Zoom back in November – we had the tools in place to enable us to take on this transformation, despite its unexpected scale. We’ve felt fortunate that we’ve had the flexibility to adapt our own workforce to the new virtual reality quickly – all while helping our clients do the same with their employees and customers.
To that end, as a global CEO, I’ve looked at this situation as an opportunity to define a new set of guiding principles for connecting in a virtual world of work. These insights include:
I’m having more conversations with clients and employees today than when I worked in the office and traveled frequently. This has allowed me to better appreciate the importance of community and connections. We are all learning how to strike the balance of keeping people safe and helping each other (and our clients) manage through these challenging times.
It is undoubtedly important to practice ‘physical distancing’ during this time, but not at the expense of social connectedness. We can all follow ‘social distancing’ guidance while staying more connected than ever. It’s important – as humans who crave social interactions and a sense of belonging – to remain connected (albeit virtually) to other members of the community.
Virtual interactions, conversations, and collaborations can be tremendously helpful in boosting company morale and culture. Ironically, physical distance has, in many ways, brought my teams and I closer together, making everyday conversations more precious and, consequently, more valuable. Our increased virtual level of connectedness extends from our people in operations centers around the world to members of our board of directors.
During this unprecedented situation, I’m sure many of us can point to a time when we felt uncomfortable while working from home. Perhaps your dog tried to jump onto your lap during an important conference call, or your neighbor decided to start mowing the lawn just as a client was calling. It’s a fact of life and is increasingly a staple of the new normal that we’ve all found ourselves in.
As we all begin to acclimate to this new virtual reality, events like these are simply going to happen. Instead of shying away from them, I’ve come to realize that embracing these spontaneous moments can be critical opportunities to discover new dimensions of coworkers and clients – ultimately helping us to build even deeper relationships with each other. Moreover, these moments underscore the fact that work-life balance is dated – in the virtual world of work, it’s about work-life integration and how people successfully manage their personal and professional lives each day.
With this in mind, I challenge you to take an extra step to open yourself to those you interact with. For example, if you have five meetings each day, consider making three of those video conferences, giving those on the other end an inside look into your new workspace. If you experience an unforeseen burst of noise during an important call (for example, a baby crying, kids playing, or dogs barking), consider leaning into these moments as a way to get to know your coworkers a little better. In doing so, you can more confidently create and nurture lasting connections with colleagues even when you’re not physically in the same space.
For me, I had a food delivery during a recent video with Genpact employees. I used the opportunity to bring some real-world context to the situation. I just acknowledged I was hungry, and it gave everyone an opportunity to have a good laugh.
Finally, we need to embrace the importance of humanity in today’s virtual working world. Of course, this may seem counterintuitive given the isolated nature of our lives today. Yet, I think humanity is more important than ever.
In my many conversations with colleagues and clients over the past few weeks, I’ve been particularly surprised – and impressed – to learn that people seem to be more willing to build meaningful, truly human relationships. I’ve found that, for many individuals, virtual workspaces are serving as a refuge from the uncertainties of daily life, creating an environment for business leaders to establish lasting connections that can go the distance.
Many clients have reached out to me to share their appreciation for our proactivity and empathy as we continue to support their often-complex needs, showing that the virtual nature of work does not mean that our approach has to be any less human, especially in times of uncertainty.
I’ve heard many people ask the question, “Will we ever go back to how things were, after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed?” I know I will be forever changed, and I think that extends to my team as well, and likely the global ecosystem of businesses, coworkers, citizens, and more. We are virtually closing gaps, bridging chasms, and reaching across boundaries like we never have done in the past. This new normal will replace the status quo for years to come, truly reshaping what we saw as the future of work five years ago, one year ago, even six months ago.
My observations and learnings these past few weeks have reinforced what I believe to be a common truth: We are in this together, and we will come out of this together, stronger and better than before.