Future of Work – Decoded

6 guideposts to map your transition

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Manoj Kalra


In 2017, Professor Robert E. Kelly, Professor of Political Science at Pusan National University in South Korea, was on air with the BBC World News, sharing his views on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye when his children gate-crashed the scene. As confusion marked the moment, their mother quickly gathered the two out of the camera’s sight, but not before the fleeting chaos was captured on screen. The blooper clip soon went viral and over the next few weeks, the family received extraordinary global attention. Perhaps, it was the unusual melding of the personal with the professional, that was at the time a rare phenomenon, that resonated with audiences worldwide.

Today, all of us are the BBC Dad. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic and pushed us all into the age of remote working, the world of work has been altered beyond recognition. Three years ago, Professor Kelly was worried that the video-bombed interview with a global broadcaster could “end (his) career as a talking head”. Today, interruptions at work– whether in the form of children, aged parents, household chores or personal responsibilities – are part of our new reality.

What has changed?

Before the pandemic-induced lockdown shuttered offices globally, working from home was considered a privilege. Now it is the norm. Millions of employees around the world are logging into their daily work lives from a corner in their homes, doing some of the most incredibly complex tasks with a keyboard over a Wi-Fi connection. What seemed like an impossible task even six months ago is now a matter of routine.

Of course, some jobs require a physical presence; for instance, a barista in a coffee shop or a surgeon in the operation theatre. There are many such examples that we could look at but the greatest learning for us has been that there are many jobs that can be executed effectively from a remote environment. Even if we knew the potential of the work-from-home opportunity earlier, it was not fully realized because organizations feared loss of productivity or inefficient use of resources.

Such notions have been effectively dismissed, following the forced mass exodus from traditional offices, heralding the launch of the world's most massive remote working experiment. An overwhelming majority of the workforce has demonstrated that remote working does not come in the way of productive engagement with their professions and consequently, the transition is leading to permanent, positive changes in our approach to work.

Mapping the new workplace normal

As stakeholders of the new post-COVID-19 professional ecosystem, there are a few practices and challenges that will define the way ahead:

1. Focus on productivity

One of the most significant mind shifts has been an output-driven approach to work rather than time-based input of work. The boundaries between work and life are no longer exclusive of each other. We have the freedom and power to manage our time to our advantage and to maximize our productivity.

2. Focus on trust

Since the dominant understanding of work hours has changed and work often flows in cyclical loops rather than linear pathways, the importance of trust—in oneself, in teams and in colleagues in the overall larger corporate ecosystem—has increased manifold.

3. Focus on collaboration

We are social beings, and collaborative brainstorming sessions often throw up the best ideas. And that's precisely how I envision the role of offices in the future. After the pandemic is over, offices will be places to collaborate and not places to work.

4. Focus on hybrid workspaces

An increasing number of companies will move to more hybrid workplace models – encouraging employees to meet periodically at offices for ideation. In my assessment, I see offices breaking down the work-week on a 50-70% basis, i.e. three out of five working days will be from home. Support systems in the form of real estate and technology will be redeployed to suit such requirements.

5. Focus on new hierarchies

Another outcome of the remote working experiment has been greater discipline, streamlined processes and better speed to action. Many organizations have broken down hierarchies to ensure more effective decision making.

6. Focus on inclusivity and diversity

Inclusion and diversity are the pillars of an equitable workplace. However, preconceived notions and perceived inabilities (about gender, color, disabilities, location, etc.) make it one of the most challenging goals for organizations. Remote working at-scale makes inclusion and diversity a matter of routine, levelling the playing field much more than it used to. Our talent value proposition now expands to every form of talent and can make the workplace a truly equal opportunity, non-discriminatory space of operation.


The flip side

The paradigm shift in our approach to work is leading to many positive outcomes. But there's also a flip side. The last few months have witnessed a significant increase in burnouts, stress and anxiety all around the world.

During this time, organizations should develop new ways of working, with high levels of engagement and productivity. At DSM, our values of courage, collaboration and caring are the north star guiding us through these times. As the world learns, so will we all, but when we do it within the overarching framework of our value systems, we ensure that we are building future-ready organizations.

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