Guest Post by Pallavi Shrivastava, MRICS, LEED AP ID+C, Head of Workplace Consulting, India, Work Dynamics, JLL

As the world goes through orbit shift after devastating changes that have taken place in the last 17-18 months, we are reluctantly accepting that the world as we knew it before March 2020 is slipping farther and farther away as pandemic plays stubborn grip with time, uncertainty, and potential impacts.

Vulnerability is no longer a fancy corporate leadership term. It is a new reality. You cannot escape it; it is right in front of you. It is invisible but you are aware of it. In all these days, there have been several discussions, debates on what our world of work will look like or should look like. Having an open mind is your only tool now.

Some of the things that have emerged as clear fundamentals so far are Flexibility, Human Centricity and Wise Technology. The degree of each fundamental will shift according to the context and the problem at hand as it unfolds. Jacket solutions for different businesses won’t work. We have been told that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine the way we live, work and play. But we also know that we will not be making this once-in-a-lifetime change dramatically. Revolutions of change are enduring and incremental, and much less shocking and abrupt. But what we do know is that we are going through profound and reflective times. We can’t just power through these changes without clear understanding of why and how. Change is slow and messy. Our impatience and aggression are not nearly enough to change our memory of the world as we once knew it.

Flexibility was in the works for the last two decades, only now we have been extremely vocal about it. Progressive businesses have long adopted the nimble and flexible approach to work. They have empowered employees and entrusted them with work and know that driven workers will get the work done without being under the surveillance of office camera and scrutiny of being seen on their desk. Flexibility means allowing individuals to behave like adults to choose what makes them most productive and pick from all the available tools for their best work and they know time and place should also be part of those variables. There is something extremely liberating to individuals when they are empowered and trusted. In most circumstances, they will outdo their expected productivity. As workplace researchers, we should delve deeper into cases where individuals did not do their best work even when they were empowered, enabled, and trusted. Flexibility as an expectation is only going to increase as workers demand to do better and bigger work for their organization. It is simply because we are no longer doing task-based work but knowledge-based work. Task is finite, knowledge is infinite.

Human Centricity includes but is not limited to mental health, wellness, purpose and meaning all bundled together to work toward the highest potential. What should have been our focus all along, human centricity somewhere got diluted, and machines and technology took over our psyche. And human beings were somehow relegated to secondary players in the scheme of businesses and hence work. Pandemic has shoved all that aside and made the human dimension the main talking point. Never in our lived history has our vulnerability has been so public and globally widespread. There is not a single human being who hasn’t been impacted by the global crisis which is unfolding. In the past, as human beings, we fled from one part of the world to the other for safety and security. This is the first time in human history where crisis is so widespread, we don’t have any place to escape to. We have heard that the virus has made its way even to the Himalayas. There is a significant impact on people’s mental health by trauma, changes, and losses. There is no playbook for it the corporate world. We have learnt that none of the BCPs (Business Continuity Plans) the world over had pandemic of this nature planned and accounted for. Perhaps, we no longer live in a VUCA world, we now live in a catastrophe world. And our businesses and world need to account all of it. Empathy and compassion are no longer a choice, but a given to navigate the world of uncertainty. Uncertainty of uncertainty is our new normal. But our compassionate approach and empathetic support to our colleagues, friends and fraternity is something we can all cultivate. Trauma doesn’t impact everyone equally. We can push our empathy and support network. Just knowing that you are supported and cared for, begins the healing process. Listening without bias and judgment can be one of the strongest mechanisms to help anyone who needs it.

Technology is not something new in our lives. In the world of work, we have dabbled with it on and off in some form or the other for a very long time. It can be a significant improvement for several efficiencies. Technology is not a debate of Either, Or. It is about Yes, And. There are advantages to it and we should take all the advantage we can get. But we should avoid Technology as our savior narrative. Use technology intuitively for things you can do better with it. If you think that VC calls and screen time do not make a good human connection, then say so. If you think a technology-enabled work environment doesn’t help you build trust, then say so. And if there are ways in which technology tools help you do your work better, then say so and not give in. Technology is a great enabler, but it cannot replace human connection. Hence, Wise Technology is the way ahead. Not the Smart Technology which can make us dumb and numb without us knowing about it.

Pallavi Shrivastava, MRICS, LEED AP ID+C is Head of Workplace Consulting, India, Work Dynamics, JLL