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Future of work: Welcome to the era of the 21st century artisans, says TCS CEO Rajesh Gopinathan

By Rajesh Gopinathan, CEO & MD, TCSWhen considering the future of work, it’s tempting to see today’s challenges through a contemporary lens – as if we’re looking at a brave new world thrust upon us by circumstances beyond our control. But working remotely is nothing new.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, almost everyone worked from home. Leaving aside sailors and soldiers, and perhaps intrepid explorers, the working world comprised artisans crafting goods – textiles, food, tools – from home to take to market.
Innovations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries swept aside this way of working as advances in technology revolutionised manufacturing processes. Work became centred around machines and people flocked to towns and cities to secure jobs. The human was brought to the machine.
As manufacturing gave way to the services economy, we saw the emergence of the ‘knowledge worker’ for whom information was the raw material to be sorted, built on and passed forward. Workers sitting in offices surrounded by filing cabinets and meeting rooms transferred information to each other to process the workflow. City landscapes full of tall buildings accommodating thousands upon thousands of offices emerged and enabled this information to be moved around securely and efficiently. The human was brought to the office.
But what if workers could do this without the need of a single, unifying location? The technology already existed, but work culture remained wedded to the idea of the need for a shared location for efficient work to take place.

Then Covid-19 arrived.
The new age of work
Enterprises around the world quickly and securely responded to global lockdowns. And they have discovered that work continued uninterrupted, in some cases, productivity even increased. However, the adoption of this new age of work is underpinned by the adoption of some key practices and behaviour.
Enterprise Agile comes to play
The foundational principle of agile is around breaking work into distinct manageable packages, each of which has a tangible output and is designed to be accomplished by small teams of empowered people. Agile practices that will be a catalyst in the success of future work combine the benefits of organised knowledge workers, artisanal focus on utility and quality of output, and empowerment and accountability of small tightknit teams powered by the practices of technology enabled collaboration.
Paradigm shift in the supervisory model
Within the office environment, the supervisory role i.e., the middle management, was key to organising groups of people to ensure efficient and productive output. The pandemic has shown us that output can be measured by technology. That leaves the supervisory role much less relevant. Without the need for significant supervision, and with easy and secure access to information, the workforce of tomorrow will be led by ‘playing captains’ rather than ‘managers’ – a fundamental shift in the future of work for the middle and senior management.
Collaboration and Culture
As we move ahead, the ability to construct mechanisms that can replicate ambient awareness of physical work into digital work will be critical to the effectiveness of the new working model.
While secure connectivity and access have been the primary focus areas for enabling remote working in the post-Covid-19 world, this new world of work could have two purported challenges: collaboration and culture. Collaboration and culture are critical to success.
Can we come up with collaboration mechanisms, both formal and informal, that are as efficient as, or even more so than, sharing physical space? The last and probably the least understood aspect of this shift in the nature of work will be the impact on company culture. Many people have lamented the effect that a lack of sustained physical proximity will have on the ability of teams to process non-verbal and other soft signals.
When we see the digital native young adults of today, we already see a generation that effectively parses many non-verbal cues in their interpersonal and group interactions on social media. So, it is likely that today’s commentary reflects a lack of understanding rather than structural challenges in the nature of remote working.
Unleash the infinite possibility of human talent
The vision of this new world is the creation of a global and equitable talent cloud which provides equal opportunities and recognition of talent and human ingenuity. Once collaboration with co-workers, supervisory responsibility, technology enablement and soft ‘cultural’ interactions are liberated from the need for physical proximity, many workers who have been unable to commit extended hours to the physical office location will be allowed to participate more effectively.
As we step into a new work order, we are not only looking back at older models but also supercharging them with greater efficiency. We are stepping into the era of the 21st century artisan – and the opportunities for those that hone the right culture and skills will be limitless.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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