The Covid-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill and laid bare the cracks in the way businesses were run, from startups to even large enterprises. The key takeaway from the crisis has been the need to build resilient businesses and creating a resilient recovery. "Resilience and recovery have been two big words these past few months," said K S Viswanathan, vice president for industry initiatives at Nasscom, the IT industry body at a tweetathon organised by Forbes India and Microsoft India.
As the economy opens up, we are staring at a more digitally- and tech-enabled world than ever before. How can employees and employers adapt, what will be the new employment opportunities and challenges of this world and the role of technologies like AI and ML in building resilient organisations which can deal with future extremities? To get insights on these pertinent questions, Forbes India brought together experts from various organisations for a tweetathon, in association with Microsoft India.
The panelists tweeted about the changes brought about by our new reality and how businesses are reacting to it in the short term to survive and tide over the crisis, and in the longer run to build resilience. One of the biggest changes that the crisis may lead to is bringing back empathy and sensitivity to the workplace, to help support the 'humans' in human resources, the experts said.
The panelists also agree that the old management and strategy playbook is now obsolete and that leaders need to equip themselves with new lessons, especially from the crisis. As Microsoft India's Meetul Patel, executive director, strategic growth said, "Old assumptions have been tested thanks to digital engagement with customers, work-from-anywhere teams, and even new services that are now digitally-enabled," amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Anand Nandkumar, who is the associate professor at the Indian School of Business, said that the focus has now shifted from just gaining a competitive advantage to building resilience. Companies can no longer just think about being competitive, he said, the two have to go together.
To do this, Muktabh Mayank, cofounder, Parallel Dots, an image recognition company, has a four-point plan: understanding the evolved customer; plan to scale, adapt, pivot or fold based on new findings; change messaging of products & services quickly to sync to new expectations; make sure supply is consistent.
With offices shut and remote work in place, organisations across the world have accelerated their digital transformation agenda. "Many organisations have seen years of digital transformation compressed into months," Patel said, however, many of these solutions to connect with employees, customers and suppliers may have helped respond to the urgency of the situation but the need of the hour now is to take "these "quick fix’ solutions and quickly change them into ‘digital capability’ to take on the emerging digital and more tech-intense world."
To double down on digital first initiatives, spends on digital infrastructure, tools and training have seen a massive uptick recently and are unlikely to be temporary trends, Nandkumar added.
AI has been a great enabler for companies to predict demand, ensure supply and streamline operations even before the crisis. However, as demand remains focused on essentials and spending power remains constrained, "a sharpened focus for scenario and event-based planning [using AI] will help organisations be better prepared" to respond, Sudipta Ghosh, partner and data and analytics leader in India, PwC, said. Nandkumar also added that yearly budgeting has now also shifted to become a monthly exercise to ensure agility and to remain on top of changing customer preferences.
Technologies like AI and ML have been used to get a competitive edge and today they can also be leveraged help organisations, big and small, to build back resiliently, the panelists agreed. Some uses include ensuring safety of the workforce as they come back to work, freeing up talent and executives to solve new problems, chatbots, understanding customer preferences and decision making using data-enabled insights. “Many major disasters, including depression of the 1920s, the 2008 economic crisis and the closure of many organisations have been due to access to less or no data. Decisions taken with data-driven insights can create more resilient, robust and proactive businesses,” Parallel Dots’ Mayank said. Patel says in the world of the future, where everything has some ‘digital DNA’ “AI becomes a necessity to make sense of and react to the signals of this network.”
Thousands of workers have lost their jobs as companies cut costs. As CEOs wake up to the advantages of remote work, they will now be able to choose from a wider talent pool including more women and global candidates that would earlier have been ignored. However, a shift to digital jobs is also likely to transform the labor market and how work is done. “Location has ceased to be a differentiator for digital jobs. This will be a much bigger boon for tier 2 and tier 3 job markets as they would suddenly have a much more level playing field,” PwC’s Ghosh said. With shifts to digital jobs, Nandkumar expects the gig economy include more sophisticated tasks. It would be imperative for existing employees to reskill and upskill to new cater to the new expectations.
Remote work has led to an uptick in productivity for most organisations but can it be sustained over a longer period of time in the office and work-from-home hybrid model of the future? Microsoft’s Patel says “working on the cloud across devices gives us analytics that can help us be more productive and focus on higher value activities.”
But possibly the most important impact of the crisis would have been in making managers and leaders more empathetic towards their employees, as health and personal safety took precedence over productivity, results and even bottom lines. In the long run, “Empathy will be very important as to keep employees motivated as they learn to adapt to the new realities,” Nandkumar added.
Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.