Dr. Marcus Ranney is a business professional in healthcare and technology. He completed his Bachelors of Science and Medical degrees from University College Medical School in London. His expeditions have led him climbing the sides of Everest, skiing in the Arctic, the European Alps and serving as a medical officer in the Royal Air Force and at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. After practicing clinical medicine in London he made the transition to Mumbai where he has since worked within the Healthcare and Life-sciences industry across functions - currently serving as the General Manager of Thrive Global in India, a U.S. based behaviour change technology and media company founded by Arianna Huffington. A published author, public health commentator and keynote speaker, in 2013, the World Economic Forum appointed him as a Global Shaper. Marcus is a keen athlete and marathon runner, holding a Guinness World Record for backwards running. Most of all he thoroughly enjoys being a father to his two young children.
The seismic shift in individual’s behaviours over the past four months have been monumental. Enough so that this author believes that it warrants the creation of a new anthropological group; Generation C(ovid). Characterised by Caution (risk averse and fear of the unknown), Computers (enhanced digital living), Care (greater focus on well-being and sustainability) and Community (increased awareness of one's local people and surroundings).
Furthermore, based on my own engagements with fifty organisations covering 8,000 corporate employees (knowledge economy workers) in India, I further believe that the following six-stage framework can be considered.
Stage 1: Migration
The two-week period starting March 16 followed by the formal announcement by PM Modi of Lockdown 1.0 on March 24 saw a mass physical migration of employees on to digital platforms to Work from Home (WFH). This stage can be characterised by the following significant activities: • Imposing near-complete travel restrictions
• Carrying out of only essential work within the office space
• Allowing workers to transport necessary equipment home and setting up the supporting IT infrastructure
Due to WFH, there was a surge in the use of G-Suite, Microsoft, Zoom, Amazon Web services. Google and Amazon’s cloud revenue grew by 52 percent and 33 percent respectively. With pre-Covid WFH positioned as a potential performance optimiser, there were heightened expectations of greater than normal productivity, enjoyment levels and time spent around loved ones.
Stage 2: Adoption
This second phase started on April 1. The workforce strategically navigated the sudden shift to remote work, whilst maintaining the symbiotic relationship between business continuity and employee well-being. In this stage, mental health scores improved significantly; energy levels soared and there was optimism in the air. Some of the activities in this phase were:
• Courses on “How to use Microsoft Teams”, “Time Management: Working From Home” quickly became amongst the most popular training courses
• Shore Plastics, Enova International, Inc. used Amazon Web service to set up a support network for more than 1,200 remote employees in just 24 hours
• Companies used Amazon Connect to set up remote call centres to continue dealing with customers
The media covered news of Reliance Jio launching a series of products to meet the changing needs of consumers and its series of large financing rounds from some of the world’s largest technology companies and investment firms.
Stage 3: Engagement
This phase started with chirpy happiness as employees enjoyed the novelty of #WFH. Stress levels fell to 4.5 out of 10. The prime concern was employee productivity and engagement. Few initiatives were:
• Google established a global Covid-19 fund that enabled all temporary staff and vendors to have paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms
• Companies like ICICI, Naspers owned PayU, Amway and Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages conducted virtual engagement programs, external webinars for self-paced learning and upskilling in various topics like AI and Machine Learning
• Many organisations encouraged their employees, along with their family or friends, to take up exciting series of tasks or contests to showcase their creativity and passion
Stage 4: Isolation
Stage four came with the ‘Loneliness creep’. Once the excitement of #WFH was over, companies immediately discovered its drawbacks like social isolation, stress and time management. A Capgemini Research Institute’s report showed that employees felt isolated.
This stage became the longest and the most crucial, starting around April 21 and lasting until May 17. It was characterised by the highest stress levels (ranging between 5.9 to 6.7 out of 10 generally), at times seeing almost half the entire polling cohort report scores of extreme stress (8 and above). In order to maintain employees physical and mental well-being companies took various initiatives like:
• TVS Motors gave access to employees to order medicines at home and consult with health experts
• ITC initiated an activity called Mental Health – One-to-One Help: Offering a holistic employee assistance service
• Capgemini gave a series of wellness initiatives for its employees and counselling services
Poor working environment, children and pets, and a myriad of distractions impacted the overall well-being of workers. The top three polled causes of anxiety, amongst Indian knowledge workers in my weekly polling, were job security, physical health and disrupted social connections/ relationships.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The new normal clearly reinforced that change is the only constant. Covid-19 forced people to rethink and redesign their daily lives. With the continuation of lockdown from April 18, and various versions of 'unlocks', Generation C has started to accept this new normal.
Whilst no one knows what the epilogue of Covid-19 will be, it’s clear that managers need to be prepared for a new workforce coming back to the office. Some activities are already being performed:
• As countries gradually reopen, the tactics used include group-based isolation models and setting a norm of wearing masks in the workplace
• Using generative algorithms, Gensler has developed a physical distancing tool, ReRun™ — a data-driven process for post-COVID workplace occupancy planning
• Twitter and Unacademy have given employees to choose WFH indefinitely while Facebook, Google extended WFH until the end of the year
Stage 6: Transformation
The argument for digital transformation has never been stronger or more relevant. As businesses recover from the lockdown, the aftermath will shift priorities, making digital transformation a case of ‘when and how’ and not ‘if’. Digital transformation doesn't come overnight but is a gradual process.
The survey conducted by The Harris Poll on sentiments on WFH:
• 60 percent of US employees said that they are confident to do jobs effectively in isolation if they are required to WFH indefinitely
• 50 percent of employees believe they would be equally or more productive working from home as opposed to their normal work location
• 68 percent of employees aged 18-34 reported being confident in efficiently doing their work remotely if they have to, compared to 44 percent of employees aged 55-64
Due to the economic constraints of the global shutdown, Financial Times found that 49 percent of UK-based companies are planning on reducing lease space for cost-saving, a sentiment no-doubt being expressed globally. Right now it’s essential therefore for businesses to maintain a strong and pervasive digital culture, leadership styles, mindsets and habits.
• Cultivating the culture of continuous learning and upskilling
• Enable mobility; redesigning jobs and accommodating more employee mobility across the company as future jobs will be more fluid and interdependent
The future of work isn’t only about AI or robotics, it’s a new integrated world of 'WorkTech'—collaboration.
I would conclude by saying that Covid-19 is a stumbling block but amid its volatility, complexity and ambiguity lay hidden opportunities for learning, reinvention and evolution—at the individual, organisational and societal levels.
The writer is General Manager, India - Thrive Global