The Office Is Shifting

By Pooja Chaturvedi
Mint, New Delhi.

Are you using PowerPoint to present your great business idea? Do you work on Excel sheets to compile and analyse data? Do you wait to sign out from work at 5pm every day? Are you yet to try cloud storage to share office data? Do you think coding is the job of the technology team?

If your answer is yes, then you might be in for some stress.

“The future workplace will be less hierarchical and more transparent due to technology and there will be stern competition in terms of innovation and ideas, and (it) will require a different skill set,” says New Delhi-based Yasho V. Verma, business mentor, human resource (HR) expert and former chief operating officer, LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd.

Indeed, cloud computing, mobile applications and devices, and expanding social networks are making the workplace more dynamic and “global”. Middle management can no longer serve just as a link between the leadership team and employees; it has to rethink its role.

Employees, in turn, have to move away from the concept of a 9-5 job.

We asked chief executive officers (CEOs) of five start-ups to tell us what we will need to know to thrive in this new world.

Learn, relearn, unlearn

Agility plays a critical role in today’s workplace, and will continue to do so, says Verma. Organizations will have to frequently renew their policies and products in order to thrive. And employees will have to be receptive to these changes.

“The key element won’t just be the ability to learn and relearn, but also the valour to unlearn. That goes especially for mid-level employees who have attained a certain amount of seniority,” says New Delhi-based Rohit Chadda, co-founder and CEO, foodpanda, an online food-delivery marketplace. “How easily can they unlearn what they have done and accept newer challenges and functions, be it their organizational roles or a technology function,” he adds.

Verma says “unlearning” doesn’t mean starting to learn newer concepts from scratch. “It means not having this baggage of seniority that ‘I-know-it-all’,” he says.

For senior employees, the main task will be to see how well, and quickly, they can adapt their expertise to meet newer challenges, says New Delhi-based Paavan Nanda, co-founder of Zostel, a budget backpackers’ hostel chain. “The need for senior expertise to beat the competition will be highly in demand,” he says. Also, senior people will have to be open to suggestions from younger employees.

Data harness
The number of Facebook likes, retweets and hits on a company’s website reflect its performance. “The trend of using data to boost a company’s online presence will become more important in coming years,” says New Delhi-based Lalit Bhagia, founder and CEO, MyRefers, an online job referral marketplace. “There is already a lot of data that is being generated, but the skill to be able to mine the relevant data and use it to come up with new innovations and trends will be critical,” he adds.

Of course, the data will be used to increase revenue by better targeting customers, and through a better understanding of consumer trends, but it will also enable an organization to measure an employee’s performance and his/her satisfaction levels and happiness.

“Everything in numbers will also mean that companies will now have the opportunity to use mountains of structured and unstructured data to answer important questions regarding workforce productivity, the impact of training programmes, even workforce attrition,” says Bengaluru-based Rajiv Srivatsa, co-founder of online furniture portal Urban Ladder. “While there will be an increase in the outsourcing companies that will help you analyse this data and information, individual employees would do well if they are already aware of various data compiling and analysing tools that are there on the Internet,” he says.

Communication has always been key to a successful business and happy office environment. And it will be, if anything, even more important. “The future workplace will be more like a large team working, where an employee would be expected to speak and present well, communicate efficiently with the other team members and, most importantly, put across the idea of the company in a clear and Web-friendly way,” says Bengaluru-based Sanjoe Tom Jose, co-founder of TalView, an online video recruitment platform.

To be able to present an idea well and in a Web-friendly manner, however, one needs communication skills and business tools that are often not taught. “You have this great data, but what is the point if you still show it in terms of a pie-chart or a graph?” asks Verma.

“You need to sell your idea in a way that a global audience can understand it. And for that you need newer business tools to reach out to more people, using newer social media platforms and cloud, and find out ways to make your idea more interactive,” he adds.

Know your technology
“Coding should be made compulsory in colleges,” says Chadda. Technology is touching every aspect of the workplace, he adds. “The future employer will look for people who know how the system works at the backend as well.”

By that Chadda doesn’t mean that everybody should become a software engineer. “Nobody will expect a marketing person to write software programs, but as the workplace is changing to become flatter and more inclusive, the marketing person will be required to know how the technology behind the company’s core product functions and the software engineer will be required to know who the company’s clients are,” he says.

Verma says employees should generally be more “open” to technology. “The future is not for people who are scared of technology and are unwilling to accept it,” he says.

Social life
One important parameter that a person will be judged on, says Srivatsa, is how active he or she is on various social media platforms. “Gone will be the days when you will debate about your privacy when it comes to your Facebook and LinkedIn pages,” he says. “It will be all very transparent and necessary.”

So if you think just tweeting and posting status messages qualifies you as an active social media user, you are wrong. “Future employers will see how well you voice your opinion on platforms like Quora (a question-and-answer website), what kind of contacts you have on

LinkedIn and the number of followers you have on Twitter,” says Bhagia. “Besides, how many different social media platforms you have used to increase your connections and how well you can communicate about a company’s product on social media,” he adds.

Srivatsa says blogging will be a compulsory skill in future.

“It will not be a personal space any more, as the workplace will become increasingly digital and everything will be out in the Net space. And if somebody says they are not on social media, well, it’s one important skill less,” says Verma.

What role, how many hats?
“In the future workplace, everyone will be everyone,” says Nanda. Role specialization will be on the decline and the hierarchy of glass cabins will gradually fade away. This will lead to one person doing multiple roles in the organization. “People who are willing to take on more than their designated roles will be more in demand,” says Nanda. This doesn’t mean that one person will be expected to do the job of two people. “It will be all about what more you can bring to the table that is not related to the area of your expertise,” Nanda explains. “So if you come for a technology job, I will not only ask you whether or not you have designed an app but whether you were involved in the managerial aspect of it as well,” he says.

Think like an entrepreneur
As the workplace becomes less structured — and controlled — dependence on large teams will come down. A key skill to stay relevant will be the ability to think like an entrepreneur, multitask and have a confident, independent approach, says Bhagia. “In future, every employee will be a business and will be required to have a unique personality,” he says. Jose agrees. Every employee will be required to conceptualize, implement and measure his own ideas/role/performance, he says. “He or she will have to think like an entrepreneur and not some salaried employee who comes and does her/his job from 9-5 and is not involved in the rest of the functions.”

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