With the gradual resurgence of work from the office, companies are facing a talent crisis, as employees want to continue working from home and are even ready to leave jobs unless allowed to.
A few weeks ago, social media was peppered with sharp exchanges between employers and employees over returning to the office vs continuing to work from home or anywhere. Employers in India were quick to issue orders to return to the office. The fallout of this tug-of-war was reflected in soaring attrition rates, with almost every fourth employee quitting. Then the scenario transformed dramatically.
India’s hi-tech hub, Bangalore, which boasts of nearly 38% of the country’s software exports, received a record rainfall of 131.6 mm on Sunday, the 5th of September, making it one of the highest single-day rainfall the city has ever recorded. With normal life utterly paralyzed, IT companies were once again asking employees to work from home. The situation, thus, became a classic dilemma of the problem shifting continuously. The problem shifted from attrition to maintaining business continuity as technology campuses were unreachable.
A bridge to nowhere
Over the last two years, ever since the pandemic struck the world, organizations have been facing this paradox of shifting sands of challenges. This reminds me of the story of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. It was built to survive storms as great as Hurricane Mitch in 1998; a hurricane that ravaged Central America, 5600 people died, and more than 12,300 were injured. Over 150 bridges in Honduras were destroyed, while the Choluteca Bridge remained undamaged. After the hurricane, the problem was with the river.
The storm was so severe it actually shifted the river, which now flows around the bridge instead of under it. It is a very sturdy bridge to nowhere, without any useful function. The Choluteca Bridge has often been used as a metaphor for life because no matter how hard we try to perfect things in life, we also have to ensure that we are adaptable to life’s changing events.
Organizations have thrived & survived
As one looks back over the tumultuous period of the pandemic in mid-2020 and thereafter, organizations have actually done remarkably well to adapt and survive. The lessons of the last 24 months have taught us that the best strategy is to stay calm, be adaptive and build an elastic organization for a fluid future. Let’s not underestimate our ability to adapt. But it requires a lot of mental agility, the key to which is not falling into an anxiety spiral.
Focus on the future
One way to achieve this mindset shift is to use a technique called temporal distancing, which is like having access to your own personal mental time machine where you can transcend the here-and-now and visualize the future. Focusing on the future rather than the past is what ultimately helps us cope with difficult experiences, at the same time, take immediate small actions to cope with the changes. Small actions help us to avoid committing large resources but give us the nimbleness to pull back if necessary while learning and adapting rapidly.
Once the organization has focused the teams on delivering value and started to explore what’s possible, you’re prepared to move forward with a discrete set of priorities. Borrow a note from organizations that use agile methods and create a strategic sprint roadmap for the company. What does one do personally to contribute to strategic clarity for your part of the business? What projects can your team execute in 30, 60, or 90 days that will benefit the organization regardless of which direction the strategy takes?
Strategy isn’t only the work of senior executives—any work you do to further the company’s capabilities and position your team for the future is a great investment. Don’t stand still, awaiting the “final” answer on strategy. Move your team and the company forward.
Taking action is one of the most important parts of facing uncertainty since you learn with each step you take. The most successful breakthroughs are produced by a series of small steps, not giant bet-the-farm efforts. Starting modestly can be more effective and less anxiety-provoking than trying to do everything at once.
Let’s take the case of increasing attrition creating a talent crisis for companies. Instead of tackling the issue headlong, we can think about using this situation to work on creating the organization of the future, of being the employer of choice for a new generation of employees. Many will, however, argue that we need to focus all our energies on combating attrition, and everything else can wait.
Flip around the problem
Nevertheless, this can also be an opportunity to flip around the problem and carry out a survey from a series of ‘stay-interviews’ instead of ‘exit-interviews’ to design an organization for Gen-Z. Design thinking can start with understanding the kind of user experience that employees want to have with the organization and then actually collaborating with employees to create the new organization design.
The problem definition might not be about attrition but how work needs to be delivered by employees who are highly engaged and, therefore, innovative in finding solutions. Gen-Z seeks creativity at work, challenges that will excite their innovativeness and have an intellectual challenge embedded in them. At the same time, there will be work that will be routine and involves carrying out repetitive tasks. Perhaps, the answer could in automating those tasks partially or entirely to free up time to get involved in creative work.
Creating the Future-of-Work
Analyst firm Gartner has reported that automation would reach a market size of over US$600 billion. Orders for workplace robots in the U.S. increased by a record 40% during the first quarter compared with the same period in 2021, according to the Association for Advancing Automation, the robotics industry’s trade group. Robot orders, worth $1.6 billion, climbed 22% in 2021, following years of stagnant or declining order volumes.
Advances in machine learning have made it possible to automate a growing array of coding tasks, from auto-completing segments of code and fine-tuning algorithms to searching source code and locating pesky bugs. Organizations will use this talent crisis to free up the development time of employees from tasks that can be better done by machines and use humans to perform creative tasks that need critical thinking. This could be an opportunity to climb up the value chain.
We can’t reduce uncertainty to zero, but we can arm ourselves with as much information as possible to help us make a decision. With ambiguity, however, there is no “right” or “wrong” decision; our choice ultimately depends on our values. So, when you need to navigate ambiguity, the best thing to do is to start with your vision of success and work backwards to figure out how you’ll get there.
Also Read: Emotional intelligence for effective leadership
(Abhijit Roy is a technology explainer and business journalist. He has worked with Strait Times of Singapore, Business Today, Economic Times and The Telegraph. Also worked with PwC, IBM, Wipro, Ericsson.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)