Quantified Self — Companies will start using behavioral big data to provide digital nudges to help employees self-actualize and find purpose at work. We already use quantified self nudges for fitness in our personal lives.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Ashok Krish, global head of the Digital Workspace at Tata Consultancy Services.

As the head of the Digital Workplace unit, Krish assists large organizations in reimagining the future of work for their employees. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed employee experience, more specifically, the ability of large organizations to embrace a hybrid style of work. This change requires a radical rethink of the workplace as not just physical offices, devices, and collaboration tools, but a converged and personalized experience that lets individuals and teams work with high levels of ambient awareness.

Ashok Krish and his team work at the intersection of design, technology and behavioral science and helps conceptualize and implement secure, borderless workspaces.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

When I was in college, my sights were set on becoming a full-time violinist, until one day when my father suggested I take a hard look at my choices and decide between livelihood versus what I enjoy. I remember him saying, “if you enjoy playing the violin and you make it your livelihood, it’ll become work; that really resonated with me, so I pursued an engineering degree instead. Once I was employed, I continued to remember my father’s advice and ensured I devote time to work, but also to prioritizing my hobbies. The advancement of technology helps people make time for their hobbies, more than they know.

For example, I authored a book called Masala Lab during the first lockdown, a book on the science of Indian cooking. On top of that, I have released two albums on Spotify and other streaming platforms. Had I not had this mindset where I ensured I spent time doing things I enjoy, I would not have had the opportunity to do any of that.

People ask me how I find time to do these things on top of my work… It is easy, I just put my energy and focus on what I’m good at. When it comes to playing music, I’ve been practicing since I was seven years old, so I’m good at it and it does not take up much time. I cook at home all the time, allowing me the opportunity to fine-tune my culinary skills. Making sure I prioritize time for my hobbies is something I hold to a high standard and it’s something that has shaped who I am today.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

Ten to fifteen years is difficult to gauge given how rapidly technology changes… I’d like to start off by saying I do not think elements of in-person work such as brainstorming with a team and creative collaboration will change. The best ideas come to life when a diverse team is working together to bounce ideas off each other. Now, whether that is to happen in a physical office all the time, remains to be seen. Some of it may happen via ultra-high resolution metaverse experiences, but I believe there is an agreed upon deep value to in-person brainstorming.

What I do expect will change in the work environment is the fundamental idea that there’s a nine-to-six job and then there’s your life; this is a lifestyle that is changing day-to-day. People nowadays want to own their job and are leaning toward disruptive payment models such as cryptocurrency. In that, society will start to see the freelance lifestyle become a lot more prevalent. The idea of working in a single company for 20 to 30 years is becoming less popular, so I anticipate that the idea of single-company-loyalty is something that we will see change.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

The fundamental structure of the large corporation has not changed much in the last hundred years; it has, however, adopted new technologies like email and the internet. Businesses may now make quicker decisions because they have data and insights at their fingertips — but the overall makeup of the workforce has not changed.

What has happened in the last five to 10 years, however, is that we’ve seen a growth in a new category of value-creation, pioneered by native digital companies. In the last two years employers have felt the pressure to create a flexible workplace and more employees are expecting just that. With the great resignation at play, companies that try to continue the nine-to-six workday with a two-hour commute will have difficulties tracking and retaining talent. Employers who are looking to compete in this “war for talent” will need to provide flexible hours of work, particularly individual flexibility for those who may need to log in later in the day due to child-care responsibilities. In turn, the ability to create flexible work policies will create more diverse organizations that can attract and retain talent.

Organizations that have borderless talent-cloud strategies (meaning they can work with talent anywhere in the world virtually and in-person) will also progress. In the years to come, companies will lose the luxury of demanding to see a specific skill at a specific location; instead, they will need to be flexible in how they move forward in identifying talent all over the world.

Lastly, companies should start to look at their employees as individuals. Following work-from-home, we started seeing employees joining conferences from their living rooms, children running in and out of the screen and pets hanging about. In turn, employers began to be more empathetic toward viewing their employees as people — not solely based on their efficiency and how much revenue they bring into the company.

Ultimately, what I believe “future-proofing” means is looking at employees as individuals and allowing for work to become a part of their life, not their entire life.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

We’re seeing a vast gap in employee expectation when it comes to compensation, versus what companies are prepared to offer.

Two years of remote work have made it extremely effortless to change jobs at a rapid speed since those who work from home don’t experience much shakeup when moving jobs; they may have a new laptop but are still looking at the same Zoom or Teams screen. That said, organizations that focus on selling their culture will do a great job at addressing that mismatch.

Going back to the point of flexibility, we’re seeing early stages of flexibility becoming the new demand in the workforce and businesses will ultimately need to acclimate to these adaptions.

We’re also a rise in job applicants who are offering real-life knowledge into their careers instead of academic knowledge. At one point, if a potential employee graduated from a prestigious academy, that immediately meant they were the best of the best. Nowadays, candidates are obtaining portfolios of work that they’ve completed on their own to display their talent as something tangible. Companies will need to change their perspective as institutional labels start to mean less, otherwise employees will continue to put less emphasis on institutional titles while companies still do, and that disconnect will surely create a large gap between the two entities.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

The realization following work from home is that, for one, we discovered we aren’t bad at it.

It turns out, that when corporations give their employees the flexibility and space to balance work and life, employees can be much more productive. However, it also means that collaboration between colleagues isn’t so smoothly accomplished. Frankly, no amount of digital whiteboarding is the same as coworkers scribbling notes on a paper napkin with a pen in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

Secondly, companies realized just how badly their enterprise operations were designed. If a technical difficulty were to occur with WFH employees no one would be available to lend a helping hand, as opposed to before where I.T. was in-office and available to help immediately.

In addition, companies also learned that it would be beneficial to create an antifragile organization. Following remote work, businesses were pushed to enforce less presenteeism and more outcome-driven leadership if they wanted to remain successful. Prior to COVID, many departments were shown to spend the bulk of their days in in-person conferences. Low-trust institutions especially, would invite management, their higher-ups, and the CEOs of the company to these meetings to ensure everything ran smoothly. Well, the moment companies shifted to a work-from-home model, they lost the ability to micromanage; meaning they needed trust of their employees to function by themselves.

I believe the work-from-home experiment is incredibly interesting to watch as it plays out. Several companies have been requesting their employees come back to the office full-time, while others are working on a hybrid makeup. Ultimately, once we get back into the workplace, we’re going to need to reimagine how in-person works. No employee is going to enjoy going back to a cubicle all day and so the layout of in-person work will have find a fine line between face-to-face work and remote work.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

One thing society has seen lately is businesses investing in technology. I once heard a quote that went along the lines of “if I were to ask which of these two jobs is more likely to be AI-automated in the future… a plumber or an investment banker, which would you say?”

The answer is “the banker.” Data and algorithms are far better at doing the banker’s job, but it’s nearly impossible to automate a plumber. Point being, it is crucial that future-of-work discussions factor in front-line workers as a central element to society and especially central to their employers.

When companies prioritize their front-line workers, inclusivity, and diversity along with allow for flexible schedules, we will see a positive change in the future of work.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

The continuous rise of people picking up new skills, pursuing their passions and more critically, the emerging capacities to monetize those skills at an individual level.

I’m optimistic that in the long run, these learned skills will create an extensive pool of diverse individuals with impressive abilities that were once only available to a tiny number of privileged societies.

The fact that I can go find a machine-learning developer in a small town in India, all thanks to the internet allowing folks to pick up talents in their living room, is my greatest source of optimism.

With more access to technology, countries like India, China, and Africa will soon witness some of the youngest technology developers, and I believe that alone is incredibly encouraging.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employees’ mental health and wellbeing?

In a workplace, people have historically been expected to behave in a certain manner and if an employee has problems, they were told to take it up on their own time (should they have time off and appropriate health insurance). However, due to the conversations surrounding the importance of mental health, people have come to understand just how critically technology can affect our brains, for example, the stress of being tuned into work all the time, waking up to 200 emails every morning or the increased pressure to respond to your colleagues/clients in real-time.

Due to these stressors, many people are signing off on working entirely i.e. The Great Resignation. Those people are moving on to being their own boss, claiming “I’m going to take a break, learn some video editing skills and become a social media influencer.” Obviously, this can be alarming to companies as more and more of their employees hop on board of The Great Resignation. That said, to combat a mass exodus, companies should seriously consider how their employee’s mental health is their concern.

Businesses should be looking at their employees as individuals with family, friends, and a life that contributes outside stressors on top of their workload. Companies should take mental health seriously and create structures that allow employees to take time off, see doctors, and therapists; it is imperative that they do so as we progress in the future of work.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

The Great Resignation has been a slow-growing truth in the last decade following the rise of technology. What employers should take away from their teams resigning in masses is the need for flexibility and investment in their employees. Companies should pay attention to their employees, determine if their skills or positions may be going obsolete with changing technology and cross-skill them. For example, automotive companies are now hiring more software engineers than mechanical engineers; that means mechanical engineers will need to learn additional skills to remain current. So, to lend support and increase morale, leaders helping guide their employees will be refreshing change of pace. Ultimately, what I’d recommend to everyone is to ignore the headlines, look at where your industry is going and see what digital changes are happening around that industry to progress.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Knowledge work embraces the gig economy at scale — Today we associate gig work with low-paying logistics jobs but as digital skills become more and more portable across industries, high quality digital talent will find it more profitable to freelance than be tied to a single company. User Experience Designers already do this (since their skills are also highly portable), so I think the combination of more remote work and a global talent cloud will push companies to embrace this for a range of digital skills.
  2. Immersive technologies like AR/VR go mainstream — Interestingly enough, this is not new. The Metaverse has been a reality for everyone who plays massively multiplayer games like Fortnite, Halo or World of Warcraft. But enterprises will finally start embracing this at scale to create virtual collaboration spaces that make employee onboarding and learning more immersive for starters.
  3. Quantified Self — Companies will start using behavioral big data to provide digital nudges to help employees self-actualize and find purpose at work. We already use quantified self nudges for fitness in our personal lives.
  4. Knowledge assistants — At this point, most enterprise knowledge management systems are still bloated repositories of documents with very little precision in search. The current generation of chatbots are largely glorified Q&A look-up systems. As AI continues to improve, companies will stop “managing” knowledge and simply set it free and let machine learning (trained with employee contextual knowledge) build knowledge experiences that transform the way we work.
  5. Hybrid will become a long-term norm — Companies will need to strike a balance between remote and in-person work across a range of roles and also be flexible in terms of HR policies. For e.g. — If a company’s culture does not allow it to hire the best machine learning developer from Manila, Philipines to be part of a globally distributed team that includes working mothers and fathers who take breaks during the day for childcare, it will lose the war for talent.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

As a humor writer for a long time, I have always found the most insightful wisdom in jokes. Terry Pratchett is one of my all-time favorite authors and his quote — “I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it.” has always been a reminder of how companies often overthink innovation and assume it needs to come from the outside in. Innovation comes about more often than not from an individual or a team’s relentless dissatisfaction with the status quo.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

The Cellist Yo-Yo Ma. More than his brilliant musical skills, I am in awe at his ability to use his music to bring joy in a wide range of settings beyond the privileged settings of an opera house or high-end auditorium. And as someone who thinks a lot about learning to learn, I’d love to ask him about his practice drills.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.