Living with the enemy

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Living with the enemy

Wednesday, 29 December 2021 | Pioneer

Living with the enemy

The pandemic period can be an opportunity for us to change our work template and ethics

A long-term issue India has to tackle head-on is work and productivity in the times of the Coronavirus. The developed countries have had a head start on this, most of their drawing board models already being transformed into reality across shop floors and boardrooms. Faced with the virus’ unpredictability and its mutations, India has reached a stage where it is getting its priorities right in dealing with the infection. There is no time to lose to jump to the next stage to ensure that productivity, and thereby the economy, is not affected when a new variant or wave threatens us. The Government is aware of the threat the Omicron variant poses and plans are being implemented to face the expected surge. All precautions are being taken to prevent crowding. Educational institutions are closed. However, what about work? Last year, the lockdown was introduced by simply shutting down factories and offices. Sectors that could do with work from home managed, but manufacturing and industry could not. We can least afford another repeat. We have to find a way to live with the virus. As the country is ready to go into a shell should the Omicron wave be upon us, we have to face this question and find an answer. What we are looking for is a national work policy that tweaks the nature and process of work to adapt productivity to live with the virus.

The new work template will be the basis for future adaptations as modern tools, like digitisation and AI, restructure the concept of work and bring inevitable changes in human resources practices. In that sense, we are not looking for a new work strategy merely for the duration of the pandemic. We are looking at a new structure of work that, unlike anything in the past, can maintain workflows even when challenged by unpredictable variables like disasters or epidemics. The pandemic period is the interim stage that helps us experiment with new work modes. Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekharan has said his Group is already adopting changes propelled by three themes — digital, new energy and supply chain resilience — along with an additional one, health. It is about accounting for the virus and new variant outbreaks while deciding the work structure. A public-private initiative should initiate a debate on changing our approach to work. In the short run, work from home will be extended. The hybrid work model will gain popularity. Digitisation and automation will pick up pace because of the nagging uncertainty about the virus. Workers will be called upon to change as well. Big challenges face us, like imparting skill sets to all workers, retraining skilled workers, supporting workers in the inevitable migration between occupations, expanding and enhancing digital infrastructure, amending the education system by focusing on skills rather than academic degrees, etc. Technology and physical proximity are factors that will determine work, workplaces and work culture. Omicron can be an opportunity for us to change.

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