People@Work

The rise of the invisible workplace

Abhijit Bhaduri | Updated on July 29, 2020 Published on July 29, 2020

As work from home shifts to work from anywhere, how do we get the digital nomad mindset?

With more than 15 million confirmed cases across more than 200 countries, Covid-19 has changed the world of work more than electricity did.

Offices are unsure about when to get everyone back and if so, who does not need to be in one location. According to McKinsey, the world will see 7.5 million fewer vehicles in 2020. Public transport utilisation has dropped between 70 per cent and 90 per cent across the world. If offices do not expect employees to commute to the workplace, public transportation is not going to see an easy recovery.

Invisible shifts

Sometimes the effects are less visible. The 202-year-old Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy in early July 2020. They had been making business suits for years. They had survived two World Wars and the Great Depression. What made them pull down the shutters?

Offices started declaring casual Fridays. Wearing hoodies to work became the informal dress code to signal that you were cool and belonged to tech. This was the missed tsunami warning. Then the pandemic sealed their fate. People could work from anywhere in track pants and T-shirts and Brooks Brothers went bankrupt.

Changing experience at work

‘Work from home’ was, for many employers, corporate speak for an extra vacation day. It was done discreetly as a perk given to the boss’ favourite. The boss would occasionally work from home, but it was not a universally understood acronym.

During the early days of the lockdown, work from home was meant to be a short-term measure. Employers had let employees work from anywhere. Many of the employees had gone back to their home town or village and this was inevitable. Work had become boundaryless. It could be done by anyone, anywhere, in most cases. Unless there were machines to be operated, chemicals and equipment needed in labs, talent too became boundaryless.

As work and talent became location free, the core of work experience changed. We have all become digital nomads where the employer’s workplace has become invisible. Meanwhile, the parliament of Estonia created a digital nomad visa that allows “location-independent knowledge workers to live in Estonia for up to a year while working for employers or clients outside of the country, ushering in a new era of work — one where knowledge workers aren’t tied to one desk or even one continent.”

We may not be able to go to Estonia today, but we can be located in any part of India and be employed anywhere in the world. There is no need for a work visa. Being a digital nomad is more about having the right mindset than the visa. Our mindset works like an operating system.

The Digital Nomad Mindset

Trend spotter Mary Meeker said in her 2018 report that “freelance work is growing three times faster than the growth of the total workforce.”

Work is also a source of our identity. Digital nomads switch “jobs” and their identity every few weeks or months. They move from highly skilled work to manual labour — any work that can be done from that location and pays enough. They do odd jobs to survive and thrive no matter what.

Here are some ways to build yourself a digital nomad mindset whether you are employed or are a freelancer.

1. Stay flexible: When medical devices (e.g. pacemakers) were built, to keep the costs low, the software that was written for them was very limited. Cyber criminals soon learnt to exploit that. That created opportunities for doctors who worked with cyber security experts and regulators to create more secure medical devices. Collaborating is a great skill that opens up many possibilities.

2. Become a creator: Learn something with the intent of teaching others what you just learnt. Initially take a topic in your area of interest and then deconstruct it to be able to teach others. Once you have done a few of these, move to a subject that is adjacent to your area of expertise and try it out a few times.

3. Become a novice often: Learning something from scratch is painful at first. But it is a confidence booster. You believe you can “figure it out”. Books, podcasts, TED talks, Zoom webinars, discussions with other experts — there are many ways to feed your curiosity.

Digital nomads love thriving in ambiguity and learning on the fly. It helps them move beyond one role and one identity. Even if you are employed, having a digital nomad’s mindset is a fabulous advantage in the world of work.

Abhijit Bhaduri is a coach and talent management expert and author of the book “Dreamers & Unicorns”

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Published on July 29, 2020
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