People@Work

What if Normal was worth changing?

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on October 21, 2020 Published on October 21, 2020

man with laptop in the air. isolated on white. Concept communication.   -  Sinenkiy

A graphic from Eric Kline’s presentation at Adobe Max2020

The old way of working had all sorts of historical baggage

In the new way of doing work, what if there were no ‘employees’ — only team members, people with shared interests achieving common goals? In the old way, the physical offices led to hierarchies. Now, in a work-from-anywhere world, could everyone have equal access, with no gender, racial or caste biases?

Everyone is busy re-imagining the who, where, how and what of work in the new normal. At tech giant Adobe’s ongoing annual creativity conference, Max2020, Eric Kline, who leads workplace experience for Adobe, and Gervais Tompkin, designer, architect and researcher, examined how one could turn the current challenges into opportunity.

In their story of work, Tompkin and Kline had two sets of characters — The Agents and Creators. Agents, according to Tompkin, are people who are responsible for leading teams, or those providing virtual networks, or people who operate and design spaces. They are responsible for helping creators produce the best work.

The Creators are the people producing work, and in the words of Kline, making the magic happen every day.

“How can we keep inspiring the creators to produce better work?” asked Kline. Although the normal way of work is disrupted, Agents and Creators have to keep the dialogue going in order for meaningful work to be produced.

The old rhythm of work — offices, the structure of timings, commutes — may have disappeared, but it actually presents an opportunity to do things better. The disruptive craziness created by the pandemic could allow us to reinvent work better, believes Tompkin.

More inclusive

With the removal of the old structures, all the obstacles of before — language, time, physical presence, etc — can be removed, and a new, radically-inclusive, hyper-collaborative work world created, believes Kline.

As Tompkin points out, work has all sorts of historical baggage. Physical offices can lead to bias and hierarchy. These things begin to compound and reduce equal access. In his conversations with people, during the new normal, Tompkin says he found that people with physical disabilities and hearing impairment now feel they too have a seat at the table.

Knowing people better

As hierarchies and boundaries break, you get to know each other better. In the old work world, you knew the worker as a part, now we are getting to see the worker as a whole, as a family man, as a son, etc.

You are meeting as equals, regardless of location, role, and meeting the whole person. “The impact of knowing the whole person versus the part is going to be huge,” feels Kline.

Going forward, you may not have employees or colleagues at work, perhaps only team-mates. “The new way of imagining work is that people with shared interests are coming together to help each other achieve what they want to achieve,” says Tompkin. The gig worker would play a big part in the new way of work.

The way of monitoring the work will, thereby, change too. It will become task-focused and not get enmeshed in “looking over the shoulder” checking. As the world of work becomes task-focused, imagine a place that is hyper collaborative. You would need to meet physically, but in a new kind of space — perhaps a heads-down camp, a retreat academy (see graphic). The office will be totally reinvented. Also, the common experiences of people all over the world can lead to more empathy. “Empathy builds connections and trust. And it leads you to be more thoughtful and inclusive of others,” says Kline.

Digital twin

In the new way of working, the calendar will be driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the manifestation of your work can be enhanced through digital agents, imagines Kline.

Digital AI will help you find opportunities, build networks, improve cross-functional collaborations, and support employee well-being.

“This may mean you need a digital twin. The twin can be in more places than one,” says Kline.

Well-being and restoration

At the core of the new world of work should be well-being and restoration, and purpose, believe Kline and Tompkin.

Rather than the team manager, you could have a team therapist who would help create better communication, culture, well-being and resilience.

With better understanding of emotions, you can accelerate your own growth journey as well as that of the organisation.

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Published on October 21, 2020
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