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Rethinking Business 2021

The year 2020 was challenging not only for individuals and societies but also for the business world. With the onset of the new year, businesses can just hope and pray that the wobbly feet on which they have managed to finally get up, gets stronger and grounded. There is no doubt that the challenges ahead are real and on a global scale. The big question, however, is ‘who will survive the Covid 19 storm and in what shape?’ Though no one has a definite answer to this but businesses can perhaps be nimble to course-correct.

For this, it is fundamental for businesses to know what has changed post lockdown and will change in the future.

Upskilling or reskilling the employees

The biggest challenge that organisations are experiencing post lockdown is the skills and knowledge gap that has been laid bare by the forced work from home. With technological advancement skills become obsolete very soon and this change has been further accelerated by the pandemic. The solution to this is to fill the skills gap through upskilling or reskilling of employees. Upskilling focuses on learning new skills within the same job function and reskilling involves learning new skills for a different job function. The easiest way out for organisations is to identify the skills needed to leverage the new technologies that have been brought forward by the digital transformation due to Covid 19.

The 2020 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report shows that 51% of companies plan to launch upskilling program, 43% plan to reskill their workforce, and soft skills will reign supreme in 2020 and beyond. Among the soft skills, the most sought-after is leadership and management skill followed by creative problem solving and design thinking skills and communication skills. While companies need to double their learning budgets and commit to reskilling and upskilling, employees need to be open to learn and unlearn.

Adapt to the new normal

Things were completely different before the pandemic. Organisations were focused on efficiency which meant clear processes, well-defined employee roles, and a lot of standardisation. However, with the unprecedented change, efficiency is not what business enterprises should strive for rather they should develop ways and means to survive the volatility of the business environment.
That is exactly what the education sector did. It had to go through a complete overhaul during the lockdown. It was more for adapting to the need of the hour than striving for efficiency. From starting online classes, training teachers on the usage of various apps and virtual meetings to adopting various teaching tools and techniques, the educational institutions have braved the Covid 19 storm. The education sector all over the world was quick to adapt but there is much more to be done to ensure learning continuity.

Though most organisations responded to the challenges swiftly what is pertinent now is to demonstrate resilience in the days to come. Of course, with greater speed and determination than the speed at which the Covid 19 virus is mutating.

Prioritise skills over hiring profiles

The pandemic has acted as a mirror that has shown how unprepared and complacent businesses had become. This is partly because hiring was predominantly based on degree pedigree than on skills. Instead of relying on the talent pool the first question that every employer should ask is ‘what are the skills needed to get this job done?’ The hiring process should eventually revolve around the skills that are identified.

Remote working is here to stay

Covid 19 has disrupted organisations across the globe. Remote working mostly in the form of work from home, though has its share of challenges, was the only alternative left for businesses. Though not all jobs can be done working from home, businesses will have to adapt to this change more as a necessity than as an option.

According to the Gartner HR survey, 88% of organisations have encouraged or required employees to work from home. With kitchen tops, dining tables, and beds functioning as a workplace and physical boundaries between work and the home getting blurred, work from home is not what employees prefer but the genie is out of the bottle and it’s not likely to go back.

Work from home has made employees more vulnerable to working long hours coupled with increased work pressure. The adverse impact on employees’ wellbeing is alarming therefore enterprises should implement innovative employee engagement programs and measures to keep them motivated and at the same time maintain productivity levels.

The winding path ahead

Whenever the pandemic ends, businesses will not take the risk of bringing many people together in one place. More work from home opportunities will be offered to white-collar employees, travel will be drastically reduced and leaders will focus more on the emotional health of their people. Pandemic fatigue is here along with business models undergoing a sea change. Businesses will have to start strategising what will work moving forward than clinging to the belief of what had worked before. Change is inevitable and the need to adapt is necessary, even compulsory to survive the crisis and thrive in the ‘new normal’.

It is time businesses should remember what Alvin Toffler, an American writer, and a futurist, had said ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.’ This is a difficult time but redesigning a boat while bailing water from the hull is the only option.

Aleena Udas Sharma The author, a freelancer, based in New Delhi, is Program Director EMERGE Nepal

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