What is the future of work, workplaces, and everything in between? Well, nobody has a crystal ball to predict the future but industry leaders have surely started preparing for what they believe is going to be the 'new normal'.

“In the future, the attitude of the people will make a massive difference. It will require a capacity to unlearn and relearn. In fact, learnability might be the defining characteristic of people in the future. The biggest challenge of our times will be the need to re-skill and up-skill,” Nitin Paranjpe, chief operating officer, Unilever, said on Wednesday, February 17, at the 29th edition of the Nasscom Technology & Leadership Forum. The theme of the forum was ‘Shaping the future towards a better normal’.

There has been an increased focus on remote working and workplace modernisation is changing the way industries used to function traditionally. Paranjpe stressed on the fact that in the future, there will be more focus on data, analytics, and data-driven decision making. “The things that you get formal education for will become irrelevant before you imagine,” he said.

“Until some time ago, we did not have so much information. Now you get real-time information of the actions, the investments, the decisions you make and you, therefore, have the capacity to be much more rigorous in the choices that you tend to make,” he added.

Genpact's chief executive officer Tiger Tyagarajan, who was the moderator, nodded in agreement. “Whether to take decisions or course correct, or whether it's supply chain, it's fascinating that it's here, it's not in the future. It's happening already,” Paranjpe pointed out.

Another change in the future, according to Paranjpe, is going to be about democratisation of technology. “Data, information, and insights are now highly democratised because it’s available on the cloud more and more and it's accessible by anyone from anywhere on any device with the constraints of whose allowed to access what. Therefore, what’s the importance of hierarchy? Beyond a point, if I have the same information as my boss has, then I should make decisions, I don't need to check with my boss every time,” he argued.

This democratisation will make the organisation largely flatter. “There's a general trend towards more conscious consumerism, activism. Increasingly we're seeing employees—with the same information you have—with the capacity to hold leadership to account. The platforms today allow for dialogue, interaction, collective movements which are starting in society, will start happening in businesses. That's the new world which we have to embrace and learn to take advantage of [in order] to succeed.”

According to Paranjpe, future industries will have a comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty. “The ability to handle this requires a different mindset. We will need people who have the capacity to embrace diversity in a world where very different problems will strike you. We would need people who can get out of this mindset of win or lose. We would need collaborations, ecosystems, partnerships, multi-stakeholders. It's not a win-lose mindset, it's a win-win mindset,” he said.

Tyagarajan added that this emergence of diversity within industries positions India very interestingly in creating the next wave of opportunities. Paranjpe concurred. He pointed out that in the early days, what India offered the world was high-quality talent in technology but benefitting largely from the wage arbitrage that it had. “India could serve the world and serve itself in skilling and re-skilling. This is probably one of the biggest business opportunities into the future,” he said.

Another big question that came up for discussion in the event was the challenge of illiteracy. But the panellists argued that the problem of illiteracy needed to be seen through a new perspective. According to Paranjpe, in the earlier days, there was a kind of discrimination between the written word and the spoken word. So those who had access to the former, called themselves literate. But now, with the infusion of technology, this chasm is slowly being bridged.

“If you didn't know how to read or write in the past, you would be subjected to a life of mediocrity and poverty because you couldn't contribute economically in the way educated people could. The technology that we have today with audio as a tool completely changes the way we think what literacy is. You don't have to read and write to be literate, I have to listen to grow emotionally and intellectually,” he said.

He further added that if people in this industry think of the ways to provide inputs to educate people using this as a medium, it could be transformational. “If we think about it a little more strategically on how we can leverage this aspect, that could be the opportunity for our industry and for our country going forward,” Paranjpe concluded.

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