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B Y  N E N G A P A T E  K U R I A
My Purple Sofa and the Future of Work 

The human mind is a fickle thing, In a world that has gone topsy turvy because of a virus, life BC (Before Covid) seems like a distant memory. My consciousness, flawed and fallible as it is now has me waxing poetic about the office. I had a spot right at the large kitchen windows in the office where I would set myself up every so often to work. Earphones plugged in with easy background music playing, mug of tea on the ready - 30cm away from my laptop because who can handle the fear of near spill misses on a laptop - and a slew of tabs open as I worked on multiple projects. The earphones were sometimes a ruse, a subtle signal to keep people from engaging even though no music was playing. In an office where the atmosphere is casual yet intensely driven, creating my own private place to work in a public area was one of the benefits.

Fast forward a couple of months into the year that many wish could be redone and my new private place is a corner in the room that used to be my dining area. My cherished purple sofa no longer provides the comfort it used to, it doesn’t fulfil the need of being the item I would automatically curl up on after a long day. It now silently mocks me as I stare at it all day because I’m working from home. The thing that I would yearn to see at the end of a tough day is now the thing that drives me to work from the parking lot in my apartment block as a change of scenery. I have become the proverbial digital nomad as I look to reclaim the space I called home and still execute well as per my outlined job description, all the while adapting to work in a tenuous situation where flexibility - especially with intermittent power blackouts, fraught emotions of uncertainty,  and WiFi that acts like a teenager who has learnt to shut down and speak in monosyllables - is key to thriving.

I’m comforted that many are experiencing the same problem - misery truly does love company - and realise that the nature of work has changed fundamentally. With the rise of the gig economy, rapid shift and consolidation of skill sets from the traditional, major in one field to, major in one field but dabble in multiple cross cutting areas, the concept of work is not what it was and the fulfillment it is supposed to bring is no longer as cut and dry as it used to be. A report done by the World Economic Forum in 2016 is spot on in its analysis, it shows that now more than ever, the ability to create, innovate and solve problems critically is what matters to drive success. Increasingly employees are looking to do what matters to them, delve into work that creates value for themselves and others yet can support their life. This is markedly different from working for works sake because it was expected that one ought to hold down a regular 9-5 job to be considered a productive member of the adult population. In short, a complete overhaul of our outlook is needed, not only in terms of rethinking what the workforce can do i.e different roles, up-skilling and equipping employees to handle opportunities in this fourth industrial revolution of technology, but also in terms of how we think about work.

This now forms the crux of how we as an organization that operates predominantly in the Global South is thinking about work. We are pivoting to refine remote work policies to create an atmosphere that promotes performance, productivity, motivation, connectedness and well-being. How? by creating a team that uses the behavioral science skills we deploy to help businesses succeed, on ourselves. The process has involved carrying out research to identify internal gaps that we may have overlooked by focusing mainly on results. A candid under-the-hood look at the challenges we face, what conditions would be considered ideal and even better, how best to innovate and leapfrog into a future that is already present. As part of our long standing goal and commitment to transparency, we’ve developed a series of podcasts and a blog post to give you a front row seat on how we are working to improve ourselves and experiment with alternative working arrangements. Our hope is that you will find this useful as you also navigate how to work moving forward, and as always our aim is a data driven approach that leverages theory to get to action.

If this sounds like something you would be interested in and would like to collaborate with us on the practical application and implication for your organization, do get in touch!

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Editor's Note 

If the question of future of work is something you are grappling with and are looking for a couple of interesting reads or resources to guide you, we have you covered.

The Future of Work in Africa - Great read by the world bank on how to enable inclusive digital technologies, to the importance of grassroots and bottom up innovation when it comes to human capital. Spoiler alert, embracing this approach may be key to unlock the power of technological entrepreneurship.

Evolving Work - Working from wherever you are is part of the future, however, with it comes the possibility of burnout. Google has a 3 word plan to keep employees focused. You read that right, 3 words, drumroll please “No Meetings Weeks”. The idea is to help their staff centre their attention on independent work.

Bill Gates’ Take
As one of the founders of the world largest software business, his mind is a mine of ideas and information. In his words, one of the things that will be shelved even after the pandemic is half of all business travel. If true, that’s a resounding cheer from a climate perspective.

Links we liked

The greatest thing about about research is the insights that come up, making random run of the mill practices even more nuanced in terms of how they impact and affect those who are looking to change behavior. This edition is focused forward.

What does 2021 hold?

As crystal balls go, this article delves into various industry predictions on emerging trends and possible outcomes for 2021. A great rethinking of office life is underway, the impact of the Elephant in the room (COVID-19) continues, and the backlash on big tech goes on.

Virtual Dating = New Normal:

After the pandemic forced us indoors, figures from Bumble India show that people are far more comfortable dating virtually. Over 540 million messages have been sent on Bumble in India between Jan and Nov 2020, and 47% of users would prefer their first IRL Date to be indoors.

Creating lasting behavior change

How do you generate long-term behavior change, especially given the lack of excitement around compliance? The answer is, try a cocktail (sounds great since it’s always 5 o'clock somewhere), in this case a cocktail of policies that includes regulations, incentives, and nudges to promote good habits when motivation is low.

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