It’s an opportunity to transform into a digitally-enabled work environment.
By Yogesh Suri & Sharmistha Sinha
Covid-19 has compelled many to work from home. This switch to digital work, en masse, has brought in a change in our perception of work and the way we think about working arrangements. New academic sessions have begun and communications have shifted from in-person classrooms to live online classes, new modes of instruction have been developed, courts have gone digital with cases being heard through videoconferencing, offices have shifted to e-office mode, there is a surge in digital payments, many musicians are streaming live performances from home. Google Meet’s day-over-day growth exceeded 60% and usage of Hangouts soared. It is not only Generation Z and Alpha who are adapting to this new system, but given the smartphone penetration even senior citizens are adapting to telemedicine, digital payments, etc.
Post-Covid-19, as normalcy returns, the world of work will not be the same again. It may well be an opportunity to transform into a digitally-enabled work environment.
It’s time India jumps into the next innovation line in the communication world. China, after the US, has boomed in the digital economy. WeChat, a messaging and payment app, is widely used, and Baidu has emerged as the most sought-after search engine leaving Google at a distant fifth in China. Apps such as TikTok, games like PUBG, to e-commerce sites like Club Factory are expanding their footprint, including in India.
India, which boasts of having one of the best IT specialists in the world, can use the developments in the cloud world to its advantage. We need to reach the next tech level where India can be the lead exporter in communication software. Why cannot we think of videoconferencing software in local languages that can be used by a wholesaler or used at local government levels? This requires technology, upskilling and reskilling in analytics, data management methods, online modules, investments and a favourable regulatory environment.
India has to enter this sector in a big way; we need high-level engagement at the intersection of ICT, human rights and surveillance activities. But this transformation delivers an array of cybersecurity challenges. With online activities, there are spikes in hacking, cyberscamming, ransomware attacks, which needs strict alert, strong encryption and actions.
There is a need to establish or strengthen state computer emergency response teams, and take steps to enhance cybersecurity capacity building and training, extending the Information Security Education & Awareness programme, introducing curricula, academia, establishment of forensics labs, etc. There is acute shortage of skilled resource persons, research and academic courses in this area. Gen Z can be trained to be specialists in Trustworthy Information Systems Engineering.
Governments have been making forays into usage of advanced technology in governance, and India is no different. Digital identities, financial inclusion, digital payments, DBT, government schemes expanded using IT and broadband, distance learning, e-commerce, etc, have changed the lives of people. Covid-19 has provided a major boost to these initiatives. Another important feature has been to connect with employees, customers and public using technology. Despite constraints, all these have worked fairly well in these distressed times.
People have got used to working from home, and this is expected to continue reducing employee costs in terms of maintaining offices. Another aspect of the future of work could be lower travel bills as organisations would prefer online meetings. As regards education, no one would have believed it was possible to study and teach online with such alacrity, and this is expected to lead to a sea change. Last but not the least, there has been increasing concern towards employees, customers and society in these times.
While it is unclear when the crisis will end, there are signs it may come sooner than later. As and when it resumes, one thing is clear, the future of work will never be the same again.
Suri is senior adviser, Governance and Research, and Sinha is deputy director, NITI Aayog. Views are personal