Reworking it: Making sense of emerging workplace trends

It’s December already, and just like that the year has flown by. Reflection and retrospection is in the air, and on that note, we chose ‘Rethinking the way we work’ as our content theme for this month. It’s been a couple of years now, that I’ve been reading about this ‘new way of working’ which seems to include everything from remote work, flexible work, open plan offices, collaborative working, the gig economy and more. There’s no denying that this has been a huge shift, that’s redefining work culture, organisational success and employment rates across the globe. But since I’ve only been a full time member of the workforce for about 4 years now, I feel like my perspective is unique and defined by my experiences more than anything else.

I worked for 1 year as a Tech Analyst at Accenture in London, a huge multinational corporation and then moved back to Mumbai and entered the startup / creative industry here, building a team of about 10-ish people. I’ve given this theme so much thought, because I’ve been on both sides, as an employee and an employer. This month I wanted to share what people talk a little less about — the nuances and complications that underlie this rapidly evolving ‘new way of working’.

Dysco’s content theme for December 2019

Yes, it’s all the rage — and the need of the hour. People today need more flexible working arrangements, and they’re not afraid to ask for it. As the ball slowly moves away from the employer’s court, companies are realising that they have to be willing to try out different working arrangements. Good talent is hard to come by, and more young professionals are juggling multiple roles and wearing many hats. This means that they might be full time Account Managers, part time content creators and freelance PR experts. You could have someone working at an NGO half day, while moonlighting as a Recipe Developer the rest of the time. And if you as a business want to take advantage of the best skilled resources out there you need to allow for part time work, flexible work and / or remote working arrangements.

For us at Dysco, we’ve been navigating this ourselves. We’re a young company and budgets are certainly a constraint for us, but at the same time we’re determined to not compromise on quality of services or work. For us to be able to build a team of excellent developers, designers, writers, content creators and markets, we have experimented with unique working arrangements with various team members. We have a full time content writer who works 3 days a week. We have a full time freelance designer who doesn’t work out of our office. Our social and digital lead will be working from another city through the whole of December. And our tech team is part in-house, part agency and part consultants.

If we want to encourage people to pursue their passions, and take care of their mental and personal wellbeing — as employers and as companies we need to experiment, iterate and be willing to tread the unknown.

And no, it’s not easy. It’s tough. It takes a lot of work, from the team’s end and from my end. Everyone talks about amazing collaborative tools and tech — but no one discusses terrible internet connectivity which makes video conferencing impossible. No one writes articles about getting everyone to respond on Slack, when the external team has different sleep schedules. And what we forget is every day that gets lost when someone forgets to check Asana and follow up on pending tasks.

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Making room for expression and inspiration at our workspace

But we’ve got to figure out ways to make it work because that’s how the nature of the industry is changing. If we want to encourage people to pursue their passions, and take care of their mental and personal wellbeing — as employers and as companies we need to experiment, iterate and be willing to tread the unknown. It becomes a lot easier if you find people who are not just talented, but people who are dedicated, responsible and take pride in the work they’re doing for you.

Yes, tech has advanced and many jobs are getting automated. Yes, computers can do things that humans were doing, and they can do them better and faster. Yes, robots are becoming smarter and can perform miraculous feats like medical surgery. And yes, it’s true that more repetitive tasks and certain complex jobs can be done with revolutionary technology, as well as simple tech services. That being said, where I work and the people Dysco is engaging with, seem to have a preference for human interactions and personalised services.

What we’ve noticed is that digitising processes certainly helps speed up and scale operations, but completely eliminating human effort is currently unimaginable for us. I would go so far as to say that despite the gig economy growing and flourishing, there are certain types of jobs that are easier to outsource, or find someone on Fiverr or Freelancer to execute; but there are plenty of roles that require local, in-house employees. People want to work with people who they can talk to, get to know, meet and brainstorm with. People prefer talking to a person, and they prefer getting their concerns resolved over a call or a meeting. Automated emails, pre-programmed services, and online managers can certainly increase productivity, but what it lacks in empathy is quite crucial for early-stage startups. In our case, an early-stage startup that is working towards connecting people and helping them forge real-life relationships (basically the opposite of Facebook).

The kind of creativity, thought, passion, strategy, ideas, imagination and emotional connection that comes from working with people, cannot be underestimated or replaced. It does take more time, more effort and more money to offer manual services, but I believe that the future lies in finding both balance and synergy between personalised, human services and thoughtful, conscious technology. The more we venture into a digitised, impersonal and automated world, the more we value humanity at work.

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A coup of content creators at Dysco’s (IM)PERFECT event in August

Of course, plenty is being written about how recruiting, training, and leading teams is changing. But in practise what does that really mean? From our vantage point, we’re seeing people be more vocal about what they expect from a company, from their colleagues and from their bosses. You hear more voices speaking up about toxic work culture and biases in workplaces. Expectations have risen, most definitely from employees’ perspectives.

Employees are more interested in being valued individually, than being at a company with a large valuation.

We see people wanting to know more about company values, their work culture, their leave policy and their performance review system. People want to know what their growth map could look like and if they’ll be making an impact at their new job. Employees are more interested in being valued individually, than being at a company with a large valuation. There’s a lot of discussion around recruiting in particular — today, it’s not just the company that’s evaluating the candidate, but rather the candidate also evaluating the company. They go for interviews prepared with questions that they want answered.

And that’s a behaviour that we encourage: when advertising job opportunities we ask companies to share information about their team, culture, collaborations and show the human side to the job advertisement. You’re not just advertising that you’re a business, you’re showcasing who you are as real people — and letting others get to know you a bit can certainly give them more insight on whether they’d be a good fit for you. We’re seeing the power balance even out to reach more of an equilibrium: where everyone’s on an equal footing, and everyone’s respected for their contribution and role; regardless of how old or new, junior or senior, full time or part time they might be at a company.

Collaboration really is the talk of the town these days — although it’s also a word that’s being used and abused carelessly by many. It seems like the ‘in’ thing to do, and the world of social media is rife with ‘collaborations’ that are really just paid influencer marketing campaigns, paid product promotions or competitions and giveaways.

More than just that, the landscape and rulebook of collaboration is yet largely undefined, unregulated, unclear and unguided. This is something we feel strongly about, particularly as a small business that works with a lot of independent creators and professionals. We still feel the need to remind people that exposure doesn’t pay the bills; a collaboration is not a favour, it’s mutual benefit; it’s not a collaboration if we post and you don’t; and collaboration is not for us to do the work and for you to benefit. We’ve seen big companies and known brands trampling over younger independent creators and startups; and we want to offer tools, tips, guides and a voice to the community.

However, amidst this murky mess, there really are some phenomenally talented people co-creating to produce novel and meaningful content. There’s a shift in how people look at creative expression, and they’re joining hands to fuse their passions and talents, leading to really exciting projects across industries, and across professions. We’ll be sharing some of our favourite collaborations every month to help draw attention to such amazing work and help others get inspired too.

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Food photography and styling workshop at Dysco’s Bread & Butter event in June

And so here we are, at the brink of a new year, a new decade and a new beginning. One of our goals as a company is to facilitate the new way of working — something that requires us to rethink how we work, challenge the status quo and also redefine how things have been done for a long time. As we prep our release of our new social network, we ask ourselves a bunch of questions that guide every feature that we’ve built, every service that we provide, every article that we write and every event that we produce.

  1. How are people working and connecting with each other today?
  2. What would be a more natural and easy way for them to network?
  3. Can we help people find each other and discover better?
  4. What needs to change about the way we currently work?
  5. How do we make time spent on Dysco productive, effective and efficient?

And this upcoming year, we’re incredibly excited to help transform the way we work, and facilitate more human interactions, through thoughtful design, technology and experiences.

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Me, facilitating discussions during events at our workspace
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