Divakar rushed to his porch and backed out his new Suzuki XL6 out of his home. Weaving through the smaller streets of rural Theni on his drive to Madurai, he smiled at how an invisible virus has changed life.
A year ago Divakar and his wife Anu were living a hectic life in Chennai, with their two young children. He was a manager in the IT sector and his wife was a teacher at one of the leading schools in Chennai. They had 2 young kids, one in the 5th grade and another in 2nd grade. His parents had gone back home during Pongal and couldn’t return to Chennai when COVID stuck and the lockdown was announced.
He saw his work life-changing, he was working from home, sometimes longer than normal. But he was glad that he no longer had the hourlong stressful drive on OMR, either way, to work and home. He found time for workouts, he had joined an online friends group that was using google meet for daily workouts. After the initial break, Anu had started teaching online using zoom and Microsoft teams.
Anu then discovered teachable.com and found great content. The children now were learning painting on teachable. Anu herself started creating history lessons on teachable and soon developed a following. What started as a hobby soon became serious as her students asked for more content and she was earning quite a significant income.
In the meanwhile, unlock was announced and Divakar got an e-pass and drove down with the family to Theni to visit his parents. He was surprised that they had a good data connection and both he and his wife could continue working from Theni. As they were planning to return to Chennai, they found that their neighbors in the apartment complex at Chennai had contracted COVID and the complex was sealed. The government banned entry into Chennai for a further month and Divaker continued working without any break now from Theni.
As COVID infection started reducing slowly, his company asked for learning from the period and Divakar recommended that the company should experiment with work from their hometowns and volunteered that his team would attempt it. An eight-week experiment revealed that the team could work from places other than Chennai and interestingly productivity and quality improved.
He was now heading a larger pilot program, his company was setting up small offices in Madurai, Coimbatore, and Trichy. Over 300 associates had moved back to their hometowns and were working from home. Their company had tied up with Airtel to ensure that broadband connection was available. Associates were traveling to the satellite offices once a week for networking, for most, it was just a few hours bus ride. Occasionally, teams had to work together at the satellite offices on specific tasks, people seemed to enjoy those days.
His children enjoyed being with grandparents. They were having a few hours of online classes. He had rigged up his television to connect to the computer and that meant that the kids didn’t need to pore over a tablet but could use the larger TV screen. He was certain that very soon other technology solutions for child education would turn up in the market. Meanwhile, Anu had quit her school and was running history classes over teachable. She had rigged up a temporary studio at home.
Yesterday, he had a chat with his boss and was finalizing a permanent move to Theni. He had already sold his small car and bought this larger car, he no longer had to pay rent in Chennai as he had vacated the place three months ago. Life in Theni was wonderful, the weather was better than Chennai and pollution levels were significantly lower. Vegetables were much cheaper and he was able to save significantly more.
I will pause the story here. This is not a fantasy but could be an actual reality in 2021. Just this month Sridhar Vembu of Zoho talked about his workforce moving back to their hometowns. TCS predicts that a significant number of employees may never go back to the office. Many software companies are discovering that they can continue to deliver projects with work from home. Not just in the IT industry, CavinKare, an FMCG company, announced this month that they will close their head office and all employees in those offices will work from home.
How does this trend impact the economy and business? I am certainly concerned that people aren’t taking these trends seriously enough and figuring out how it would impact them; what new opportunities emerge and what part of the business will be impacted forever. If TCS were to have a large number of people working from home, what happens to the transport operators and their buses? What happens to the travel companies who depend on the youngsters in these companies traveling back every fortnight home? What happens to the food court operators in these IT parks? If all these people start working from home, what happens to sales of formal wear, shirts, trousers, and dresses? What happens to the shoe business?
On the positive side, there are new opportunities. Home gym equipment demand is going to increase. There is a need for home office furniture, can we have temporary partitions and cubicles? There is going to be increased demand for home automation, more dishwashers please our maid is not available. How can webcams integrate into our house with TV’s computer and everything? The potential is vast if we open our minds.
This is the time organizations have to do extensive scenario planning. What does the future look like? How will it impact us? What new opportunities can we explore? How can we innovate? I believe every business needs to do scenario planning for the customers' job that they do. For example, a mall exists because it gets some customers' jobs done. How are those jobs changing? What are the factors that are impacting them? How will they play out in the future? If you build scenarios of future you will know what is your innovation challenge and that will help you prepare for the post COVID world.
Scenario planning is a structured process. My family joined me in doing this scenario story over a few sittings. What such storytelling enables is to identify innovation opportunities, we identified a few great opportunities and are pursuing them ourselves. I would be delighted to help organizations do the same.
Krishnan is an innovation consultant and focuses on helping people and organizations innovate and build capabilities for innovation. He brings over 25 years of experience in the industry and consulting. You can reach him by phone / whatsapp: +919791033967 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org