TCS exec wants companies to reimagine what ‘the future of work’ means

Tata Ashok Krish future of work
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Most B2B executives obsess over how to make their employees more productive. Ashok Krish of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), on the other hand, tries to calculate what he calls “pain minutes” — the time employees spend frustrated with tools and processes that force them to work more than is necessary.

Based at the firm’s head offices in India, the global head of Digital Workforce Reimagination was in Toronto recently for yet another conference devoted to “the future of work.” Whereas the majority of business leaders consider that topic as one issue among many, however, for Krish it represents a full-time job.

Krish considers, for example, the impact of firms that give their staff aging laptops that take forever to boot up, those that make it exceedingly difficult to book a board room or or who hang on to outdated collaboration tools when they could easily move to something more effective. In almost every case, he said, the rationale is often the same.

“Most customers tend to look at the workplace as a cost centre — it’s expensive to manage, they have all these HR systems, Microsoft licenses and so on — and therefore they look at it through the lens of doing it cheaper,” Krish said during an in-person interview with B2B News Network. “Now it’s becoming a transformation lever: companies are starting to realize that you can’t really reimagine the customer experience without doing the same with the  employee experience.”

Even when the intention is there, Krish said too many enterprises make the mistake of wasting a lot of money trying to blindly replicate the physical aspects of a startup.

“You can’t do what a startup does when you have 10,000 employees,” he said. “These companies are large and complex for a reason.”

Instead, Krish recommends to TCS clients that they focus on four key areas as they consider what the future of work might mean for them. This includes organizational structure, how knowledge is spread through the company, mechanisms for motivating and rewarding teams, and culture. “Technology is a tiny part of this,” he said.

After assessing those areas, Krish recommended exploring ways to “gamify” new ways of working or conducting hackathons to encourage more ideas directly from employees. Speed of execution is another consideration: he advised against ripping out e-mail in place of something that’s supposedly better.

“When you roll out a new collaboration technology to an existing group of people, the way it’s configured and the way default settings work need deep personalization at the role and even individual level,” he said. “A lot of people find a Microsoft Teams or Slack too intrusive and noisy compared to e-mail. You need a more phased out approach — don’t onboard them to 20 other channels. Slowly work them into it.”

One of the biggest “future of work” debates in 2019, of course, is the degree to which organizations should deploy artificial intelligence tools. Krish said.

TCS is taking a “machine first” model in areas like IT — in other words, tasks will only be done by a human being if it can’t be automated. The company has also introduced chatbots to handle common HR questions from its more than 400,000 employees. Such decisions are a matter of recognizing the expectations people will have of the technology, and the kind of experience they want.

“The design of AI itself has to involve elements such as how do you gracefully fail or hand over to a human being, and do you have tricks you can do for the employee that a human cannot do,” he said. “Our experience is that people are happier with imperfect answers by human beings versus slightly imperfect answers from AI.”

Measuring the success of any future of work efforts, however, may require rethinking how firms define the value of their employees’ work, Krish added.

“‘Can I get you to do more work’ is not the right question to ask,” he said. “You don’t want to make people work more, but help them to create more by working less.”

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Shane Schick
Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.