E meetings, the new normal in work culture
By Vinod B Mathur
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to introspect about the economic, social, geo-political and even environmental consequences of the outbreak. The vulnerability of humankind to the microbe is now apparent.
The unprecedented scale of the pandemic has also driven home the need to look for innovative actions and solutions cutting across all sectors. These solutions will have to be tweaked according to the needs of different sectors so that we return to a “normal” state of affairs. But what would this normal be? Would it be a return to “business as usual” or a “new normal” in which technology inter-alia will play a central role? Given the fact that the norms for “social distancing” are possibly going to stay a lot longer, the need for adopting technology-driven solutions, including virtual and augmented reality, is likely to be an integral part of this “new normal”. Undoubtedly, this crisis is triggering innovations, which can rightly be termed as transformative in the context of how lives will be lived, and livelihoods will be secured in times to come.
Under a dynamic and astute political leadership, the country’s bureaucracy, both at the central and state levels, has demonstrated its capability in these times of crisis. It has proved, beyond doubt, that efficient planning and effective implementation, along with coordination and 24×7 monitoring, remain the hallmarks of the decentralised democracy. In this endeavour, information technology has played a crucial role in enabling and facilitating the corona warriors to discharge their responsibilities efficiently.
With the country under a complete lockdown, all life including “office work” has come to a standstill. However, government organisations are finding innovative ways and means to conduct businesses and deliver their mandated responsibilities. A case in point is the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), the apex regulator in the area of biodiversity conservation in India, headquartered in Chennai. As the lockdown kicked in, the NBA was in the midst of an extensive consultation processes with a range of stakeholders for amending certain legal provisions under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 — these pertain to the promotion of access and benefit-sharing regime under the Act.
The dialogues were in the final stages, but with a complete ban on travel, face-to-face meetings with crucial stakeholders were not possible. But an alternative was conceived and executed through a process of e-consultations.
Till the end of the second phase of lockdown, the Authority had successfully organised 16 e-meetings starting from March 25. Two hundred and seventy participants, including 147 from 28 cities/towns spread across the country, enthusiastically participated and earnestly put forth their ideas during these e-deliberations. This novel way of conducting office business has not only helped the NBA to complete their stakeholder consultation processes but has also resulted in a savings of over Rs 45 lakh in travel costs. Further, this has been a totally environment-friendly process, resulting in a huge reduction of carbon footprint amounting to 95.25 tonnes as no air travel was involved.
E-meetings would, therefore, form a very important part of the “new normal”. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has outlined in his LinkedIn post on April 19. This will result in travel cost savings (yes, the transport and hotel industry may not like it) of significant proportions on the one hand and reduction in carbon emissions on the other.
Surely, such technology-enabled work culture will raise a slew of issues, including social isolation and data privacy. But these will have to be addressed by adopting creative approaches for redefining work culture and ethos in government organisations. The time has come to move out of comfort zones and fully embrace the “new normal”, learning from the innovations adopted during the lockdown, instead of relapsing into the familiar and easy “business as usual”.
The writer is chairperson, National Biodiversity Authority