Our world has changed. When this nightmare is over, are we going to need a new worldview for professional survival in a post-pandemic world?
That sounds nice, doesn’t it? “The post-pandemic world”! But as everyone knows by now, it’s not going to be half as nice as it sounds. The real economic toll, experts say, have not even begun. There will be a lot less to go around, and a far fewer openings, barring perhaps a handful of fields.
How do we live in this different world? Who will get to do so? It might be tempting to predict patterns of jobs and sectors that will be in demand, and hard professional skills that will gain or retain traction. But such predictions are still a risky affair.
What is perhaps more useful to think about is an altered sense of values – personal qualities that will be indispensable in the post-pandemic world of professions. A new mindset, if you will. A different way of thinking about yourself, the people around you, and the wider world.
As a range of people seem to agree, this altered sense of values reveal a few key features, some of which, predictably, also evoke the world we’ve lost:
-A heightened sense of community. As the pandemic and the series of lockdowns pushes us deeper into isolation, we reach out to our communities to survive. Sriram Raghavan, the Joint Director of Career Services at O.P. Jindal Global University, identifies resilience as an essential feature in this new, barren world. He feels the source of resilience is “having a strong support group.” “Young professionals,” he says, “should stay in virtual touch with their industry peers, alumni networks, and mentors. Even outside work, hobby clubs, local and virtual communities can be a source of resilience and strength.” Communication skills, always important, will become more crucial as they are what communities need for nourishment, especially as there is a reduction in face-to-face interaction and more and more exchanges take place through virtual networks.
- Greater empathy. In times when many people – and especially certain communities – continue to be vulnerable, true empathy will be the defining value that can move relations, conversations, and projects. Without empathy behind it, communication skills become lifeless technical aptitude. It’s going to be a long, lean and difficult phase, where mutual empathy will be everybody’s anchor of survival.
-Adaptability, flexibility, the capacity to relearn and reinvent oneself. Traditional education confers a strong sense of self and conviction that only gets stronger with professional success. Now that the world has turned upside down, it’s time for that traditional sense of firm self to give way to something humbler, more mutable and open to change. Arpit Jain, the Co-Founder and CEO of SplashLearn, reminds us of the importance of metacognition, a process of standing back and reflecting on one’s own method of thinking, a concept pioneered by John Flavell in the 1970’s. Metacognition equips one with the ability to question oneself, stop in the tracks and change gear as the times call for. “The illiterate of the 21st century,” Jain quotes famous lines by the futurologist Alvin Toffler, “will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Stop, rewind, change track altogether. However, far more easily said than done.
-Leadership skills. As more and more people work remotely from under a range of conditions away from the unity of the brick-and-mortar office – coordinating teams and inspiring individuals without physical presence becomes an essential quality. Hence the importance of leadership, sharper than ever before. Of the many qualities essential in a leader, empathy and the ability to cement community remains crucial.
-Understanding the values of the digital world. As remote and virtual labor continues to rise in importance, it is obvious that ease and comfort with technology will be key. What is less obvious, however, is that what is important is not merely the technical competence, but an understanding of the change of ethos a more virtual and technologically complex world will invariably bring. Aspects of teamwork, workspace-sharing, will all be different in the virtual world. As a university professor, I’ve experienced this myself, watching students’ learning pattern and classroom behavior shift significantly in the virtual classroom, which has in turn called for refreshed pedagogical initiatives.
The transition from tradition to modernity involves a greater sense of human agency and scientific and technological control over the universe. Such is indeed the passage from the world of Greek tragedy – a world of myth and supernatural – to the tragedies of Shakespeare, where flawed human beings, rather than gods or demons, bring about their own doom. With the industrial revolution and the acceleration of capitalism, the human subject focused on the arrogance of individual achievement over anything else. The pandemic throws that modernity into something of a crisis, through which some of the older, traditional values of empathy and community are now capable of guiding us – far more than we had imagined.
( Views are personal, With research input by Harshita Tripathi)
*Saikat Majumdar writes about arts, literature, and higher education. @_saikatmajumdar.
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