How the workplace has changed! Recently, I met a young man who represents the millennial attitude – he works in a ‘gig economy’ where he partners with other freelancers on desirable projects and between work, takes off on mountaineering adventures. He says there is enough time later for a settled career when he has had his fill of following his sport passion. Meanwhile he is honing his skills, gathering experience and living life on his terms.
Futurologists believe that in a decade from now, the office space as we know it would have disappeared since most employees would be encouraged to work online, offices would be paperless and if you needed a conference, a bank of Skype screens would be enough.
How ready are we in the GCC for these radical thoughts? In Bahrain, there are office blocks aplenty where you can hire anything from a suite to desk space to occasional conference rooms. There is still emphasis on brick and mortar (and glass) offices for licensing. The gig economy where freelancers can connect for specific projects and disband after it finishes is unknown, leading to a huge underutilisation of talent. Each person with work-worthy skills, whether banker, doctor or nanny, has to be documented, labelled and bound by a long-term agreement in order to be employed.
This makes sense in an HR landscape where many workers are expats and there is a need to develop the local talent pool.
However, in a tight economic scenario in which everybody is scrabbling for work to stay afloat, it means that a ready talent pool that can move from project to project is just tied up in red tape. It makes our workplace calcified, less competitive and less flexible.
I mention all this against the backdrop of the on-going elections for the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There are many groups and several independent candidates who have announced their ability and willingness to work for Bahrain’s prosperity. Despite their sincerity, I find that their goals are stuck in a retro timeframe that simply pays lip service to a future that mimics the teenage of this millennium.
The promises that we are hearing today may be signals of good intent but they are a re-run of promises past that gathered dust after elections. Support for SMEs, women entrepreneurs and reduction of fees for doing business are all laudable objectives but the government is already taking care of most of these goals effectively and there seems to be nothing here for the BCCI to contribute meaningfully and innovatively.
Many people believe that the BCCI must rephrase its engagement with Bahrain’s commercial future. We need to recast the BCCI so that it is not just a mere shadow of government template but a vibrant, independent contributor to the kingdom. We need the BCCI to become a think-tank where creative business minds can strategise, collect inputs and present the government with ideas on energising the private sector.
The BCCI should create a new role for itself, one that will understand what the private sector shall be facing a decade from now – and position Bahrain for the changes. It should especially address the issues facing young people.
The future is about managing global change at the national level. To do that the government needs a chamber that will understand global ideas shaping the millennial workplace and workforce. The idea is to be change-ready – so can we hear fresher and sharper ideas please, instead of a rehash of 2014?
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