Nearshore Americas

Cognizant Exec on “Fake Productivity” and Other Pandemic Lessons

Just over 18 months ago, business as we knew it came to a shuddering halt. Gone were the office check-ins, coffee meet-ups and the ability to walk across the corridor to chat with a colleague. The pandemic had arrived and nothing would be the same.

Though its been a tough period for everyone, vaccination rollouts offer hope for the future. We can now look in the rearview mirror to see the lessons that we’ve learned.

Nearshore Americas chatted with Ivan Zavala, director of Latin America Operations, Business Development & Public Affairs for global IT services company Cognizant, about the personal and professional wisdom he’d gathered during that the pandemic and how to leverage these experiences for the future.

Grasping the Key Lessons

1. Productivity Boosts Don’t Last Forever

The initial productivity boost enjoyed by most organizations at the beginning of the pandemic was a red herring, says Zavala. 

Ivan Zavala, director of Latin America Operations, Business Development & Public Affairs at Cognizant

“Productivity from definitely went up, not only at Cognizant. Everyone saw the articles written during the first quarter of 2020 saying how productivity had risen and employees were happier in home office,” says Zavala.

The reasons for this boost included a lack of distractions and the personal boredom that people were feeling. But quickly enough, the malaise of staying in one place all day became, for some, a wholly negative experience. 

“At the beginning the productivity spike was great, but soon the lessons arrived. It turned out that after a while not everyone was glad to be at home all the time. The line between family, home and work became blurred, emails were checked and phone calls taken late into the night. In global companies, it’s common that we take home calls late in the evening or early in the morning, so some people were used to it. But many were not,” he says.

“In this sense, the productivity we saw was a kind of “fake productivity”, because people were working but they were not happy. That can’t last,” Zavala explains.

Cognizant realized it needed to enhance the care around its team members and to provide the space for those who were having a hard time.

“It was a reminder of how valuable our team members are. Despite being in the technology space, we do not rely on robots. Understanding the human side of our work more helped us to provide greater care for those employees who were perhaps lonely or struggling as the pandemic went on,” he says. 

2. Travel Isn’t Always the Way to Go

The call to remain in place and the temporary suspension of international travel meant that business-as-usual practices, like flights to visit potential or current clients, could not happen. For business continuity, that was a shock.

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“For my entire professional career, I’ve been on a plane at least once a week. Suddenly, me, and everyone else, were stuck in one place,” he explains.

Business continuity initially suffered and maintaining close relationships with long-term customers over video calls and emails was ineffective. After recognizing the new environment posed challenges to traditional customer relation practices, Cognizant decided to come up with a new platform to demonstrate products and services to current clients.

“We created a virtual visiting space where customers could arrive and ‘view’ and experience products in 3D, as well as interact with Cognizant and their own teams,” says Zavala.

The inability to travel also produced some efficiencies that could never have been done pre-pandemic, he says.

“In one day we arranged for a European client to visit Cognizant sites in Mexico, Argentina and Romania in the same day. The pandemic has revealed aspects of ‘travel’ that we did not think possible, but that have proven to be a success.”

3. Executives Are Drowning in Sales Pitches

All companies have had to create new ways to interact, particularly with hires they’ve taken onboard and in many cases have never met in person. Companies were also required to construct new business development methods that could sidestep common problems of the digital-only world.

C-level executives on the buyer side tell me that they receive a minimum of 30 LinkedIn messages a day attempting to sell a product or service — Ivan Zavala

“Getting to know prospects online has been tough,” says Zavala. “C-level executives on the buyer side tell me that they receive a minimum of 30 LinkedIn messages a day attempting to sell a product or service. So we know that’s not the way to go.”

At Cognizant, the Center for the Future of Work was created with the role of researching what the workplace of the future looks like. This research initiative, a resource for the entire industry, also provides a novel way to approach potential customers and show the company’s products without adding to the deluge of sales pitches decision-makers receive.

“We can provide our potential customers with insights rather than pushing solutions like everyone else,” says Zavala. “We form a point of view based on high-level analysis from a dedicated team, and can say that as a company we believe this is how work will be done in the future. We have offerings around and aligned to these views but the initial intention is not about pushing services, but delivering industry-specific investigations.”

4. Collaboration Tools are the Future

The 4000% profit increase that Zoom saw during the pandemic suggests that collaboration tools were central to business continuity over the last 18 months. “Before the pandemic, collaboration tools were not used for true interaction, nor were they used so regularly, ” Zavala says.

But with the dramatic increased use, the future is in collaboration tools, he says.

“These collaboration tools will undoubtedly remain a part of Cognizant’s daily work processes going forward,” Zavala explains.

The younger generation are comfortable with collaboration tools, and this will push digital collaboration in the workplace even more

“It’s also important to remember that younger generations, particularly those in college who are about to graduate, have been reliant on collaboration tools for their studies over the last two years. They are now entering the workforce and they are comfortable with these tools. That will push the digital lifestyle and digital collaboration efforts in the workplace even more,” he adds.

5. Human Interaction Shouldn’t be Taken for Granted

For building tech products and services, as well as capturing new business, human interaction is essential, says Zavala.

“Business development cannot be done effectively online. Analyst events, or those from NGOs or chambers of commerce, try to gather stakeholders together to network and do business, but it doesn’t work,” he explains.

“Performing service delivery or consulting in technology and innovation also requires the same ability to be close to a client and to understand their needs and thoughts. Being close to a client allows you to understand how they actually do business. Among the most important lessons we learned in the field during the pandemic was that human interaction was essential.”

Peter Appleby

Peter is former Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. Hailing from Liverpool, UK, he is now based in Mexico City. He has several years’ experience covering the business and energy markets in Mexico and the greater Latin American region. If you’d like to share any tips or story ideas, please reach out to him here.

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