Babak Varjavandi Of Nakisa: “Erasure of the line between work life and home life”

Erasure of the line between work life and home life — The line has been blurring for decades, but the pandemic went a long way toward obliterating it. Employees will be available for work and for their family and friends all the time, choosing the hours that suit them best. There have been major disruptions in recent years […]

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Erasure of the line between work life and home life — The line has been blurring for decades, but the pandemic went a long way toward obliterating it. Employees will be available for work and for their family and friends all the time, choosing the hours that suit them best.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Babak Varjavandi.

The visionary and innovation leader behind Nakisa, Babak has over 20 years of management and IT experience, spearheading the design of Nakisa’s market leading organizational, talent and financial management solutions. Babak founded Nakisa after identifying a growing need amongst organizations for seamlessly integrated, web-based business solutions that fully leverage customers’ Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms. Overseeing the strategic direction of Nakisa and playing a hands-on role in bringing innovative products to market, Babak is instrumental in ensuring that Nakisa’s solutions maintain their cutting-edge status in the fast-growing HCM industry and are at the forefront of the financial industry’s needs. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Concordia University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I was born in Iran and emigrated to Canada in 1979. I am very proud of my background, and growing up in Iran is what made me the person I am today. When moving to Canada, I realized there’s so much opportunity here. Given the timing of my move and my interest in software development, I knew I was incredibly fortunate to get a chance to fully use my talents.

My professional background is in software development, and after freelancing as a software developer for major corporations for years, I founded Nakisa in 1990 — the company is named after my mother. Nakisa has grown significantly over the years, and we currently serve more than 800 enterprises and about 4 million subscribers in 24 industries.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

I think at least three related trends will converge to cause major disruption for employers, and the first is one we’ve already experienced for several years in the tech sector, which is a shortage of skilled workers. Forward-thinking companies are already addressing the inability to hire workers with the exact skillsets they need by bringing junior employees on board and training them. So, this has magnified the importance of training for HR organizations.

Digitization is another trend that will continue and grow in impact. It’s related to the shortage of skilled workers because businesses are looking for alternatives when they can’t hire the people they need. For example, instead of competing for scarce skilled development and operations people, businesses are automating the DevOps process. As a result, digitization is another disruptive factor to keep in mind in the years ahead.

Lastly, globalization will continue to change everything because, as so many businesses learned during the pandemic, employees don’t need to live near headquarters or be in the office to be productive and effective. Businesses can hire the best people, wherever they are, based on the value of their skills, not the location. I predict we’ll see salaries that are based on where people live, i.e., higher “city pay,” narrow because location will become increasingly irrelevant.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

When I hire people, I don’t focus on degrees, but I do believe strongly in the value of education. I have two preteen daughters, and when talking to them about the future, I emphasize the fact that college isn’t just about the specific courses you take at university — it’s about the whole experience, including the socialization that takes place during those years.

Plus, I tell them that attending university can be so much fun! It’s a valuable time when you develop your social skills as a young adult, interact with your peers and build networks that you can rely on for the rest of your life. So yes, I would advise young adults to go to college if possible because it’s about much more than the classes you take or degree you earn.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?

I work in the tech sector, so that influences my perspective, but I think the fear that jobs will be eliminated is overblown. Some jobs will be eliminated, but other jobs will be created by advances in technology. I recommend continuous learning to keep skills up to date. And for jobseekers, it’s important to make sure potential employers can find you. Personal and professional networks and networking sites like LinkedIn can be helpful there.

On employment that fits people’s talents and interests, I’ll note that jobseekers are looking for work that they find fulfilling and an environment that’s fun and flexible. It’s not just about money anymore. At Nakisa, we’ve had people with highly sought-after skills leave for different jobs and then come back to work at Nakisa again because the work they’re performing for us is more exciting and more meaningful to them, plus we have a great company culture. Purpose is important to employees and companies need to ensure that rings true in their hiring process.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

I think what some people miss about automation is its capacity to free people up for more meaningful and strategic work. We tend to focus on the potential negative aspects, e.g., that machines will replace humans, instead of viewing automation as an opportunity to relieve people of the burden of repetitive, low-value-add tasks so they can engage in higher value, more fulfilling work instead.

I’ve seen how automation can help companies retain top talent through that type of transformation instead of eliminating jobs. Walmart is one of our clients that uses Nakisa lease management and organizational design software to automate manual tasks and surface data so their talented team can focus on their core capabilities. Automation is creating jobs, so I advise people to focus on the positive and continuously update their skills instead of worrying about being replaced by machines.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

I definitely see this trend continuing, and my sense is that most other company leaders do as well. The nature of work has changed in a fundamental way, and there’s no going back to 2019. Even if that were possible, we shouldn’t want to go back to the way things were because the working world’s forced experiment in remote work produced a lot of positive results. Our productivity increased at Nakisa after moving to a remote work model, and that’s true for many other employers too.

At Nakisa, we’re planning for a hybrid workplace when the pandemic fully recedes. We envision maintaining an office and places to meet at our locations in the future — specifically areas for collaboration and brainstorming. But I think for many businesses, the old model that was the norm — individual workstations and set hours Monday through Friday — is gone for good.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

Cultural changes are already in process that will support a new approach to work. I remember years ago employees were meticulous about separating their life at work from their life at home. They worked from 9 AM to 5 PM, during which time they were expected to focus exclusively on work with rare exceptions, and then they left the office and didn’t have to think about work again until 9 AM the next day.

It’s much more fluid now, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m an example of this change myself: My wife is a dentist, so she needs to see patients at her practice during business hours, so I take the children to school and pick them up. I have the flexibility to do that, and I encourage my staff to take advantage of the flexibility we offer at Nakisa to keep their lives and families moving forward. People want that flexibility.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

The difficulty for both will be adjusting to a more flexible view of where and when work happens, and I don’t think it will be hard for everyone, but some people will have to adjust. Nakisa was ahead of the curve on this because we’ve always understood the value of flexibility. When we began offering unlimited sick days at Nakisa, people warned us that employees would take more sick days, and they were right — they did.

But employees who called in sick also worked when they were able to from home. So, employees who weren’t feeling well didn’t come into the office, but productivity didn’t suffer, and it’s healthier for everyone not to expose colleagues to a possibly contagious illness — that’s certainly one thing the pandemic made us all hyper-aware of.

The bottom line is that employees want to believe in the company they work for, and they want to find meaning and purpose in their work. When they do find that, they are motivated to contribute to the company’s success. They work much harder, just not necessarily in the traditional hours and locations that they did before. Flexibility increases productivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

I believe in paying people fairly for the value of their work, and if that was the rule rather than the exception, it would alleviate so many inequities. Maybe my thoughts on this are shaped by having an immigrant’s perspective on opportunity, but I don’t think earning potential should depend on where a person was born or where they live. Location shouldn’t be a barrier to a person pursuing their dream job.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

Related to the point above, I am optimistic because I think we’re moving in the direction of one world, one people. We all wish the pandemic hadn’t happened, but some good can come out of it because leaders have learned that jobs that don’t require someone to be in a specific location at a specific time can be done from anywhere, anytime.

I believe this will eventually open more doors for people all over the world. I often think of how fortunate I was to emigrate to Canada and wonder about the people I know in Iran, many of whom were smarter than me and just as hardworking, and yet they didn’t get the opportunities I got. That’s not fair; everyone deserves a chance based on merit, and we’re moving toward that, which makes me incredibly hopeful about the future of work.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

Continuous learning is the key, which is why I always focus on that with my team and advise our clients to invest in training. As I mentioned previously, automation has the potential to free people for higher value work, so people who are concerned about the possibility of a gap should be ready to demonstrate how they can use the extra time to add value.

A couple of examples we’ve seen with our clients who’ve automated: accounting software can centralize data in the cloud and let financial teams streamline statutory reporting tasks so that they can serve as strategic advisors who have a unique understanding of the company’s financial levers. Organizational design software can remove onerous data-gathering and cleansing tasks so HR professionals can align the people strategy with business objectives.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Trend 1: Greater flexibility in a hybrid work model — Watch for more companies to adopt a hybrid model, with many businesses shrinking their commercial real estate footprint but maintaining office space for collaborative activities, training, brainstorming and other tasks that require a group setting.

Trend 2: AI and automation to create greater demand for skilled workers — Contrary to the hype about automation as a job-killer, AI and machine learning will create more demand for workers with the skills to use the insights generated by AI.

Trend 3: Emphasis on the joy of working — Workers are less motivated by money than previous generations, and they are looking for purpose, belonging and fun. Companies that understand that and meet their requirements will win the war for talent.

Trend 4: Globalization of opportunity — Look for employers to increasingly focus on the value employees can bring to a job rather than location, which will make different pay rates for cities and countries obsolete. When pay is based on merit alone, workplaces will be more equitable.

Trend 5: Erasure of the line between work life and home life — The line has been blurring for decades, but the pandemic went a long way toward obliterating it. Employees will be available for work and for their family and friends all the time, choosing the hours that suit them best.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

Albert Einstein once said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

The willingness to learn new things and make mistakes not only makes people better leaders and team members; it is the blueprint to live a more interesting and informed life. We’ve talked about how continuous learning is essential for business, but I’d note it can make us better human beings too.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Angela Merkel. I think she is a strong leader, but she also has a human-side to her. While she cares about her country, she does not ignore the rest of the world.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

Readers can learn more about Nakisa and our work by visiting I’m on LinkedIn at

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

Thank you for your time today!

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