Article (June-2020)

Articles

Challenge would be to engage employees effectively

Jana Venkata Ramakrishna

Designation : -   Purchase Executive

Organization : -  Kochi Marriott Hotel

01-Jun-2020

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How COVID-19 is going to impact the work of future and what can be the framework of work from home model?

JVR Although we all are going through a phase of blurred clarity now, but the novel Corona virus will change our lives in ways we never thought was possible. The way businesses operate, the way we travel and also the way we work are some of the things that are going to change dramatically in a post-COVID-19 world.

Following are some of the ways in which I see our work changing after the pandemic is over-

1) The "NEW" Normal -Work from home

Although the new routine of work-from-home has already started as a temporary fix, but industries are surely viewing this new normal as a permanent solution to fix the current Corona situation. Issues pertaining to staggered movement of employees, social distancing in office stations etc. will be no more a concern.

As an industry we would have to be better equipped to work from home and also look at the infrastructure right from laptops, a reliable internet connecting, microphones and backup. The idea would be to invest more in a work -from home set up and save up on other expenses such as electricity, food, travel, safety and hygiene.

2) Digital workspace

Although the digital era struck a long time back, yet it is now that digitization will be in the fore front. The entire employee lifecycle - ranging from meetings, appraisals, hiring, separations, engagement activities will all be digitalized.

3) Health and safety under the spotlight

Employers will ensure that safety and hygiene aspects are not compromised upon. Ensuring that periodic health checkups, stringent pre- employment medicals with additional tests, helplines for medical emergencies etc. are organized.

Do you think that work from home has been a compulsive opportunity created by Covid for organisations during crisis? Can it be long term viable solution?

JVR There are two camps when it comes to working from home. One group usually thinks that people will get nothing done, and the other group believes workers will be happier and more productive. Chances are, your answer greatly depends on how you personally fare when working from home.

In order for organizations to look at work from Home option as a long term solution they will need to look at the pros and cons of offering a work from home option for their organizations. Some of which can be as follows -

The arguments in favor of working from home are strong:

Expansion without expense: Letting employees telecommute conserves space in your office. With this strategy, you can likely coordinate schedules so you don't have more people on the premises than space.

Scalability: Depending on the nature of your business, having people work from home should be easily scalable.

Low-risk trial: Implementing a work-from-home policy doesn't come with a long-term commitment. If it doesn't work, you can simply call it off.

Improving your benefits package: Telecommuting is an added perk that could help your company attract and retain employees.

Remote offices: Your middle market company may have an easier time expanding when it allows people in remote markets and territories to telecommute. This arrangement can suffice until the area is sufficiently developed to support a physical office location.

Flexible timing for employees

Health benefits: People who work from home have an easier time eating healthy and striking a manageable work-life balance. Eating healthier and having more time to spend with your family can help you fell less stressed, which will make for a happier more productive workday.

However, there are equally strong reasons to think carefully about such a program:

Management issues: Managing employees without face-to-face interaction can be challenging, especially for managers who have not previously worked with telecommuters.
Incompatibility: Not all employees work well remotely because some individuals lack the self-discipline to stay on task.

Technological issues: Providing adequate communications and technical support is harder with remote workers. If one system goes down, your employees may not be able to talk to their teams or meet deadlines.

Lost opportunity for collaboration: People who are working from home lose the element of personal interaction that often creates an innovative atmosphere.

Personal device issues: Telecommuters depend on their own Internet connections and computers to maintain communications with corporate headquarters. There is a lot that can go wrong here.

I personally feel that the advantages of introducing and sustaining a work from home offering for employees are far greater than the disadvantages. Also there are ways for a company to manage the cons simply by working on their technology and management practices. Therefor I would say that Work from home offering is a long term and viable option however organizations need build their technology and management practices to get themselves ready for this new norm.

How much remote working readiness has been achieved by Indian organisations and how workplace relationship will be redefined in such organisations?

JVR There are two dimensions to this - one is that companies have to be prepared technologically and the second aspect is of being psychologically prepared. As things stand now, the preparation is not complete at both ends. We are all struggling to understand the full implications of remote engagement and learning through trial and error. When employees work mostly or exclusively from home, theylikely only interact with their colleagues via email and occasional calls. Remote working isn't conducive to building meaningful relationships with co-workers in the same way that working in the office is.

One the key challenges organizations will face is how to effectively engage their employees remotely in order to build work place relations.

What is important- 9 to 5 office work culture or work output? What organisations should do to ensure better productivity adopting work from home model?

JVR Based on the today's situation increasing employee productivity is important. Some of the ways by which organization can improve the productivity of the employees will be :

1. Part of the team: One of the important aspects of managing remote employees is to remember that they are still part of your workforce, and that they need to know it.

2. Establish a time-tracking technique: Independent work schedules can make it difficult to track every remote employee's productive work hours, a problem that is amplified if they're working in a different time-zone. The best way to overcome this is to establish a particular schedule for tracking productivity or to communicate with them.

3. Connect with remote employees: It is important to routinely connect with your remote employees, just as you would engage the employees who work in your office. Even if the remote worker is a freelancer, getting to know them better will help you assess them better, while also building a stronger work bond. This can be in the form of a casual email, phone call, or even text message; anything to show your employees you're thinking about them.

4. Let Your remote employees connect with each other: Being part of an organization goes beyond team meetings and working tight deadlines. And while most employees tend to bond over coffee breaks, meetings, Lunch break etc., work from home employees don't spend their day in the company of their colleagues. This reduces their profile at work and disconnects them from each other.As an employer, it is as important to keep lines of communication open between your subordinates, as between you and them. Today's tech allows for conference calls,chat, and video calls.

5. Schedule regular face-to-face meetings: No matter how far removed your remote employee might be, you're going to have to schedule a face-to-face meeting with them at some point. Once every quarter is minimal, but doing it as often as possible will help build company culture.

6. Don't micromanage: It's obviously very important to stay connected with a work-from home employee in order to keep track of their productivity and schedule activities, there's just no point in bugging them every 30-40 minutes asking for an update. This sort of micro-management is a thorough waste of time and productivity for the both of you.

7. Plan out daily work schedules: If your employees are planning to work from home on a certain day or for a specific period of time, it would be a good idea if they planned out their work schedule for that particular period. That also means planning your day with them, especially if they work with you on a constant basis.

What kind of problems and challenges will be faced in future and how HR should prepare to meet while implementing WFH?

JVR With the increasing focus on work from home, some of the key challenges will be -

For corporations -

  • Deciding which roles can be remotely handled and train employees quickly on dos and don'ts of remote access
  • Set out a plan of action involving senior managers/section heads.
  • Ensuring infrastructure is available to all working from home. This includes laptops, software's, passwords
  • Insist they are connected with line managers
  • Be sympathetic to their needs and requirements

For individuals -

  • Separate workspace from home space; use noise-cancelling headphones if there is too much noise around
  • Have a clear understanding of productivity goals. Set a time table for work and personal commitments
  • Make sure you have necessary infrastructure. Laptop should be installed with software, network access and passcodes
  • Explain to family that you have deadlines and you are not on vacation
  • Be accessible
  • HR team across Industries will need to be agile in bringing out Policy and technology changes for successful implementation of work from home.

What requires to be done in keeping virtual teams engaged and productive and bring sense of togetherness?

JVR A few decades ago, humans would have not imagined sitting at one place and to be able to communicate with others. The discovery of phones and the internet has totally changed the communication pattern. One can comfortably sit at his home and work, communicate with family and friends, and purchase whatever required. Technology has eased our living in many ways.

Technology has also been used in a wonderful way, wherein people work in groups but virtually; which means they are working together by means of electronic devices. People work, communicate and even play games by teaming up virtually.

In order to engage virtual teams one will need to facilitates emotional connections among participants. Activities that enable participants to learn new things about one another promote the kind of bonding that makes physical space disappear. Make your virtual team building activities work by using strategic idea.

Though not having face to face communication will make one face many challenges, but following simple virtual team management tips and tricks like fostering personal relationships, keeping the lines of communication open, gamify your team work etc. will make it work and prove to be a very effective working model for the organization.

What can be the positive and negative effect of WFH on company work culture?

JVR Company culture is fostered, in large part, by employees coming together and engaging in team-building activities and division- or company-wide meetings-so having disjointed teams can make this hard to accomplish.

Developing a company culture isn't just something to be done for its own sake-it has meaningful effects on employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity. When employees clearly identify with a company's values, they're more likely to engage with their work. Engagement is key in today's workplace, Companies with high engagement have higher customer loyalty, productivity, and profitability than their peers. Companies with high employee turnover rates often suffer from poor employee engagement.

Additionally, organizations with an engaged workforce and a clear culture in place are more likely to attract top talent. Work-from-home policies can affect the development of company culture in a variety of ways-

  • Remote working isn't conducive to building meaningful relationships with co-workers in the same way that working in the office is.
  • Feelings of isolation among remote employees
  • Lack of enthusiasm about building and growing a business is harder to foster
Having said that, at the end of the day culture isn't a place. Culture is a mindset. They key to building work culture with remote teams is engagement with communication and use of technology paying a critical role.
Can use of excessive technology to make WFH workable also bring the cyber and IPR threats to business organisations and how to mitigate such threats?

JVR Following are some of the most common cyber-attacks and their countermeasures. All organizations can take these practical steps to improve their cyber security posture in the context of the impacts of COVID-19.

1. Socially engineered trojans:

Socially engineered Trojans provide the No. 1 method of attack (not an exploit or a misconfiguration or a buffer overflow). An end-user browses to a website usually trusted -- which prompts him or her to run a Trojan. Most of the time the website is a legitimate, innocent victim that has been temporarily compromised by hackers.

Enterprises can protect themselves by not allowing elevated users to surf the Web or answer email. An up-to-date antimalware program can't hurt, but strong end-user education provides better bang for the buck.

2. Unpatched software:

Coming in a distant second is software with known, but unpatched exploits. The most common unpatched and exploited programs are Java, Adobe Reader, and Adobe Flash. It's been this way for a few years now. Make sure your patching is perfect. If you can't, make sure it's perfect around the top most exploited products, including Java, Adobe, browser admins, OS patches, and more.

3. Phishing attacks

Today's cyber actors use sophisticated malware which, when clicked on, can lead to the disclosure of large amounts of confidential and personal information and the theft of remote access logins. Personnel should be advised about phishing mails to:
  • Watch out for unexpected or poorly written emails
  • Check the email addresses of any unknown or unusual senders
  • Avoid clicking on any embedded links
  • Immediately report and delete suspected phishing emails.