Article (June-2020)


Empathy has to be a core part of designing WFH process

LS Murthy

Designation : -   COO

Organization : -  Radiant


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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?

LS The unprecedented times that we are in today, calls for innovative measures.

Mindsets will undergo sequential transformation to get to an outcome-based impetus. Cost-efficiencies will weigh-in on. Work spaces will change forever, embrace blended model of online and offline. It's a huge boost to gig economy and WFH will help increased balance in terms of gender diversity.COVID-19 forced many organizations to operate in new channels like educational institutions adopted virtual learning, in-person events became 100 percent digital.

To enhance efficiency of productive WFH process & policy framework, Recommending below the set of parameters from our experiences:

  • Clearly defined process of work hours & responsibilities and privileges & structured work allocation estimates & project roadmaps, production check lists, response & resolution timelines, new empowerment of decision-making protocols.
  • Streamline communications channels., create, collaborate, and centralize communication for all the cross-functional team work
  • Provide efficient IT environment & support: Organisations have to keep their VPNs and Firewalls updated with security patches in place. Maintain security standards & compliances.
  • Continue internal communication programs, including all-hands meetings. Maintain a connection to your culture.
  • Display exemplary empathy to ensure that they will stay engaged with the organization. Wellness programs, health and happiness facilitation.
  • And Above all, exhibit empathy, compassion & authenticity, model the behaviour you expect of your staff, especially while working from home. Use the same collaboration tools as everyone else, be available, and recognise the hard work in your team and the dynamic business complexities in new VUCA times.
  • Focus relentlessly on what really matters & have a grip on data management.
  • Authentic leadership to ensure explicitly connecting people's purpose to the vision and make sure that everybody feels that they have a unique contribution to the bigger picture.

Importantly, every enterprise needs to realize that employees are not mere units of productivity, that they deserve a humanized workplace experience, where empathy is a core part of whole designing Work from home process.

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?

LS The current situation has paved the way for a paradigm shift. WFH will encourage more women to join the workforce as the hassles of travelling daily would disappear. "In the US, about 25% of the workforce works out of home earlier as well. India Inc is seriously considering WFH as a new constant is because it involves cost savings, convenience and productivity gains, if implemented correctly. Companies see work-from-home as a viable long-term option if regulatory issues can be addressed. Balancing is the key. This new normal might just become a standard practice, at least for some companies and their employees even after the Covid-19 situation is resolved as it's not going to end so suddenly magically.

About two-thirds of the 4.3 million ITBPO workforce across the country have moved to a work-from-home model to keep services uninterrupted during the lockdown. Experts say some companies are likely to move to WFH permanently eventually for optimising operating costs & optimise resources to recover from the huge unforeseen losses. Currently many Indian IT companies are working with their clients to get special approvals and service level agreements, change requests wherever needed to have employees connect remotely to continue providing services, especially in supporting mission critical IT systems. Going ahead, IT companies are also expected to pay attention to have necessary force majeure clauses to cover situations like outbreaks, in addition to existing clauses around acts of God and natural disasters in the contracts.

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

LS A simple check list, which will help organizations to prepare for WHF for better business continuity mostly defined in QMS, ISMS &CMMI standards & Compliances part of remote work readiness.

  • IT Dept. should check the remote working capability & Check readiness of access of all critical application over Web/VPN.
  • Segregate laptop and desktop users first. Desktop users should be allowed for "use your own device" or company-owned or rented laptops & segregate and define productive applications.
  • Deploy the endpoint monitoring agents and restrict the access as per the role, responsibility and company policies.
  • Use messenger, file sharing, VC meeting and screen sharing solution (WebEx, Go To Meeting, Zoom, Skype etc.), Use Wifi/Data Card/Hot Spot for the network connectivity. Use WhatsApp groups -people get update for the quick task.
  • Refer all organization email communications very seriously
  • vendor, buyers/suppliers should also enable for digital platform like VC meeting and emails, enable digital payment capability.
  • Organization should have dedicated hotline/email id for emergency services support. To support above action items data security and access management must be reviewed, validated by IT &HR teams.

Business leaders will need to understand that they have to let go of the high control, low-trust micro management style, and adopt a more flexible approach. This ensures creativity and optimises productivity. Organisations of the future will be designed for a more horizontal flow of information and ideas.

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?

LS A complete evaluation of the pros and cons of remote working is needed.9 to 5 work culture is long been transformed into flexible work hours and increased productivity and in fact people clock more hours on the job now having appreciated the crisis & challenges disrupting business success.

  • Balancing the two - enabling your employees to be productive, while also motivating them to work hard, from the comfort of their own home is critical. Experts believe that the answer lies in a combination of adopting flexible management practices, along with the latest in technology, to give employers control over their employees.
  • Some of the most effective ways to keep work-from-home employees productive and motivated are:
  • Ensure that employees have created a designated work space in their homes, separate from their personal living space, compartmentalizing the office & living space for focus. Provide Best noise-cancelling headphones& reimburse high-speed WIFI connectivity costs.
  • Work with remote employees to establish mutually agreed time-frames for completion of work or to engage in two-way communication. Managing work-from-home employees is a purely human process, it's always best to make employees perform the most crucial tasks first, so that they can complete the rest of their tasks comfortably, through the course of the day, be flexible.
  • It becomes increasingly important to keep WFH employees updated on the latest progress of assignments/meetings and sharing delegating assignments & responsibilities, or brainstorming to resolve problems, always remember to include all teams make them feel they are always part of the core team and don't feel left out.
  • Avoid micromanagement. 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 micro-management it demotivates.
  • Encourage using cloud data transmitting, which will give flexibility and efficiency. Everyone one will feel more connected as it allows easy collaboration between team members and flexibility to hassle free access relevant files and documents from wherever they are.

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

LS The crisis has provided an opportunity for the companies to discard its years-old operating model and leapfrog into a new mode of work with an outlook for most of their employees working remotely.TCS will ask 75 percent, or 4.5 lakh of its global workforce (including 3.5 lakh in India), to work from home permanently by 2025. The management believes they don't need more than 25 percent of the workforce in office in order to be 100 percent productive.

Working from Home is not all rainbows and unicorns. Few challenges to mitigate, most often hindering issue is over working. Work is infinite. There is always something to be solved-and when you have an office routine, it's easier to leave what you do at the workplace. When you work from home, your office is where you live so planning is key. Avoid over working.HR & reporting managers should work closely in scheduling in line with tasks aligning with their roles & responsibilities.

Plan the tasks & prioritise critical ones and prepare a schedule for delivery, improves productivity tremendously. Manage Interruptions smartly, be it family, pets or any unanticipated service calls.

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

LS Let's appreciate the fact that, remote work needs extra communication, the only real solution is to communicate as much as possible.

I think we need to move from traditional WFH to WHFH (Working happily/healthy from home). As HR we need to ensure the two critical needs health & happiness to be highlighted more strongly.

Inculcate to lead well before the crisis by planning ahead. That means creating a team whose members are deeply respected as individuals, have been trained beyond one's wildest imagination, are given exceptional autonomy, and who care deeply about one another. More relevantly, HR teams will be under severe stress for managing people's emotions and expectations. Fear of unknown will trigger anxiety factor in people. Prepare them with adequate awareness training programs on the potential challenges and problems.

Empathetically convey that, you are not a team because you work together. You are a team because you trust, respect, and care for each other.

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

LS The Positives:
  • Demonstrating Trust that you trust your employees to work from home helps cement the emotional bond between employer and employee that enables engagement drives performance, and willing to go above and beyond to hit their goals.
  • It gives employees time flexibility One big benefit that most employees discover is the saving of commute. Will have more time to dedicate to themselves, their families, their hobbies - or their jobs if they so choose.
  • Focussed work. Team members are encouraged to schedule the tasks that require intense focus (writing, planning, or strategizing) to maximize efficiency and absence of common workplace distractions helps focus better.
  • Curtails absenteeism. Motivated teams are healthier and happier and don't tend to stay away from work for manageable casual reasons.
  • Individual development. Employees with healthy family lives, social lives, and who have time for passion projects and hobbies are better workers. People are taking online dance; Yoga & Mediation training sessions and some are passionate about learning new skills with the additional time available enrolling into University programs.
  • Absence of boundaries : It can be hard to turn off your work brain and relax. Some employees find themselves working or checking email from the time they wake up to the time they hit bed, causing burnout.
  • Absence of social connect : Humans are social animals as the saying goes. It can be isolating. Being away from the office can also erode the bonds between an employee and the company itself. An office, especially one with a thoughtfully designed workplace experience, gives your employees a sense of identity and connection to your company and its values. This declines when you spend too much time away from it.
  • It eliminates serendipitous encounters : One of the biggest benefits of regular office premises, especially one with an amazing layout, is that it provides opportunities for spontaneous interaction between people from different organizations.
  • Complexity of distractions : While working from home eliminates typical office distractions in India, the fact is that employee homes are rarely optimized for work. Often, People end up working on a couch or bed because they simply don't have a suitable desk or table may cause fitness challenges. Family, Pets and other distractions too could distract focus &U productivity and positive frame of mind as well.

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?

LS It is hard to prevent malicious attacks because these technologies are new, vulnerabilities are less known, scalability harder due to a lack of familiarity, thereby making all of these ambiguities an excellent target for bad actors to exploit.
  • As the adoption of new technologies require companies and people to switch to all-software networks, the cycle of constant updates might result in security vulnerabilities. Though technology is evolving rapidly in the digital landscape, cyber security experts will have to deal with phishing attacks. It is important to sensitize employees about the importance of data protection.
  • The company can use strong computer firewalls to try to preclude hackers from company networks.
  • Companies should also invest in good anti-malware software tools.
  • Companies should take steps to protect intellectual property from insiders.
  • Since most of the instances of employees stealing intellectual property are by use of email from the company network, companies can protect their property by using a logging system that monitors emails sent to suspicious addresses like competitor accounts, employee personal accounts, and other accounts.
  • Companies can deploy security policies that limit employee access to files they are not using.
  • Companies can also limit the use of removable storage like flash disks on certain company computers that contain sensitive information.
  • Trade secrets and other intellectual property can be protected by getting employees to sign nondisclosure agreements. This can establish tough financial penalties if the employee maliciously leaks a company's trade secrets.

It is important for companies to identify and register intellectual property. This includes designs or potential designs of goods and services registered with the Patent and Trademark Offices.