Article (June-2020)


HR will have extended boundary less role in WFH Scenario

Subir Sinha

Designation : -   Sr. HR Professional

Organization : -  Ghaziabad (U.P)


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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?

SS COVID-19 will have far reaching impacts among all the business functions and how we operate corporations. Work will definitely continue but one will have to adapt to new norms and ways of work.

To give you an example, Sumit Sarkar a Finance Professional in a Manufacturing company based in NCR works from a posh corporate office in Cyber City, Gurgaon. However, from last five weeks he has been working from home Thanks to COVID 19 pandemic which has engulfed the country rather world at large. One had seen IT Professionals working from home in some companies but this is a rare phenomenon in a manufacturing set up. However, Sumit has adapted this and is even enjoying WFH. The work continues with some initial teething troubles.

WFH is not a common feature in India as it has been in the West and some IT Companies. Since the lockdown imposed by Government of India, thousands of professionals have been working from home. Video Conferencing, Skype and Zoom have been the drivers of WFH. In fact, Zoom stocks have boomed multiple times defying the fall in markets across the globe.

Indian Professionals have started enjoying WFH as they feel that their productivity has improved, saving commuting time and spending good quality time with family. However some are not able to focus due to unavailability of ambient work settings and they are also distracted by family. And most important one feels totally frustrated when your boss keeps nagging you and does not trust you.

WFH is going to be the new norm till we get a vaccine for Corona Virus. The future of work is WFH with some set guiding principles laid down by the companies. The framework will have to be designed developed and implemented by companies as per their requirements keeping in view the Social Distancing statutes by government etc.

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?

SS Work from Home for the moment is a compulsive opportunity and it is promoting efficiencies, enhancing productivity and helping organisations to manage costs. One CEO who pays rentals in lacs for his office in Cyber Hub, Gurgaon mentioned that he is going to shift to a small co working space in Gurgaon itself as he has realised that physical presence of his over 150 employees is not required and he can manage with a small office and a conference room to run his business with the same efficiency. To many it has come as a surprised bolt from the blue to their advantage. Just log in through computer or video conferencing in the morning, have a quick meeting with colleagues and Bosses and get on to work on agreed deliverables without any disturbance and wrap up in the evening with another round of meeting to update each other on the progress and close. One has his own space, time, and pace to complete the work. Professionals have now adapted to the new normal as it is called.

It can be a long term viable solution but only if implemented well within certain guidelines which has in built checks and balances so that people do not take undue advantage of it. It's a great opportunity for employers to re-examine their relationship with employees to build a mutually beneficial culture, working norms etc. As mentioned it can save real estate costs which have shot up phenomenally in high streets where companies desire to have their offices and so one can say it can be a long term preposition if managed well.

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

SS Remote working requires the following

  • A Laptop/Desktop Computer
  • A secure internet connection
  • A Chat and Conferencing facility
  • A dedicated place  to work
  • A mobile smart phone and lastly
  • Self-discipline and routine

From last couple of years all these have been promoted by companies and even Government and hence one can immediately be ready for WFH. During last five six weeks since the outbreak of the pandemic companies especially their IT department have been working relentlessly in making WFH happen in most of the companies. Companies have also allotted funds for IT infra to manage WFH last month.

Remote working has different challenges as HR has an enhanced and difficult role to play and things like Trust, Performance Management, Engaging Employees remotely etc. will be important and will throw up different issues to the management.

Man being a Social animal will have to adjust to new set of norms of working, faceless office; working in isolation etc. will require adaptation by professionals.

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?

SS All said and done Management/Bosses want their work being done in assigned time with given resources. WFH promotes this. No more clock watching. What is important is delivery and results as desired. Needless, to mention adequate IT infra-structure is available for employees to perform and deliver. Given these it has been observed that employees give in their best and perform well and are more productive. The time is now to promote Theory Y of Douglas McGregor where in one needs to Trust, give autonomy, required tools, freedom of communication to get the work done by employees. WFH calls for all of these and it has been empirically proved that WFH enhances employee's productivity. Communication and Trust play the critical role in WFH and these are going to be the key differentiators in success of WFH.

Organisations should set norms of communication for WFH. Morning calls and evening calls to set the agenda for the day and monitor the progress through the day. Clearly define response time expected from remote employees as, in how much time a mail has to be answered; WhatsApp messages have to be replied etc. Reporting of work has to be clearly defined. Dashboards, reports to be completed in a day etc. has to be formalised. Technical Support has to be provided and minimum down time has to be managed for remote workers. Engagement and Socialization of employees have to be managed by HR and Company and lastly empathetic treatment is must for success of WFH.

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

SS WFH comes with its own set of problems. It may take time for its adaption amongst Indian managers and employees. First of all it calls for lot of self-discipline from employees. Employees may take liberty and slack down in their work given the freedom to work. Some may start early work and some late which is not correct. One needs to fix time to start and stop work in a disciplined manner.

Apart from this interruptions at home due to daily chores, being alone and working with no friends to talk and bounce of ideas, long hours of work etc. are other issues which HR will have to manage. HR's role as an empathetic friend, philosopher and guide will come to prominence. Coaching, Counselling skills of HR practitioners will be more in demand. CEO's will rely more on HR to give feedback about employees as they may not be seeing and interacting with employees face to face as it is now and someone will have to manage this aspect. It will be the role of HR to connect with all remote employees and talk to them and check their pulse, manage grapevine etc. Hence, HR has an extended boundary less impartial role in WFH scenario.
What requires to be done in keeping virtual teams engaged and productive and bring sense of togetherness?

SS Communication and Over Communication is the key. Communication of Vision, Values, Mission, and Strategy to employees is critical to keep virtual teams engaged and bind them. Periodic reinforcement of these is must. Creating touch points and reaching out to them regularly is another aspect which will help. Defining the deliverables and expectations by line managers and HR is another key to make it successful. Setting up robust framework and guidelines for WFH and ensuring adherence will make WFH productive. Things like virtual team coffee breaks at defined times, town halls, listening to their suggestions for enhancing productivity etc. are some key engagement drivers in WFH times.

HR and Line Managers have to play a critical role in success of WFH. Employee wellbeing and health are also important. HR has to work on schemes to interact with remote workers and bind them together. Understanding the pain points of remote worker and resolving them on the go or at the earliest will be critical.

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

SS Positives as discussed above are productivity enhancement, employees having their own time & space and they can plan well and deliver. Newer Companies will find difficulty in building their own culture as remote workers will be operating in silos and may not be bound by the espoused company culture. There is a high sense of isolation among remote workers. Man is a Social animal and needs friends to talk, share ideas and even bitch about companies which becomes difficult in remote working and hence leads to multiple psychological issues. It is difficult to motivate teams which are working remotely and are not together. Out of sight and out of mind syndrome creeps in.

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?

SS WFH is highly technology driven. It requires lot of capex on IT infra development and adoption. Secure VPN connections and Cyber Security are all must for its success. Indian companies have been investing in IT infra and Cyber Security and perhaps the threats are minimised.