Article (June-2020)


It will only be a partial model of working

Indranil Banerjee

Designation : -   Sr. HR Professional

Organization : -  CRM Cell, West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd., Kolkata


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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?

IB Covid-19 is a leveler, immaterial whether our monthly take home is 4, 5, 6 or 7 figure if Corona catches up; isolation ward is the only place. During these weeks many of us started realising that even strength of our wallets have its own limitations. Even if we wish, we can't buy to our desires. If we failed to bring down the corona curve and make it flat, might be the days are not far off when there would be hardly any difference between currency notes and pieces of waste paper. This has triggered the thought that it is economic compulsion for us to harness alternative works practice and model so that without much harming business could be continued. The pandemic has thrown challenges to HR to think differently so that alternative business continuity plan could be tried during and after Covid19. In IT and ITeS Sector Work from Home or remote working is prevailing for a long, the practice was used more as a tool for increased employee satisfaction by minimising travel time and advocating work life balance. But again it was not utilised to the fullest extent due to security issues as well as client organization reservations. Other than IT and ITeS; in other sectors, hardly it was ever given serious thought.

However, the pandemic compelled to trigger a thought to the academia, business, consulting, development and entrepreneurs community that how best we can design our processes and institution so that the usual business could be run maintaining social distancing and other safety protocols in the value chain of industry where till recent times application of WFH never heard of. Remote working is a trending now and gradually evolved in the days to come.

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?

IB Let us see in this way; conventionally L&D vertical is open to classroom or experiencing learning. Remote mode of imparting training was tried by some institutions but was never seriously reckoned by the industry. It was left to experimental stage. But see out of COVID-19, infant students to advanced researchers, all have adapted to remote mode of learning. Montessori teachers to university professor, social institutions to CEOs, all have started using virtual platform. Couple of passionate HR professionals started a Zoom application based knowledge session HR@8PM during version 1 of lockdown and then the same became delivery trend of major professional bodies of the country. People started exploring available application tools to conduct webinar, virtual town hall meeting etc. They get into security, features, limitations and importantly dependability issue especially during unstable internet connections. The crux of the question was if these virtual platforms could replace conventional L&D vertical. The answer is yes and no, both. The virtual platform definitely could replace the classroom sessions in case of impart of skills based training; it could easily replace policy, rule, regulation based training helping the corporate to cut substantial administrative costs. But there are serious limitations also. Generally the resource delivers L&D session based on reactions of participants. The attention, involvement, mood, body language etc have important places in delivery model by improvisation. Further, remote functioning is having serious occupational hazards in terms of continuous hearing using headphone, strains of eyes, body-ache, weight gain, indigestion etc. To my understanding with passage of time the Work from Home Vs Work from Office model would emerge as AND model and not as OR model.

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

IB In India COVID-19 kept its footprints in end January and even after waiting for almost 2 (two) months to declare lockdown by Government the handful of strong corporate brands found unprepared to combat issues like policy changes, infrastructure development, logistic issues and importantly accepting the philosophy. Apparently they were more obsessed with measurement of performance, control and other micro management issues. Scope of implementation of Work from Home for blue colour employees were discussed more than discussion of implementation challenge of remote end managerial supervision of those employees of manufacturing sector. Time has come to explore high end supervision using video camera, drone and other information systems. The age old thinking that "Work from Home" means "Rest at Home" required to be thrown out of mind and rather than micro managing on performance indices HR should be asked to facilitate so that employees could have sustainable productivity.

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?

IB The corporate works with cross functional associates to arrive at a decision to reach various objectives. In an office set up the past cases, policy framework, rules book are readily available. Support of superiors, peers, junior colleagues, specialist are always available that helps in solutions. A good office team is also enabler to handling psychological stress often arose out of professional tasks, conflicts and expectations. A virtual work space is devoid of persons and or any group. An employee has to work out with the pre calibrated system. Important is to create the virtual space close to formal office set up with thoughtful development of system incorporating standard operating procedures. It would be a creative thought if the online availability of superiors, peers, subordinates are made available with video chat box. This can definitely reduce boredom of working alone. Another significant point that is cropping up related to perceived work hours of IT enabled service sector; often the employees engaged in work from home are taken granted by the bosses. They are subjected to call beyond normal working hours for certain clarification, directions, exchanges etc. Even family members of such employees often give fewer cognizances on the terms and seriousness of employment. Thus instead of catering work life balance delivers the opposite. It is important to have ground rules for work from home, and an agreement covering all aspects is need of hour for all organization in this knowledge era. This will create a stable work culture at the same time ensure catching up productivity metrics.

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

IB Might be we are having internet connectivity with us for long but managing internet by a section of top and senior management level left with space for significant improvement. The result is sometimes awful. Some line managers are don't even know what exactly their expectations and fumble to understand the process involvement and set objectives. HR is having big role in formulation of policy regarding how to work with remote team, keeping the motivation of employees up, upholding of resilience of shaken spirit of employees. In absence of documented work from home policy an organization can experience pandemonium. HR while formulation of work from home policy should look into criticality of employees having young children and old parents, parents in laws and other variables. HR should specify "Do's and Don'ts". Rather than working for IT driven service area HR should explore possibilities of introducing work from home in other areas of value chain. This will help to draw alternative flow chart and keep the organisation future ready. The organisations hit by lockdown can take serious L&D initiatives and HR can design training sessions helping the employees to remain anti fragile with better mental health.

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

IB Scope of maintaining productivity of employees practicing work from home is manifolds. To create sense of synergy and employee engagement, small initiatives like virtual coffee break or virtual team lunch could prove handy. But in a bigger canvas productivity and sense of togetherness, role of policy makers are also evolving. When this piece of deliberations would go to print the country would be completing version 3 of lockdown out of pandemic. Intermittently, evacuation plans have been made to return the migrating labourers to their natives by respective Government using bus and train services. GoI has also rolled out detailed evacuation plan to bring back Indians stranded outside of the country. The migrating talent pool of country is however worse sufferer as all though majority of them are engaged with IT and ITeS and thus easily extended with help of work from home to carry out their jobs up to 31st July. But though they are having WfH support, left stranded solo on 24*7 basis, somewhere in a remote corners of Tier-1 city like Bangalore, Chennai, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai etc which are other than their native cities. Even the corporate and nation would be benefited with increased productivity out of actual practice of WfH and release of unrelated works, and emotional pressure which is limited to few video/audio calls. Thus we could see that there is scope of various interventions at various levels and we are only at nascent stage.

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

IB The major pluses of WFH are savings in form of less need of facility, infrastructure, and vehicular support. It also gives flexibility in operation, savings of time in absence of travel, less exposure to pollution and multiple city hazards, less carbon footprints, more quality time to self and family etc thus could be termed as way forward to future work space. In hind sight, continuous engagement with WFH may result into decrease of individual social skills thus in later stage leading a team could be a serious deterrent for an employee. This in turn could have serious repercussion in the work culture of the institution. Organization better measure the changes of personality profiling of the employees engaged in WFH in regular intervals and if necessary can practice rotation system exposing the employees to office environment too. Remote managing is successful when employees are empowered and objective driven. Thus it is important that the performance management system be redesigned with more and more adoption of WFH.

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?

IB Whether a person works from office or home, a system is always vulnerable if information security system is not regularly measured and upgraded. The employees should be given regular instructional training so that they can keep information system protected. The servicing organization should also have clarity from its clients before a project is left to WFH. Keeping eyes on security aspects the organization should keep a close watch on hardware and software used by the employees through periodic audit. The organization could distribute security protection related literature to the employees to create sense of responsiveness. Organization could prophase "Zero Tolerance Policy" in case of security breaches. The software and hardware used at employees end could be regularly updated with protected permission to relevant operating space for a protected environment.