Article (June-2020)


It will redefine the work relationship

Dr. Chandrima Banerjee

Designation : -   Director & Co- Founder

Organization : -  Unigrow Solutions, 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?

CB Work from Home (WFH) which has been limited to few industries will get extended across all. However, WFH employees as a % of total employees will depend on the industry type and job role.

As an analogy, we can look at WFH as an extension of Offshore. Industries like (IT/ITES/Shared services/Consulting) have their clients in different geographies while the bulk of the work gets done at their offices in India. For such industries, it is like taking the proposition one step further - where majority of the staff work from home and come to office not daily but in a particular frequency given their position and role. Hence, all industries operating in an offshore model are amenable to WFH without much of an issue. To enable large scale WFH, organizations need to provide desktops/laptops with adequate security apparatus and a clearly laid down policies articulating the "dos and don'ts". Expectation in terms of productivity and the method of capturing it also needs to be mentioned and followed.

All support functions of manufacturing and distribution companies are amenable to remote working. It is to be borne in mind that people who operate on WFH model will also go to office, not daily but on a rotation basis in some predetermined frequency. Otherwise it may create dissonance in the team.

There will be no WFH for front line workers, who have a job in a physical space. Employees who work with machines or manage shop floors are unlikely do WFH in the current state. Such changes may happen in future with large scale adoption of technology like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality etc. People in sales roles will have limited WFH.

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?

CB I think WFH is here to stay. The need was felt by the organizations even earlier; this health pandemic has accelerated adoption of this practice. We are already hearing how different companies are planning to adopt this approach on a long term basis. A large IT giant has recently declared that they are planning to have most of their employees work from home by 2025. This is not a stray incident. More and more organization will realise the benefits of working from home like reducing huge infrastructure cost, saving commuting time etc. WFH facility may lead to de-urbanization; encouraging employees to work from their native places, may be small towns or villages. This will entail lesser cost of living and commuting and hence the organizations can afford to pay relatively lesser salary without impacting the lifestyle of employees.

Some industries like IT/ITES adopted WFH approach long back. I think it a matter of time when more and more industries will adopt this approach when they will be able figure out how to manage employee productivity while working from home. The situation created by Covid is facilitating the change in the mind set of Indian corporates. The situation has forced the companies to think how to manage efficiently with lesser number of people in office. Once they see the benefits they will be encouraged to adopt this practice on a long term basis. Nonetheless, certain kinds of jobs are not amenable to WFH approach.

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

CB To start with many organizations are trying to find a proper methodology to identify the jobs which may be allowed to work remotely without hampering productivity. But quickly they will find a way out which will further get refined as the organization goes through the real life experience of managing people remotely.

The workplace relationships will undergo a significant change. The leaders have to learn how to keep a team engaged in a trusting environment. The organizations will face the issue of huge trust deficit because of the uncertainty created by the health pandemic followed by economic pandemic. A section of employees who were used to working from office; now will have to be get used to working from home or coming to office for select few days. This in all probability will lead to a feeling of psychological isolation of being disconnected from the daily activities of office life and working together with other colleagues.

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?

CB Ensuring the desired output and productivity is certainly more important than number of hours spent at work. However, certain jobs are more amenable to WFH while others need physical presence at the point of action.

The organizations should create a clear framework for measuring productivity for different kinds of jobs. IT/ITES companies have always used tracking sheet to measure productivity on a regular basis. Some roles which are transaction oriented are amenable for such measurement of productivity on a regular basis. However, there are jobs which are outcome oriented. There is no point in measuring such jobs in the similar fashion; the focus must be on measuring outcome and not regular activities. The companies those have not experienced people working from home earlier need to be more careful in implementing such norms. Here I am talking more of a culture issue. The employees who are more used to face to face review meeting and personal touch from the supervisors may find it little difficult if productivity measurement norms are implemented without sensitizing them. The idea is not policing but enabling people to work productively. The leaders must not forget the importance of virtual review meetings to discuss issues/challenges, remove road blocks and encourage people to perform at their best.

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

CB First and foremost HR should prepare a comprehensive WFH policy with clearly laid down norms.

The organization will face the challenge of keeping people engaged and productive while working remotely. Employees will feel psychologically isolated being physically separated from the office atmosphere and pleasure of working with people. Most of the people do not work at a stretch for the entire working hours in a day. Lot of time is spent in social interaction with colleagues. This acts as a stimulus and people also learn about what is happening in different parts of the organization. People will certainly miss this!

While preparing to implement WFH in the organization, HR must focus on ensuring continuous communication at different levels. It is not only about the immediate supervisors interacting with the team for work related matters; the seniors leaders must keep everyone informed about what is happening in the organization and understand the issues faced by the employees. The leaders must display the ability to take the organization forward in an inclusive manner. It is encouraging to see that now the senior leaders are really going out of the way to be in touch with people.

Ensuring psychological well being of people will assume monumental significance in this uncertain time. People are feeling anxious, scared, frustrated and hence HR should focus on taking care of their mental health more than ever before. Emotional resilience of people should be enhanced not an easy task! HR should give exposure to leaders to appropriate L&D interventions for developing EQ qualities in them.

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

CB The following can be done to keep the virtual teams engaged:

  • Continuous interaction with the team leader and among the team members
  • Providing online learning and development opportunities
  • On line fun activities to keep the teams lively
  • Prompt acknowledgement of good performers. Online reward & recognition.
  • Online physical exercise sessions. Consultation with doctors
  • Ensuring psychological well being. Online meditation, yoga and counseling facility
  • Online collaboration platform for engaging employees since they will not have the opportunity of meeting in person often. So there should be ample opportunity to exchange notes and collaborate on topics of interest even outside areas or work.
What can be the positive and negative effect of WFH on company work culture?

CB WFH will possibly break the barriers of hierarchy through frequent communication for work and wellbeing. More gig workers will join the regular workforce even for handling value adding specialized jobs. This should enhance the ability to work in an inclusive manner. WFH will necessitate the need for productivity measurement which should bring in more transparency and efficiency. There will be a need to re-evaluate jobs keeping in mind different factors like fast adoption of technology, traditional work methods, working with lesser manpower etc.

WFH will also enable employees to acquire skills at a faster pace in order to negate the feeling of "left out". Of course, there will be some employees who would take it easy, but that is equally true in working from office.

WFH will have some associated negative impacts we need to be careful about. The productivity of the organization may suffer badly unless we ensure last mile technology adoption. The juniors and field employees must be enabled with access to data. There is high possibility of people feeling isolated and disengaged while working remotely. After all there is saying out of sight out of mind. So organizations need to be particularly careful to connect with all across the organization. Based on my experience of interacting with different organizations, I see that while senior and middle level managers are quite engaged and working overtime from home. But the relatively juniors employees are not productively engaged in many cases. The organizations need to quickly figure out a way. This is an unprecedented time of health and economic pandemic where in employees at all levels need to be meaningfully engaged to tide over the crisis.

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?

CB Yes, as WFH as a practice increases across industry sectors , cyber crimes will see an uptick as significant number of vulnerabilities will arise in the security setup of most organizations. While most organizations will act immediately and try to plug the perceived gaps as a knee jerk reaction, it may not be the right thing to do from a long term perspective. It is important for organizations to lay out a plan based on the below mentioned dimensions:

  • What are the activities/system transactions that employees will do from home?
  • Who will do what and vice versa (this has to be mapped at an employee level).
  • Which are the systems that will get accessed from home and its criticality.
  • What is the existing security set up, identify fault lines if any and implement enhanced security.

It is to be borne in mind, that there could be different security levels for employees depending on the system that they access. It is to be noted that breaches and leakages are not always due to cyber attacks by outsiders but also because of willful or lackadaisical attitude of internal employees. Hence a clearly stated security policy detailing out what an employee can do and cannot do during WFH needs to be circulated. A governance mechanism needs to be put in place to monitor deviations/lapses on account of employees and take appropriate actions. Every organization will put in different levels of security measures, rules for WFH depending on the industry, scale and complexity.