Article (October-2020)


Organisations will follow a hybrid model with a calibrated usage of remote working

Shikha Rastogi

Designation : -   CHRO & Board Advisor

Organization : -  Bloom CE Technology, Delhi


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How do you visualize the new normal of work and workplace beyond covid?

SR 'Disruption' has been the buzzword for the past few years, but covid can indisputably be called the biggest disruptor of them all. It's like the nature's push to re-boot. It has accelerated an unprecedented change in the way we work, communicate and collaborate with each other. The Pandemic, no matter how long it lasts and how each company navigates it, will alter the workplace ethos like never before, to the extent of redefining the core purpose of workplace.

Remote working and digital transformations were in preliminary stages, but the pandemic has forced these to be adopted en masse. The new normal in organisational design embraces greater flexibility to support different work situations and to ensure business continuity in case the crisis unfolds again.

Organizations, presently are focused on creating a safe and healthy workplace and need for a contactless work environment has increased to accommodate social distancing guidelines. There will be an increase in the implementation of smart building technologies to facilitate the human movement through the office and to reduce the 'multi touch-points' thereby minimising the risk of spreading infections.

Future workplaces may not be confined to structural limitations and covid will not only change the way we work, it will also affect the reasons why we go to the office in the first place. The offices will transition from a seat-count perspective to more like a command-and-control center, with most of the employees working from remote locations. The physical office will move from a go-to-destination for work to a coordination destination, a place where people would like to go to for specific tasks, like group activity, physical interaction or some coordination exercise.

Increased connectivity between devices and wearables and with the usage of AI, the work environment will go virtual and at the same time provide personalized working environment based on individual needs in order to boost productivity. Flexible by design, it will be a vital tool to support and enable a productive, mobile workforce.

What may be the stark differences between pre and post covid work and workplace?

SR The institutions, the world over, are envisioning a sea-change in organizational set-ups. WFH, for many set-ups can lead to efficient logistics, reduced structural costs and wider geographical employability.

The pandemic has increased the trend where employers play an expanded role in their employees' financial, physical and mental well-being. There are instances when the employee is physically restrained from movement but can efficiently work from home. This can now enable him to avoid taking sick leave and increase organizational productivity. Similarly, financial assistance, adjusted hours of operation and child-care provisions and various other employee-care programs can be effectively implemented.

Even before the pandemic, organizations were increasingly using non-traditional employee monitoring tools but post-Covid, employers will be using technologies more frequently for expanded data collection of their employees through methods such as virtual clocking in and out, tracking work-computer usage, productivity, employee health, safety and engagement to better understand employee experience.

Pre-Covid organizational structure was focused on streamlining roles, supply chains and workflows to increase efficiency. While this approach worked, it also created fragilities, as processes had no flexibility to respond to disruptions. Post-Covid organisational redesigns shall be focused in creating resilience which will be well equipped through agile process flows to respond and correct course quickly.

As organizations transition to enhanced remote working operations and explore the critical competencies, employees will need to collaborate digitally, and be prepared to adjust with shifting of performance goal-setting and employee evaluation processes.

The economic uncertainty of the pandemic has caused job-losses and exposed others for the first time to alternate working models. Post-Covid organizations will continue to expand their use of contingent workers to maintain more flexibility in workforce management.

Beyond covid, HR professionals will be responsible to create and nurture a work culture that drives mutual trust, empowerment, productivity and inclusion. Can technology help achieving this or HR will have to explore other innovative ways?

SR The entire world has gone adrift under the impact of the pandemic. The burden and economic cost is humongous and will leave an imprint for quite a few years even after the Pandemic is over. The organisation's financial health will also have a bearing on the already distressed employee morale, who themselves are trying to sustain in the overall environment of job losses and salary cuts.

HR will have to play a huge role in this new environment, playing as a bridge between the organisation and the employees. On one hand, the organisations, reeling under mounting economic burden, would be looking at every conceivable way to reduce cost. The employees, on the other hand, would be stressed under the uncertainty of continuation of jobs. Productivity, whether per capita or organisational, will have the maximum impact.

HR, with efficient use of technology, can help reduce the stress. New innovative mechanisms have to be employed to reduce cost and boost employee sentiments and morale. The Pandemic forced many organisations to experiment successfully with WFH. The challenge now would be to explore the option to make it sustainable for the job roles in which WFH is possible.

Organisations will have to follow a hybrid model with a calibrated usage of remote working. This will not only have a bearing on infrastructure and logistics cost, but will also enable them to employ beyond geographical constraints. The employees will also have the comfort of reduced travel burden besides the comfort of their domicile surroundings. A judicious use of technology can enable HR to monitor work time efficiencies. Interconnected devices can provide seamless input on employee's mental and physical health and help HR to coordinate work cycles, employee burn outs and boost productivity.

A work culture well equipped with pillars of mutual trust, empowerment, productivity and inclusion in the digital world will enhance social collaboration index (a must to have trait) of organisation to gain competitive edge in the market. As per recent research by Accenture, 84% of C-suite executives believe they must leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve their growth objectives and view technology as an enabler for their strategic priorities. To instill the right AI capabilities and mindset, HR will need clearly-defined strategy, structure, tools and operating model for scaling technological shift.

Igniting a culture is a big job and can be a logistical nightmare for HR teams to manage. Culture technology is the new wave, taking the administrative burden off HR's shoulders while helping to connect its people with the programs the company is already paying for-for example, well-being, fitness and challenges and rewards. There are various tools available to unify and empower bottom-up cultures, giving employees the ability to find and participate in experiences together, as a team and as a company.

What should be the short term and long term strategies and initiatives for employees in this respect?

SR Nurturing a work culture of mutual trust, empowerment, productivity and inclusion through scaling up of digital transformation would require mindset shift in both short term and long term in the areas of hiring, learning, career development and employee experience. In order to build an agile and resilient workforce post-pandemic, the focus would shift from job-role based employment to key skillsets and workflows that drive organization's competitive advantage.

Many full-time employments would shift to contingent workers as cost-saving measures since gig workers would offer employers greater workforce management flexibility. Multiple HR tech innovation through AI and RPA will provide HR leaders to implement smart work solutions for measuring work productivity of both full time and gig workforce. Data science based hiring decisions will become a way of life for companies.

The current economic crisis has also pushed the bounds of how employers view the employee experience. Employing measures through online platforms will be an effective way to promote physical health and improve the emotional well-being of employees.

Employees would be required to develop critical skills that potentially open up multiple opportunities for their career development, rather than preparing for any specific future role. We already see this happening with Walmart which is partnering with 'Strivr' to use Virtual Reality to prepare Walmart workers for Black Friday in-store shopping; Best Western Hotels has partnered with Mursion to use virtual reality to train front desk clerks in problem solving skills; Home Depot built a mobile app to train new hires while they are on the job, sharing product information to reduce the need for face-to-face training. In long term, all of these experiments will be accelerated as business leaders disrupt their old practices which relied heavily on physical presence and pivot to developing proof of concepts for learning on-the-job using the latest consumer technologies like gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality.

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