How do you visualize the new normal of work and workplace beyond covid?
SC As you recover from a crisis, key point to reflect on is 'what have we learnt from this crisis?'
In my view, here is some of the learning:
- The COVID pandemic is here to stay for some time now. It is not going to die down in next few months. Hence, organisations will have to live with the associated health challenges and yet reboot their businesses.
- There is good scope to rethink on how work is done. Now, most of the work (except manufacturing etc.) can be done from anywhere. The notion that employee should be physically present in the office/point of activity is proved wrong in last six months.
- 'Working from home' has yielded significant benefits for both - the employer and employees. For employees, it means reduction/elimination of commute time, flexibility in working hours, improved work-life balance. For the employers, it ensured business continuity, overhead cost reduction, employee commitment.
- The long term implications of virtual work setting on employee connect, sense of belongingness, motivation are yet not fully unfolded. However, the early signs indicate that these are the upcoming areas in the Employee Engagement space.
- Digital can be a big differentiator in the way business is done. Also, digital has significantly transformed the way employees carry out their work.
- The way an organisation responds to a crisis; reflects the character of that institution. Hence, based on their employment experience during the pandemic, employees will decide extent to which they would stay invested in the organisation.
- Despite the crisis associated challenges, leaders can get their employees to focus on the work by reigniting the organisation purpose and values. There are numerous examples of employees going beyond their call of duty to serve the customers during this pandemic.
- In order to respond to such a crisis, the organisations have to be more adaptive, resilient and innovative. Building these capabilities in the employees will help in recovery & sustainable growth.
Thus, while the immediate focus will be to reboot the business and improve the profitability through cost & efficiency, the long term imperatives of work are - strengthening the cultural fabric, making virtual office work, strengthening capabilities of resilience & innovation.
What may be the stark differences between pre and post covid work and workplace?
SC Given that the COVID pandemic will continue to impact our lives, employees will expect the employer to provide required safety & health protection in terms of workplace safeguards, health insurance programs, and relief during the infection & recovery phase.
Workplaces such as factories will have to follow safety & health protocols strictly since large number of people are employed round the clock. The employers will have to build confidence among employees that it is worth taking the risk of working in the factory amid the pandemic. Outbreak of the pandemic in neighbouring towns will create challenges for factories in securing adequate labour.
Post COVID there will be increase in the remote working compared to the pre-COVID. The employers will encourage more and more employees to work from home. That would mean saving in the facilities cost for employers and flexibility for employees. The employers will have to define policies for evaluating work, ensuring engagement levels and enhancing productivity in remote working arrangement.
Since most of the organisations are under tremendous financial stress, the indirect workforce (employees on third party rolls) will expand considerably. Candidates will find such roles much easier to hunt than those on the company rolls.
The workplaces will be redesigned to ensure that there is enough social distancing, adherence to all the safety & health norms. That will bring down the headcount of employees working in offices down considerably. The also has impact on employees interact with each other in smaller as well as large groups.
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?
SC Technology is not an end in itself but just an enabler, albeit an important enabler.
During the lockdown, the employees have quickly adapted themselves to the technology tools to carry out the work, connect with each other. Additionally, the younger workforce has huge preference for technology. So technology penetration in such organisations is easier and preferred.
In the era of remote working, large contingent workforce, uncertain & volatile business environment, the employers have uphill task of sustaining employee morale & commitments. Usually, employers adopt measures such as timely impactful communication, leadership talks, value sessions, positive reinforcements through recognition & appreciation etc.
In the absence of face to face interactions, technology should be used to build connect, values reinforcement and inclusion. The technology interventions should be thought through, designed well and engaging enough to compensate for loss in the personal touch.
Multinationals know it well since they work on building consistent cultural fabric in every geography and leverage technology quite well for this purpose.
What should be the short term and long term strategies and initiatives for employees in this respect?
SC First thing to do is to reassure the employees that all their safety & health requirements are being taken care of by the organisation. By putting employee health above the business, the organisation can earn respect and commitment of employees.
Next is to get the employees rally around the 'purpose' and 'mission' of the organisation. This can be done through virtual town halls, small group meetings. Through these interactions, leaders should share their plans to navigate the COVID crisis, reboot & grow the business post COVID. Any significant rethink of current business strategy can also be shared. This would help the employees understand the big picture and their role in realising the business ambition.The leaders can then involve the employees in exploring innovative ways to drive their business plans.
Organisation will have to train the managers and leaders in managing work & teams in the new normal. They can be sensitised on managing teams through remote working, diverse talent with varied needs.
In the remote working era, new rituals will have to be put in place to ensure regular team connect, collaboration and exchange of ideas.
Excessive reliance on productivity & efficiency (for example, asking employees working from home to maintain timesheets etc) can come in the way of employee morale & contributions. So, it will have to be sensitively balanced and communicated well.
Organisations will have to build feedback processes so that they continuously hear from employees on their work experiences post COVID and then take suitable corrective actions.
Remote working has opened opportunities for talent that has not been focused so far - Persons with Disability. Organisations can look at including PWDs in their workforce by offering them suitable roles and creating enabling policies.