The Future of Work is Hybrid 1

In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Subir Sinha, Director-HR at NetCom Learning talks about his three decades long HR journey, changes happening in the recruitment front during the COVID-19 crisis, and re-imagining internal training and work for the future. He also shares his insights on how the pandemic can become a catalyst for Hybrid Working Model.


JOURNEY

Q. With your versatile and rich experience of almost 3 decades across a variety of HR functions, how eventful has your journey been like? Any favorite experience which took you one step closer to achieving your life goals?

A. By the grace of God, I have had multiple and varied experiences in Human Resources Function. I started my professional journey in September 1991 when I was part of a team responsible for setting up a garment manufacturing plant in Daman. The company was called Creative Outerwear. It was a learning experience since I got exposure to setting up a plant from scratch. I left Creative when we had about 200 employees and then moved on to Arvind. Arvind is where I had a real HR experience. The company was going through the HR transformation process and I was one of the juniors, but a key member of the HR team involved in the change process.  We had hired a group of over 70 Management Trainees and I was responsible for managing them. It happened at Arvind. In my second stint at Arvind, it was more of a maintenance role, but we started a whole lot of new HR practices including reviving the MT Program, variable compensation in a Textile company, etc.

After moving to Reliance Retail Gujarat, I was the first employee in the company in 2006. Retail was an emerging industry and I had a huge task of managing HR function in Reliance home ground Gujarat. At Reliance, we hired over 400 employees without the help of consultants and advertisements, a feat that was recognized by my seniors in Mumbai. The feeling of creating something new from scratch was enriching and extremely fulfilling. Post Reliance Retail, I had the opportunity to work for Motif (Now TTEC) in Ahmedabad, Reliance Communication in Bihar/Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, and RSPL Limited in Kanpur. For the last five years since 2015, I have been doing freelance HR Consulting. Consulting gave me an opportunity to work for various startups, NGOs and even big conglomerates like CYIENT, Housejoy, Karan Latex, Wrig Nanosystems, BBK, Zypp, Philia Solutions and CASA. CASA (Church Auxiliary for Social Action) experience was splendid. I got to know how NGOs work in remote and interiors of India.

As far as my favorite experiences are concerned hiring of Management Trainees from elite campuses, delivering PPT’s, nurturing them through our Management Training Programs, mentoring, building Reliance Retail from scratch in Gujarat, rolling out the Performance Management system in Arvind, career planning for high performers in Arvind, rolling out 3G at Reliance Communication (hiring of over 300 sales personnel in 2 months), creating a PMS for an NGO, helping startups in attracting top talent and setting up HR systems and processes for them are some of the key things I cherish.

My goal is to practice all the good and right practices that I have learnt in my career till now.  NetCom has given me that space and opportunity to implement contemporary practices in HR.

RECRUITMENT

Q. You have extensive experience of heading job drives across college campuses in the country. Can you tell us how has campus placement changed and what changes are happening in the recruitment front during the COVID era? Do you anticipate any slowdowns in campus recruitment this year moving forward?

A. The COVID situation is unique and has taught us numerous lessons. I have always promoted building a talent pipeline from the bottom and Campus Hiring is the best way to create a talent pool in any organization. I strongly believe in this philosophy. Youngsters add tremendous value to organizations and bring in a totally new perspective to things happening in organizations by questioning the assumptions and doing things in contemporary style and ease.

Cutting down on manpower during any crisis is something I don’t agree with. Manpower cost is roughly around 6 – 10% of the total company revenue and it is not that big of a big amount, but still, CEOs and HR in any crisis start reducing these costs rather than looking at other areas which can be curtailed.

Campus Hirings during COVID-19 has taken a momentary step back and many companies are not visiting campuses, unfortunately. Even the last batch pass outs are struggling with offer withdrawals, delay in onboarding, etc. I think this is a knee-jerk response of many companies not visiting campuses, but I am optimistic that things will settle down soon, and by late 2020 or early 2021 things will again revive. Campus Recruitment will again be a top recruitment strategy for companies as it helps in bringing quality talent at a relatively lower cost.

LEARNING & DEVELOPMENT

Q. The pandemic has forced rapid changes to workplaces and on top of that, it is forcing a fast reallocation of labor across industries. What impacts are you seeing from this? How can NetCom Learning assist organizations with that?

A. The need of the hour is to conserve resources. One major hit, unfortunately, is manpower cuts or organization restructuring which happens in every organization and I see it as an easy and knee-jerk reaction. We at NetCom have not reduced manpower due to COVID-19 and have been hiring as per our designated plans. 

What is important at these trying times is to maintain the talent one has. Give reassurance to employees that they are safe and their contributions are being recognized by the organization. Loyalty is something that can be ascertained during these times since loyal employees will be more engaged and will give their best to the organization.

Our services are predominantly in the United States of America and Canada. Currently, we are not imparting IT Training in India though we have a ready infrastructure.

SUCCESSION PLANNING

Q. How crucial has it become to reimagine succession management programs in these turbulent times? Also, how can organizations build a succession plan that works now, in the future, and that keeps pace with the continually changing world of work?

A. As I have mentioned above, this is the time to conserve resources. HR Managers need to quickly get into detailed discussions with line managers and identify high performing employees. This is the right time for line managers to discuss these specific HR issues.  Post identification of high potential employees (HIPOs), HR should start career planning and succession planning for them. Apart from retaining they need to be groomed for larger roles and responsibilities. Plan for bridging their skill gaps through internal training, giving them special projects to work on and grooming them for the future. Remember organizations that train during peace bleed less during the war. This is the right time for initiating internal training and developing manpower for the future.

Post identification of High Potential Employees (HIPOs), HR should start career planning and succession planning for them. Apart from retaining they need to be groomed for larger roles and responsibilities. Plan for bridging their skill gaps through internal training, giving them special projects to work on and grooming them for the future.

REIMAGINING WORKPLACES

Q. Successfully returning to the physical workplace is every organisation’s priority, but employees’ safe return is a mass challenge, fraught with complexities. Can we expect to see companies considering a ‘hybrid’ approach where employees’ time is split between the office and working remotely from home? Do you think Covid-19 can become a catalyst for Hybrid Working Model?

A. COVID-19 has helped us understand a lot about new and untried things. Companies have realized work from home (WFH) is the new norm and as mentioned above “Hybrid” work setup is going to be the way forward. We, at NetCom, have announced work from home till 31st December and will take a call of extension in December. In all probabilities, it will be extended. All our employees have been provided laptops and we are using Microsoft Teams as a platform to collaborate and work. With the Government of India’s guidelines on allowing a restricted number of employees to be present in a physical office, maintaining
social distance, etc. “The Hybrid Model” is definitely going to work. Many companies have already started calling their staff for two or three days a week to the office.

Also Read:  Fighting Prejudices to Create an Equitable Workplace

Needless to mention, companies are taking advantage of this “Hybrid” work practice in managing and reducing their office size and costs. There is no harm in implementing this model as various reports show that even though WFH has enhanced productivity, it has its own disadvantages on the emotional well being and health of the employee. Going forward, we will learn to balance even this and see the “Hybrid” model being adopted by most of the companies, especially for staff functions. To say COVID-19 has been a catalyst or precipitated a “Hybrid” model will not be an exaggeration in any way.

Q. From webinars and digital whiteboards to virtual breakout groups, technology has emerged as a business enabler with digital collaboration being just as productive as physical meetings, however, it seems to lack a human touch. How can leaders enhance employees ‘work from home’ experience and run virtual meetings effectively so that virtual participants feel immersed and engaged, as if they are there in the room, facilitated by technology?

A. Technology has emerged as the frontrunner in the COVID era. We are now used to MS Teams, Google Meet, Zoom Calls, WebEx, etc. Leave aside companies, even family members are used to these video conferencing platforms and using them extensively. 

We at NetCom have been using Microsoft Teams at work and it is simply my workplace now. It can be accessed both on the phone and laptop, which helps me get in touch with all my colleagues instantly. We have been having all our meetings on Teams and it has been a wonderful experience. We have rolled out our WFH Policy and all employees are adhering to it with specific login times and logouts (as we work US shifts) with designated breaks. We are enjoying work from home. We have regular meetings, discussions, interviews and what not … We even have regular Fun Fridays where we meet informally and let our hair down. Technology is a big respite in these times and has aided our performance enormously. I am waiting when virtual 3D meetings will start.

Cutting down on manpower during any crisis is something I don’t agree with. Manpower cost is roughly around 6 – 10% of the total company revenue and it is not that big of a big amount, but still, CEOs and HR in any crisis start reducing these costs rather than looking at other areas which can be curtailed.

Q. More than ever, promoting employee health and well-being has become a key focus amid the COVID-19 pandemic. How important is it to help people stay focused and mentally healthy in the face of such significant change? What initiatives and programs would you recommend towards the health and well-being of employees?

A. Mental Health and well being of all employees are paramount. WFH has brought in this major challenge to be addressed. People have tendencies to work beyond work hours and it is disturbing their family life. Many do not have a dedicated workplace, it is a grave concern and we are regularly sending them tips to overcome these challenges and contribute from home. The main issue is to fix start and shut down work hours which normally happen in the physical workplace. Normally when we come to the office we start and when we leave, we shut down. This is a mindset we must inculcate amongst employees working from home. Our endeavors are towards this.

Also Read:  Formal Vs Informal Organizational Culture

AGILE PRACTICES

Q. Lastly, to meet the challenges of an uncertain landscape, how can organizations harness agile learning techniques to reshape the culture, management processes, decision roles, while also reskill and upskill employees for digital transformation?

A. Agile is the need of the hour. We must be prepared for quick and rapid changes coming our way of working in corporations. Till March, WFH was something only IT Companies were practicing. Our agility has shown that apart from IT companies most of the other organizations can be agile and adapt to changes quickly and swiftly.

In the changing times, especially in the COVID and post-COVID era HR function also needs to be AGILE. It must be swift to quickly adapt to the changes required and precipitated by the environment. The focus of HR must be on its internal customers i.e. employees, different functions and stakeholders; and quickly and continuously meet their changing expectations as per the need of the hour. Agile work practices can be adopted in HR by the following:

a. Cross-functional teams with defined objectives and key results
b. Leveraging technology is the key
c. Fresh ideas foster agility
d. Innovation and flexibility should be in the DNA of agile organisations
e. Learning & Development
f. Customized Compensation and Benefit Programs, and
g. Use of contemporary software.

One of the key foundations of the Agile Organisation is continuous reskilling and up-skilling.

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Subir Sinha is an accomplished HR professional with comprehensive experience in talent acquisition & management, retention strategies, conflict resolution, government regulatory oversight, company-wide HR communication/ coordination, as well as succession planning with excellent leadership & mentoring skills. He started his career with Creative Outerwear Limited and has worked with likes of Arvind Mills Limited, ITC Agrotech Limited, Reliance Retail, Motif, Reliance Communications, and RSPL Ltd. Subir played a key role in setting up Reliance Retail Operations in Gujarat. Currently, based in Delhi (NCR) he was associated as an Advisor HR with, Eko, Intileo Technologies, Coursmy, Philia Solutions, and Wrig NanoSystems. He also worked as an HR Consultant with CASA (Church Auxiliary for Social Action) an NGO and helping them set up their Performance Management System. His focus has been to help Start-Ups set up robust HR Systems and Processes and has been actively engaged with them. An alumnus of Xavier Institute (XISS), Subir is a certified Predictive Index professional along with a White Belt in Coaching. He is also Certified for BELBIN Team effectiveness and team role analysis tool. Currently, he is employed with an American IT Training Company, NetCom Learning as Director Human Resource, Heading the HR function, based in Delhi NCR.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this interview. It had very good insights to ponder upon. Covered the whole gamut of HR in the coming times.

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