In this exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Aman Attree, Senior Human Resource Advisor talks about the challenges of remote work, the importance of ‘total workforce management’, and how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted HR function as a whole. He also discusses HR and skilling trends in a postCovid-19 workplace.
ATT: With your rich work experience of 28 + years in Human Resources, how has the journey been so far? What were some of the opportunities, challenges, and important decisions that helped you evolve into a leader?
Aman: I have had the opportunity to work with leading organizations like DLF, Gillette, FHL, Reliance, Punj Lloyd, HPPPL and DLF among others across FMCG, Pharmaceutical, Healthcare, Utilities and Infrastructure sectors. Over the years, I have driven organic and inorganic growth and helped create customer-focused organizations through enhancing employee engagement and transforming culture.
I have been coaching CEOs, business heads and HR professionals on employee and customer engagement, and cultural transformation as enablers for executing business strategy. I believe in leveraging analytics and behavioural economics to ensure focused effort in organizational development and HR Strategy, M&A, process improvement and organizational restructuring to derive linkages between strategy implementation and human capital initiatives.
I have had the opportunity to work with some great leaders and colleagues during my various stints and it has forged the values of ethical leadership, trust, empowerment and effective communication that helped me evolve as a leader and add value to wherever I have worked. Whether spearheading the entire management cultural transformation during the M&A phase at Reliance Energy/Reliance Infrastructure (Power distribution business in Delhi) with large workforce and multicultural government setup to a private company, setting up HR functions from scratch and building up the entire organization including people, processes and systems in HPPPL, or bringing about organizational effectiveness— there has been a great learning and it could only be achieved through trust, commitment, ethical leadership, communication, commitment and a ‘can-do attitude’.
I have had the opportunity to work with some great leaders and colleagues during my various stints and it has forged the values of ethical leadership, trust, empowerment and effective communication that helped me evolve as a leader and add value to wherever I have worked.
ATT: Today, business leaders are focused on the huge business continuity challenges posed by COVID-19. How has the pandemic impacted people strategies? Also, how has this crisis impacted HR as a whole?
Aman: Earlier, work-from-home was seen as an ‘excuse for not working’ by most people but the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed this perception. In fact, people have started realizing that a lot of work could be done over call/ zoom meetings rather than through in-person meetings. It has indeed changed the way we think and work and enhanced productivity and efficiency in a way which was previously unheard of.
The challenges that HR faces today vary with the company’s location, sector, and size. Crisis management and business continuity planning remain the top challenges faced by HR today. Adapting to new technologies, making flexible work arrangements and re-looking at policies to adapt to the new normal is of foremost importance.
During these unprecedented times, the role of HR leaders has become all the more important and they are expected to respond quickly and comprehensively, considering immediate, short-term, and longterm consequences and ensuring smooth operations through any crisis.
We have had a lot of positive stories coming out during these times. There have been a lot of organizations who have gone the extra mile to ensure that there were no pay-cuts, promotions and increments were rolled out on time and help could be offered to employees and their families at the press of a button. This will not only go a long way in building employee loyalty and brand image but also driving the engagement and productivity of employees.
The HR folks were proactive in redesigning the policies to make them more suited for the remote working culture and provide the maximum benefits possible to the employees, which has indeed helped the organizations sail smoothly during the Covid-19 crisis.
ATT: HR has been grappling with workforce management challenges during an unprecedented response to COVID-19. To manage and mitigate the impact on the workforce, how can adopting ‘Total Workforce Management’ will prove to be beneficial in the post-COVID world?
Aman: A total workforce management system will put organizations in a better position to make data-driven and strategic talent acquisition decisions without silos and fractious processes used by companies with a less agile approach.
Adapting to new technologies is the new normal. Workers across industries must figure out how they can adapt to rapidly changing conditions, and companies have to learn how to match those workers to new roles and activities.
The present COVID-19 crisis has forced organizations to create an agile, futuristic organisation enabled by collaborative technology, open communication and Gig talent ecosystem.
I feel that changing demands from professionals themselves means that career paths are now fluid, forcing companies to take a more strategic, long-term view of talent management and workforce needs.
ATT: What do you think are some of the most impactful measures companies can take while formulating a remote working strategy? How challenging is it to ensure your company’s remote working setup is optimized for success?
Aman: Remote work may not be ideal for every business, but it gives many a chance to rethink team diversity and dynamics for more creative problem-solving. When leaders build diverse teams, their business becomes more relatable to a wider range of customers and users. Additionally, diverse teams can leverage distinct viewpoints, experiences, and variable expertise to come up with unique solutions to problems that homogeneous teams may never think of.
Despite the surge in remote work, many businesses still aren’t equipped to adopt an adequate remote work model or even prepared to facilitate a structured work-from-home policy. Some have the communication tools and software to pull it off, but they have concerns, fears, and biases when it comes to granting autonomy to employees. Others don’t have the tools at all and struggle to sustain operational standards that meet the basic demands of employees who value work-life balance as a preference rather than a privilege.
There’s no doubt that communication breakdown leads to grave business failures. The biggest challenge facing remote teams and employees who work from home stems from intermittent communication or a lack thereof. But when teams leverage a full suite of communication tools—like instant messaging in channels, video conferencing, and voice notes—they foster best practices that positively impact employee engagement, which sparks collaboration and boosts productivity.
The key challenge is that the workforce is unable to switch off from the office because “office is always on from home”. HR needs to align with the nature of business and drive amongst business leaders the requirement for a ‘formal close to the day.
ATT: In your opinion, how company culture changed during Covid-19? As we enter 2021 and deal with the continued fallout of COVID-19, how can HR leaders ensure to build stronger teams and strengthen company culture?
Aman: Creating a strong remote work culture means instilling core values and overseeing and constantly communicating them. Since social interaction is limited within a dispersed team, it’s important to keep communication channels open and promote transparency. Most firms report having upped communication so that employees feel more connected. There’s also been a huge shift in flexibility with firms having to acknowledge, some for the first time, that their employees have complex lives which sometimes incorporate children, ageing parents, health concerns, and poor housing to name just a few of the challenges the pandemic has pushed to the fore. Even though we’re not seeing our co-workers so much, we’re often seeing more intimately into their lives: Pets and babies appear on video calls, messy or neat rooms can be observed in meetings.
To me, company culture has held surprisingly well during the pandemic and the perception has only improved in the majority of cases. HR leaders have shown immense agility, quickly pivoting to manoeuvre in this new world of work with very little preparation time. HR teams have had to support employees mentally and emotionally, ensure they have all they need to work efficiently from home, keep engagement and morale high, coordinate furloughs and layoffs, and much more.
The other most important need is constant feedback and polling of efficiency of understanding/ comprehension and adaptability by the employee. Their emotional well-being will need to be constantly monitored remotely or through online team-building strategies.
There is a constant need for retraining and ensuring market survival of technology, business offering and reviewing and embracing change management for both high as well as mid and lower management and staff. The role of human resources has changed greatly in a short amount of time, and it will continue to adjust as we enter 2021.
Leadership may experience a loss of authority and control when employees start working remotely in a crisis. In addition, they are grappling with the timelines of ad hoc measures as it is unclear when the pandemic will end. New working styles and their knock-on effect on teamwork, innovation and drive are raising concerns amongst leaders today.
It is here that Leadership focuses on reinventing their outlook towards Teamwork. Some of the key focus areas are:
- Trust that employees will act responsibly when working remotely if they are given clear outcomes.
- Build a shared team behaviour to leverage technology wherever possible to network and collaborate in such turbulent times where teams work in ad hoc conditions.
- Challenge existing operational models and change managerial styles that are dependent on control mechanisms with clear and open communication, empathy, and trust.
This will help create Team Synergy that will help sail smoothly through the crisis!
ATT: What’s different about team management in the post-COVID world? How have team building and trust being reinvented in the pandemic?
Aman: This period has required us all to be supportive of one another, as we all face uncertainty. Control has to some extent given way to trust. People are learning how to do work disparately and with far less oversight: they are learning “on the job” what works and what doesn’t work at home, and holding virtual meetings that might have happened before but never to such an extent.
If there is a time that your company needs all the positive effects of trust to be at work, it is now. In times of crisis, companies are put in survival mode, which is facilitated when people stick together, help out where possible and explore in creative ways how to create value for all stakeholders.Creating a strong remote work culture means instilling core values and overseeing and constantly communicating them. Since social interaction is limited within a dispersed team, it’s important to keep communication channels open… Click To Tweet
ATT: How do you see skills needs changing in this changing world? Can you tell us any three skilling trends that post COVID-19 workplace will require?
Aman: The COVID-19 pandemic has made HR leaders rethink their workforce and employee planning, management, performance and experience strategies.
According to me, the three skilling trends in a post-Covid-19 workplace are:
Sales Effectiveness: Connecting with the consumer and providing a differentiated and consistent customer experience. New ways of training also need to be designed to prepare your sales team for the new normal as they are the ones who will drive the numbers and make everything look great at the end of the day.
Managing Teams Virtually: Managing a team and their expectations are itself a daunting task, imagine doing that virtually – it increases the difficulty level by that much. The traditional methods of monitoring have less chance of working, innovation and creativity have to be brought on to the table to ensure one is connected to one’s team and is able to get the best out of them.
Business Analytics: Managing data and taking better educated business decisions to bring in more efficiency. Emphasis on data to make business decisions was never more so important than it is today. It is not only about maintaining and managing the data but to make the best sense out of it. Everyone needs to be trained to understand and manage the data and bring efficiencies to the system.
ATT: Lastly, what are the biggest trends, both positive and negative, you foresee HR adopting after COVID?
Aman: HR departments have had to navigate an onslaught of new challenges for employees while also hiring and onboarding new team members remotely to follow social distancing guidelines.
Remote hiring and onboarding involve new challenges for HR functions such as: Interviewing and assessing a candidate’s skills virtually Conveying company culture during a virtual recruiting and training process
Many employees are navigating remote work for the first time and have to deal with new challenges like loneliness or balancing work with other at-home responsibilities. The role of HR includes advocating for the health of an organization’s employees, which is why one of the enduring trends in HR we see for 2021 is investing in mental health and well-being initiatives.
As more employees are working remotely due to the pandemic, companies are increasingly investing in tools to help them assess the productivity and engagement of their workforce. HR departments have to find ways to make sure employees are hitting targets while maintaining a work environment that takes mental well-being into consideration.
Return to normalcy and the new normal in an office environment post the vaccine.
The sudden shift in work culture has brought new challenges for HR. The top priority for HR professionals now is how to keep the employee’s mental and emotional well-being in place. The sudden shift in work culture took a toll on overall employee health and well-being. Stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues have always been there, it is no new story. Organizations have always been initiating wellness programs and providing employees with security, health benefits, and flexibility to help them overcome their health issues. But the sudden COVID-19 outbreak has brought employees’ mental problems in the front seat.
Communication is another major challenge that is on the priority list. Communication, in itself, is a critical aspect that needs to be taken into account whether or not the workforce is working remotely. Without the right communication channels, it becomes difficult to manage a workforce. The COVID-19 crisis had the HR professionals on their toes and kept them looking for the right remote working tools that suit their culture and communication channels. Consistent and open communication is also something HR professionals will need to continue to survive in the post-COVID-19 environment. A shift in focus – from efficiency to resilience.
Traditionally, organizations have sharpened their focus on employee efficiency, but in the post-COVID-19 world, it is resilience that will take precedence. Keeping in mind the growing remote working culture and the possibility of future outbreaks of infections, recruiters will look at a job applicant’s digital dexterity and digital collaboration skills at the time of hiring.