The ‘Future of Work’ is NOW! 0

Sanmitra-Trivedi,-Founder_CEO,-Gentoro-People-Consulting (2)

2020 was considered the year of remote work. Indian companies announced that work-from-home would be a permanent feature as to how work will be done in the future. Now, with experiences of the last one year, companies have realised that a `hybrid work arrangement is the future. And, that future is now!

This debate about the ‘future of work’ has been going on for the last 500 years as technology started transforming the world. Back in the 1850s, a group of New York City tailors opposed the usage of sewing machines by their employers. In the 1930s, economist Keynes wrote about “technological unemployment”; job loss caused by advancement in technology. Later, things turned out quite differently than what was initially thought. However, in the lessons of the past, there is no reassurance for the future. Pre-pandemic, one may recall many articles/debates/seminars about the ‘future of work’ and how the future looked like.

In early 2020, when the pandemic caused shutdown across the globe, we realised that the “future of work” that we were discussing, had indeed become a reality with a ferocity that nobody anticipated. And it posed its own challenges.

Suddenly a company that avoided working from home due to potential information security threats had to ‘enable’ employees to work from home. It called for strategic as well as tactical actions. Not only companies needed to ensure that their systems & controls were ready and robust, tactically getting thousands of employees to walk away with their laptop/desktop was a heroic task managed by IT, Admin & HR teams that required teamwork with a missionary zeal.

`Working from home’ isn’t new. Some forward-thinking companies have been doing this since the early 2000s. However, such long-term homeworking is experienced by many employees for the first time. It is also true that this shift from 100% attendance in the office to workforce working from home is a new normal to adjust to. Pre-pandemic, I recall the decision-making process for permission to do `work from home.’ Each request would be looked into on its merit and approved only in exceptional circumstances.

So initially work-from-home was considered as one of the better consequences of the pandemic. People saved time in commuting and had flexibility. Productivity in some places was noticeably higher too. There were small irritants such as family intrusions, a blurring boundary between work and family time. However, the advantages surpassed the negatives. Now, after one year, many have discovered that working from home is not as easy as previously thought.

Eyestrain, mental health issues, loneliness, disengagement  are significant issues that employees feel now. The employees are currently fatigued, and the Gen Z workforce (18-25-year-olds) are not finding it easy to deal with this new way of working. They have difficulty feeling engaged or excited about work and bringing the latest ideas to the table during virtual meetings. Employee health & well-being has been a topic of discussion in the past few months.

Accenture research on the mindset of the workforce reveals that only 42% of the workforce feels energized. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index annual report 2021 says (a) 37% of employees say, “companies are making them work too hard” and (b) 41% admitted that they wanted to find a new employer. In many cases, employees are looking forward to coming back and enjoying the work environment in the office.

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At the start, many global, as well as large Indian companies announced that work-from-home would be a permanent feature as to how work will be done in the future. Now, with experiences of the last one year, companies have realised that a `hybrid’ work arrangement is the future. And, that future is now!

A hybrid workplace model is a combination of `remote’ and `in-office’ work while performing a role. It is an opportunity that requires new ways of working with requisite changes in people and business processes as well. I do not think it will be a cookie-cutter approach from one company to another but will depend upon their business model and customers.

Hybrid workplace model is a combination of ‘remote’ and ‘in-office’ work while performing a role. It is an opportunity that requires new ways of working with requisite changes in people and business processes as well. I do not think it will be a cookie cutter approach from one company to another but will depend upon their business model and customers. 

It is not the pandemic alone. The rapid pace of new technology is getting integrated with how companies serve their customers. This has altered the workforce planning process of a company because the type of skills required in the company has undergone a change.

Besides technical skills, now companies need to focus on assessing soft skills & emotional intelligence during the job interview. Companies will also need to increase their traditional talent base/candidate pool to avoid the situation where too many companies are chasing too few candidates. A compelling ‘employee value proposition’ nicely articulated and ‘lived’ within the company (from start-ups to large corporations), does help in attracting and retaining the talent.

Considering the `hybrid model’ is the preferred option for the majority of employees and employers, line managers, HR teams and all others involved need to undergo training on how to manage the workforce as many factors determine their ability to thrive, be it `in-office’ or home working.

When employees are doing remote work, there is a need to make special efforts to reach out to them and ask, “how are you?”. With all the survey data that is available, our people need support in managing remote-working. And we need to help them succeed.

Getting people back in offices (even though under a hybrid model) is something that will have to be done consciously. Earlier employee engagement practices built social relationships at the workplace, and it is something that has to be introduced back systematically even for ‘hybrid’ work arrangements.

Getting people back in offices (even though under a hybrid model) is something that will have to be done consciously. Earlier employee engagement practices built social relationships at the workplace, and it is something that has to be introduced back systematically even for ‘hybrid’ work arrangements.

It is a myth that employees are less productive when working remotely. The reality is that employees thrive when given radical flexibility. Of course, there may be a few jobs where this may not be applicable. But for a substantial number of jobs, radical flexibility increases productivity and engagement. For innovation, the key is to create intentional opportunities for collaboration. Working together in physical proximity is not the only way to drive innovation. ‘Right to dissent’ is an important cultural ingredient for innovation to thrive in any organisation.

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“It is a myth that employees are less productive when working remotely. The reality is that employees thrive when given radical flexibility. Of course, there may be a few jobs where this may not be applicable. But for a substantial number of jobs, radical flexibility increases productivity and engagement. For innovation, the key is to create intentional opportunities for collaboration.”

So far, our human resources policies and leadership support have catered to in-office employees; out of sight, out of mind. Hybrid work models are creating newer workforce segments. Organizations are facing difficulty providing HR policies that satisfy the needs of all segments of the workforce, all the time.

Thus, shifting to human-centric design in HR policies will drive productivity & engagement. This would mean driving empathy-based management and providing flexible work experiences. Employee recognition & reward process, timely done, goes a long way to help create a better-engaged workforce. In the end, what would count is how organisations are supporting their employees. Being authentic while dealing with the employees will help as it will generate feelings of trust. And trust begets engagement.

General feedback across the globe is that managers, especially middle management, are out of touch with their employees. However, managers have a critical role to play in helping employees migrate to a hybrid work environment. They are an essential link to help their teams feel connected with the company. It is they who have on-ground, real-time feedback for senior management & HR to assimilate the information proactively and act upon it. If we do all this, then the sky’s the limit.

Organisational culture and leadership style is essential. Organisational culture is what employees in the company do, or don’t do: Is it about how you work together? How do you treat your fellow employees? How much do you trust your employees? When you interact with people, do you behave with authenticity, humility & kindness?

While moving to a hybrid work environment, companies need to keep in mind (a) the nature of employees’ work and, (b) specific jobs they perform. For one, few jobs cannot be performed remotely. And another, some people do not work well remotely. The goal of any enterprise is ‘productivity’.

This would mean developing processes for virtual performance management that include regular team check-ins, one-on-one conversations, and monthly reports on progress made. Thus, after activating various levers of productivity (as required) in an organisation, we will see a new, productive workplace in a hybrid work environment.

Companies are taking feedback from employees before making their flexible work policy. Even some companies that I know of, are letting employees decide what will work best for them as a step towards employee empowerment. And this is setting better engagement, motivation, and performance for the organisation.

Human touch is still important. Hybrid work is the new normal in India.

 

Sanmitra-Trivedi,-Founder_CEO,-Gentoro-People-Consulting (4)

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Sanmitra Trivedi is the Founder and CEO of Gentoro People Consulting, an HR and management consulting firm for startups, small and mid-sized companies in their growth/transformation journey. Before this, Trivedi held the position of Director - Human Resources & Administration at Hitachi Payment Services Private Ltd. 

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