In a conversation with S.V Nathan, Partner and Chief Talent Officer, Deloitte India, we understand how Deloitte is reopening the workplace, addressing mental health issues, and the importance of the office environment. He also shares insights on how the increasing need for flexibility and culture-building at the workplace will play a crucial role in the hybrid future of employee experience.
Q. Deloitte is opening in a phased manner. How are you looking to achieve this?
A. All our offices are currently open, for employees to come to work. That said, we still encourage people to work from home. Return to work is being done in a phased approach for our employees to return to workplaces. We have put in place protocols, whereby an employee must inform their leader in advance about their plan to work from the office.
Once they are on our premises, the person will be asked for proof of both doses of their vaccination at least two weeks prior to attending the office or provide a negative RT-PCR report with 72-hour validity; only then will they be admitted within the office. These protocols will also apply to any clients visiting our offices.
We have also introduced a few new rules that are based on Covid-19 social distancing protocols and any visits to the office will continue to be monitored through our MyOffice App. For instance, while in-person meetings are being scheduled, more than 10 people are not allowed in a boardroom. Attendance at these meetings, if necessary, can be partially virtual, even though these rooms are generally 26-seaters – the idea here is to ensure adequate space between individuals. Similarly, in any of the meeting rooms, you can’t have more than four people. We are following the same guidelines issued by the Government to not allow mass gatherings.
Furthermore, there won’t be any side-by-side seating at the cafeterias just so we always maintain social distancing. We won’t be serving any meals, just tea and coffee, and food delivery will be allowed as per the protocols of the building in which our offices are housed.
To begin with, we are looking at a 70:30 work model where 70 percent of people will work from home. We will then transition to a hybrid model, where employees will need to come to the office two or three days a week. At least for two days a week, we are asking them to work from the office. Again, we aren’t mandating it, just recommending it.
Regarding vaccination, we covered a significant percentage of our professionals and their families during our last round of vaccinations in the firm-wide vaccination program and have an ongoing survey to assess our people’s vaccination status. This will determine when they can be requested to resume work from the office.
“To begin with, we are looking at a 70:30 work model where 70 percent of people will work from home. We will then transition to a hybrid model, where employees will need to come to the office two or three days a week. At least for two days a week, we are asking them to work from the office. Again, we aren’t mandating it, just recommending it.”
Q. What if there’s a third wave?
A. Most people didn’t foresee a second wave coming, which took lives. So, we can’t afford that. That said, there are certain roles which can’t be executed from home, for example, a security guard; the person has got to come to the office.
About a third of our workforce stays at places away from Deloitte’s base locations. Currently, we aren’t asking them to come back to the office. Some of these people have already moved base in the last two years and may not want to return. If one-third of an organisation’s populace is in this situation, one must be conscious of the steps taken, as it puts pressure on them. Demands of work and client needs will determine how many will need to come back to the office-base.
Q. Is there any flipside to a hybrid working model?
A. People who decide to permanently work from home will never get to experience the culture of the organisation, and won’t be able to contribute to it as effectively as they would if they were on the ground. The company culture, therefore, suffers the most, since developing a culture in a moving organisation is challenging. Secondly, people generally work better through collaboration. That is happening even now, but they don’t get to physically interact with the person they are collaborating with. People miss the bonhomie and bonding.
If we don’t take this into consideration, what we are as an organisation may be lost. Today, a person’s attention span doesn’t last for more than three minutes and people can’t express annoyance through a video call. They bottle up their emotions, which impacts their mental health, and reaching out to employees to address their concerns virtually doesn’t always work. They can be hesitant to open up, but in person, it’s easier to gauge by noticing their body language and facial expressions.
I have personally instructed my team to not have more than 50 percent attendance in the office and to ensure they check with them if they wish to be here. I have also instructed them that if they are coming to the office, they should attend meetings and people will be informed about their need to be in office much in advance. Inevitably, the work structure and deployment will change dramatically
Q. How is Deloitte working on the mental health concerns of the employees?
A. Deloitte conducts several dipsticks every quarter to capture employee sentiment. An important question among most of these surveys is ‘are you happy working at Deloitte’. If the score is 8 out of 10, I deduce that 20 percent of the population is considering leaving the firm.
This time we did something different in our Talent Experience Survey (TES). We asked two path-breaking questions: ‘Would you be comfortable speaking about your mental health?’ and ‘Would you be comfortable speaking about your health with your reporting manager?’ The results of the same will be revealed in the next two months or so, as it is a global survey conducted across our Deloitte offices.
Apart from that, we conduct programs on mindfulness every week. Mental health issues arise majorly due to burnout. We are addressing it in several ways and one of them is by providing our professionals with a toolkit to advise them about how to work on it. Burnouts happen because of a failure to manage boundaries. We may not be managing it well now and must be taught how to. The toolkit comes in handy here, but it won’t help if a person’s reporting manager doesn’t believe in it.
“Mental health issues arise majorly due to burnout. We are addressing it in several ways and one of them is by providing our professionals with a toolkit to advise them about how to work on it. Burnouts happen because of a failure to manage boundaries. We may not be managing it well now and must be taught how to. The toolkit comes in handy here, but it won’t help if a person’s reporting manager doesn’t believe in it.”
The dipstick surveys made us realise just how much our boundaries are blurring now. So, we are urging our people to not take meetings after 6 pm., but we can’t turn it into a policy of course because there could be client requirements. We also educate our clients about such matters and ask them to consider our people’s boundaries.
Q. You mentioned that culture took a hit during the hybrid model. How are you making sure the employees are part of the culture-building process now?
A. The reason major conglomerates are intensifying their drive to get people back to the office is that they can see a shift in culture in the last two years. The biggest one is the whole notion of belonging, which is taking a hit. People are getting detached from their organisations. For the workforce operating from home, trying to communicate the purpose is not an easy task.
Deloitte believes that we must make an impact where it matters. This year, we have committed to dropping our carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. We have also taken a decision to change the lives of 10 million people across the world, of which 5 million are from India. We also undertake the responsibility of educating 5 million girl children in India. While we don’t actively advertise about it, it is imperative that our own people must know about it.
Keeping this in mind, every year around November 25, we organise ‘Impact Day’. No professional work is done on that day and no emails are exchanged. It is a day that everyone gives something back to society, and we are associated with several NGOs for this initiative. This is the culture our people see and get inspired by. It creates a sense of purpose among our people. This is what we sorely miss but I am sure it will all eventually come back.
After all, culture-building cannot happen in a distributed population. It needs to be seen, heard, and felt.
– As told to Moumita Bhattacharjee