Human resources (HR) professional Shachi Singhal joined automobile major Maruti Suzuki close to a decade ago. Work life was a nine-to-five routine, until the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, when it became mandatory to work from home (WFH). Her routine suddenly shifted from meetings and presentations at the company's headquarters in Gurgaon to virtual meetings from the living room. The frequent coffee chats with colleagues shifted to Zoom or WebEx. A year later, as the world is learning to live with Covid, Singhal is back in office, but only thrice a week. Her company, she says, is looking at institutionalising working from anywhere. "A year ago, I would have never imagined not going to office every day, but WFH has been effective and has, in fact, improved productivity," she says.
In December 2019, Richa Sharma had to give up a lucrative career in an energy company in Mumbai and return to her home town, Jaipur, to take care of her ailing mother. Just when Sharma was about to return to work towards the end of February last year, the country shut down to fight the pandemic, and most organisations froze hiring. In September, she got a short-term project in the audit team of Axis Bank. The best part was that she could work from Jaipur. Though she had to compromise slightly in terms of remuneration, the flexibility the role offered compensated for it. "I don't have to travel to work and, more importantly, I have a role which I enjoy."
As India Inc. returns to business as usual, the sea change the pandemic is bringing in structure of organisations is becoming clearer by the day. Gone are the days of sprawling office spaces, teeming with employees. The new era will see a hybrid workforce where most employees will work remotely while some will come to work two-three days a week. Performance management and hiring strategies will be tweaked too. And companies will increasingly opt for gig workers to save costs. "We will never go back to an era where all employees will come to office every day. Over 80 per cent of the workforce will go hybrid," says Roshni Wadhwa, Director, Human Resources, L'Oreal India.
A recent Accenture report says nearly 40 per cent of today's jobs can be performed at home. Over 34 per cent employees across industries plan to increase the work they do from home in the future. "Organisations are finding benefits such as lower costs, higher productivity and better talent in allowing people to work from home, either part time or full time. As per estimates, an organisation can save nearly $11,000 per year for every person who works remotely for 50 per cent of his time," says Aditya Priyadarshan, Managing Director, (Strategy & Consulting - Talent & Organization), Accenture India.
While services companies have always been ahead of others in giving employees more freedom, the manufacturing sector, where such flexibility was unheard of, is catching up. A year into the pandemic, Rajesh Uppal, Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of the country's largest automaker, Maruti Suzuki, believes that over 55 per cent of Maruti's workforce can move to hybrid model (which means either working from home permanently or coming to office a few days a week). "Absenteeism has reduced drastically as a result of WFH. Our productivity scores have gone up significantly," says Uppal. He believes that apart from manufacturing roles which will require employees to report to work every day, a large part of white-collar roles can move to the hybrid mode. "We are empowering reporting managers to decide their mode of work," he adds.
Remote working is no longer considered suboptimal. But physical interactions are important too. "Can all sales be done remotely, probably not? If you look at innovation and collaboration, that by design needs you to work together. However, you are not innovating every minute, so you don't have to be together every minute. Therefore, you have to be able to recognise when you need to come together and enable that accordingly," says Chaitanya N. Sreenivas, Vice President and HR Head, IBM.
Also, while working from anywhere and the flexibility it offers sounds cool as a concept, the reality is different. People, holed up in their homes for almost a year, are getting restless and are desperate for physical interaction. A lot of them also feel they run the risk of being ignored by managements. "People need social connect. They need to come to office, else they will go berserk," says S.V. Nathan, Partner and Chief Talent Officer, Deloitte India.
The hybrid mode works for employees too. Satpreet Chelawat, Senior Vice-President (Retail Banking), Axis Bank, says life has never been as structured for her as it is now. Chelawat goes to office twice a week and that is mainly to bond with colleagues and ideate. "As far as day-to-day work is concerned, we are now used to doing virtual projects. We even work with cross-functional teams and solve issues virtually." Over 30 per cent of non-core banking roles at Axis Bank, says CHRO Rajkamal Vempati, will become hybrid. "I will have people who will work from anywhere as well as those who come to office two-three days a week. I will also have people on short-term assignments," she says.
Technology has been a great help during the changeover. At the peak of the pandemic, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) launched Secure Borderless Workspaces (SBWS), a cloud-based solution that enables secured remote access for employees across projects. "We are seeing associates of all roles working effectively under the SBWS model. As the pandemic scenario improves, we will actively promote a strategy of SBWS for core deliverables and work-from-office for hyper-collaboration such as design thinking, innovation labs, strategy workshops, etc," says Milind Lakkad, CHRO, TCS.
Adoption of the hybrid model can also widen the talent pool. While existing employees are free to work from their home towns (could be Tier II/III towns), firms, too, get an opportunity to hire people from smaller towns. Vempati says 75 per cent of her recent hires are from non-metros, and their profiles are as diverse as new mothers, people who had left their careers and failed entrepreneurs. "The currency of hiring tod ay is skills, not so much age or pedigree."
As companies make the switch to hybrid working, they are also rationalising office spaces. Nathan expects organisations to reduce their office space by 15-50 per cent. He also expects them to create office spaces in suburbs, closer to employees' homes. "Place of work gives you an identity. Not having a physical place of work can lead to loss of identity. Organisations have to work harder on creating an identity and a feeling of belongingness. A number of organisations are trying to stay in touch with their teams through technology, but technology can't replace people, it can only aid the connect," says Nathan.
Towards this end, most large corporates are reshaping their offices. While smaller office spaces are a given, also gone are the days when employees had dedicated work stations, which are getting replaced by hot desks and more collaborative work spaces where people will come on certain days to work, attend meetings, and go back.
"Work from office will be designed to build deeper personal relationships - between teams and between our clients and our sales leaders," says Lakkad of TCS.
"We will redefine office as a place where people come to build social connections, a place where they can connect with their teams and not only as a place where work gets done. That's a significant change in our outlook for offices," says Aarif Aziz, CHRO, Diageo India. In places such as Bangalore, instead of one, Diageo is looking at having offices in two-three locations. "It will help us manage costs and reduce our footprint."
Says Amit Ramani, Founder and CEO, of co-working space Awfis, "Companies no longer want to do six-nine year rent deals. They are looking for 24-36 month deals and that flexibility comes from a co-working space."
A hybrid workforce with some people working permanently from home, some coming to office on certain days and another set coming everyday is likely to bring complexities, especially in terms of performance management. Aditya Mishra, CEO of HR services company CIEL, expects remunerations to be different for 'work from anywhere' employees and those coming to office. "Performance management will become complex. If a top performer who works from office gets a 20 per cent increment, a work from home worker will probably get 10 per cent, as he/she also gets flexibility," says Mishra.
WFH will lead to changes in remuneration structures based on what is relevant for remote workers, agrees Richard Lobo, Executive Vice-President and HR Head, Infosys. Allowances such as transport and rent might become less relevant for WFH employees as opposed to components such as communication charges. "People will still be paid on the value they deliver and the nature of their skills but the structures could be very different based on whether you choose to work from office in a large city or remotely."
However, Vempati of Axis Bank says the difference will probably be in house rent allowance paid to an employee who chooses to work from a smaller town. "Experience has taught us that people who are joining us through hybrid formats are far more proactive, and their speed to productivity is higher. Therefore, if there is a change, it will only be the cost of living adjustment."
There are other changes too. "There should be no gap in expectation between the manager and the employee as they are not meeting every day. Therefore, setting of goals and evaluation may need to be done a lot more frequently," says Diageo's Aziz.
According to Anjali Raghuvanshi, CHRO, Randstad, employees in the new normal are looking for instant gratification. "The one-year review cycle is too long for employees. They are looking for instant rewards from the organisation. Bonus structures can become quarterly. You may have an yearly increment cycle, but bonuses can be more frequent."
"This is a great opportunity to transform performance management," agrees Bhakti Vithalani, Founder, BigSpring, an employee training consultancy. She believes as more work is done virtually, employees will get an opportunity to document their work through a video, which they can show to their manager once a week and ask for a review. "This will increase engagement level of the employee and heighten his/her productivity," she adds.
Apart from shorter appraisal cycles, performance management is also likely to be more output oriented. Performance management processes of most large corporations in the pre-Covid era gave close to 40 per cent weightage to the process and approach of the employee towards a particular project or role. "Now it will shift 80 per cent towards outcome and 20 per cent towards process," says Mishra of CIEL.
L'Oreal India, says Wadhwa, is bringing in a skill-based performance evaluation system as opposed to the earlier competence-based system. Rechristened as 'Meaningful Conversation', L'Oreal's new performance management module will evaluate employees on parameters such as collaboration skills, agility, innovation and remote team management. "Our performance management system will also have elements like well-being. We believe holistic well-being impacts your performance."
Hiring gig workers is no longer limited to the IT/ITES sector. It is sector agnostic. Neither is hiring of gig workers limited to entry-level talent. Maruti Suzuki recently hired a team of very senior consultants for its digitisation project. These consultants are mentoring the company's digital team and will exit after the completion of the mentorship programme. "We will institutionalise gig roles so that we get the right people for the right job. Our people will shadow them, learn from them and eventually take over. Since this talent is expensive, we can't afford them for the long term," says Uppal of Maruti.
Deloitte's Nathan expects that 20-25 per cent roles will become gig in the next two years. Hiring a gig worker will obviously cost less and reduce a company's employee cost by 2-3 per cent, says Mishra of CIEL. "But I am not going to look at getting a gig worker to reduce costs. I will get him for his craftsmanship or expertise. For instance, I may need an expert in artificial intelligence urgently, but I may not have a permanent role for him. That's when I will look for an expert to come on board for a limited period, fix my problem, and then leave," says Nathan.
Senior HR professional Namrata Samson joined L'Oreal India for a six-month project to revamp the company's career progression strategy. "Once I was done with the project, an employee from the L'Oreal team took over and managed the execution," she explains.
Diageo has a different approach towards gig work. Aziz says the company wishes to first operationalise the concept internally. He says he will give own employees cross-functional opportunities before looking outside. "We have created a concept of allocation of talent beyond organisation structures and responsibilities. So, we will throw open critical projects in the organisation to our own employees and create more agile and cross-functional teams to deliver on various projects and get the outcome right. We think that to create an environment where gig workforce is successful, we have to start from inside and make sure that it works as a culture and a way of working," says Aziz.
The organisation of the future is set to be more nimble and agile. However, as companies reinvent themselves and build a hybrid workforce, they need to make sure that they don't overlook their core culture and philosophy. Will a gig worker working on a short-term project in a bank or a manufacturing company have similar values as that of an employee who is on the payroll? HR managers and leaders surely have a complex task at hand!
Copyright©2021 Living Media India Limited. For reprint rights: Syndications Today