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MindRush 2021: 'After Covid-19, hybrid work culture is way forward but companies need to plan better'

Amid pandemic, hybrid mode of working has been accepted across industry. How companies are making sure they don't miss on coordination and what are challenges in keeping productivity high. Experts discuss on Day 2 of BT MindRush 2021

(From left) Anuradha Razdan, ED, HR, Hindustan Unilever; Mahalakshmi R, HR Head India, Mondelez International; Rajkamal Vempati, CHRO, Axis Bank; Rajnarayan, CHRO, The Titan Company; and Rajesh Uppal, Sr Executive Director, (HR &IT) Maruti Suzuki India (From left) Anuradha Razdan, ED, HR, Hindustan Unilever; Mahalakshmi R, HR Head India, Mondelez International; Rajkamal Vempati, CHRO, Axis Bank; Rajnarayan, CHRO, The Titan Company; and Rajesh Uppal, Sr Executive Director, (HR &IT) Maruti Suzuki India

Coronavirus pandemic forced companies to shut offices and employees to hole up inside their home, working from remote locations. It's been almost 10 months of working from home.  How do large corporations with thousands of people manage to run operations smoothly? During Day 2 of BT MindRush 2021's panel discussion on 'Managing Work from Home (WFH) Workforce', Rajesh Uppal, Sr Executive Director, (HR &IT) Maruti Suzuki India, said there's been a culture where manufacturing has been traditionally thought to be like 'work from the office' and IT companies are perceived as they can from anywhere. "Amid the pandemic, hybrid mode of working has been accepted for working in the industry. Though for manufacturing you have to be on the shop floor, for that we did a lot of modifications, we were able to implement a hybrid culture in all other areas like R&D, supply chain, corporate functionings, and IT," he said.

On managing hybrid workforce while working from home, Anuradha Razdan, ED, HR, Hindustan Unilever, said across all of the company's factory sites, all factory leadership teams took ownership of over 12,000 blue-collar employees of the company. "We made sure they and their families were safe and they were contacted at least once a week. The purpose of the call was to check their physical and mental wellbeing. Apart from care for employees, we worked for the communities. This time the focus was on educating them on hygiene and sanitisation, giving them ration as many lost jobs, and of course giving them products for cleansing and hygiene. The third thing is the capability. We have an app, which luckily had gone live just before the pandemic. So we used this as a one-stop-shop for them to have a small digitally capable programme. So almost 25-30,000 hours of capability building. All of this has helped employees thrive amid pandemic," said Razdan.

Also read: BT MindRush: India will return to pre-COVID growth at higher rate, will grow at 8%, says Arvind Panagariya

Employees in so many companies are still working under hybrid conditions. How are companies making sure they don't miss on coordination? Mahalakshmi R, HR Head India, Mondelez International, said the company started with questioning the mindset. "We equipped leaders to be inspiring in this new setting. One thing we are sure, though, is we have not perfected this hybrid setting. Imagine a teleconference where three people are joined via conference, three are connecting from a remote location, how do we ensure we are not ignoring the ones who work remotely? Those are the things we need to sensitise ourselves more. We are in the midst of launching a 'book your seat' app. One thing we are sure, though, is we'll never get back to 100 percent 'back to work' setting. So we'll have to ensure the best policies and approaches in this hybrid world."

On keeping the morale of the employees up amid these difficult times, Rajnarayan, CHRO, The Titan Company, said anxiety amid Covid-19 pandemic was one of the biggest issues facing employees.

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"So what we did was encourage people to test first, admit to the fact there was a pandemic as there was a social stigma first at an early age. We assured them to bear all medical expenses of staff and their family members in case anyone tested positive. This may be a small step but it made a large impact on people's mind in terms of the 'company has got my back if anything happens'. For folks who are working from home, there was that was their work counted as much as those working from the office i.e fear of missing out and being missed out. So from appraisal perspective and goal setting perspective, we strengthened the team feeling," Rajnarayan said.

On steps that companies are taking to bridge fears amid these testing times, Rajkamal Vempati, CHRO, Axis Bank, said: "Many of our employees didn't have the luxury of working from home because we were essential workers. In terms of anxiety, everybody was on lockdown but our guys were working on the frontline. We empowered the local leaders to trust that they'll do the right things. To manage anxiety, we had an appraisal cycle in April so we continued with it. We paid out promotions and bonuses, while many people were working remotely. Early on in April, we had released a statement saying we are going hybrid, which is an opportunity in a big way. We understand that work can happen remotely but needs to plan better, have a cadence to it, and get skill part out in terms of work. The third thing is trust, which is important but the building of social capital is also important. Another thing that we realised is that young talent needs a social network for them to deliver best. The fourth part is you have to reshape not only the workplace and policies but ways of working."

Also read: MindRush 2021: How companies 'rebuilt' businesses amid Covid-19 crisis