In this Q&A, Sriram speaks about embracing the remote culture to boost morale and productivity, and why HR teams need to foster virtual workplaces that are thriving engagement ecosystems. Package the work, not the workforce, he’s been known to say often – he decodes this here to tell us what he means. Sriram Rajagopal is an HR veteran with more than 20 years of experience in the industry. He consults organizations of all sizes and helps them develop strategies, especially pertaining to talent solutions and services segment, that directly impact their growth.
This interview has been edited for clarity and context.
DB: What is your advice to firms that do not have the necessary infrastructure to support remote work to go about setting up the same quickly?
SR: If you are a small or medium enterprise, it's not that difficult to set up a reasonably secure work from home model. As long as the work primarily involves using browser-based applications, internet access and a phone is all you need to start working remotely. There are Virtualized Desktop options available if the work is confidential in nature to connect securely and deliver work.
DB: What are some of the key factors organizations should consider while preparing and executing business continuity plans?
SR: Firstly, the nature of work should be such that it can be delivered remotely. Firms should be in a position to measure productivity of employees working remotely and have the ability to connect with them through a conferencing solution. There should be an internal messaging infrastructure to communicate protocols for work from home or resuming operations as the case may be. Critical deliverables should be prioritized, assigned to relevant teams/individuals, and monitored periodically to ensure business continuity is not impacted.
DB: Supporting the health of staff should be a top priority for firms. How can HR teams aid in supporting the workforce and their organizations while enabling continuity?
SR: Communicate information received from the ministry of health periodically–this is paramount. Publish safety measures employees should take to prevent exposure and stay safe frequently. Running information sessions frequently to create awareness is also essential. Most importantly, validate that they have understood the risk of exposure. Moreover, communicate how work will be monitored and the expectations from management on the deliverables.
DB: In such uncertain times, with numerous departments turning to HR for guidance on policies and other queries and with limited means at HR teams' disposal for motivating and engaging employees in person, what is your advice for our HR superheroes to stay sane and maintain their own well-being while balancing numerous other roles towards their own team, departments, organization at large, and their own families?
SR: No doubt, working from home for prolonged periods with no interaction with the outside world can be stressful and frustrating at times. That applies to people that are tasked with improving employee morale and creating a good conducive work environment. When the work environment is virtual, it makes it harder to connect and provide such an environment and impact morale positively. The only way we can address morale is by frequent communication of status of the business, allay fears and insecurities, or, in cases where there is an impact to employees, communicate the rationale and the circumstances and be honest about it.
DB: What are some of the steps your organization has taken to ensure a smooth transition to the WFH environment?
SR: We anticipated a lock down scenario and prepared for it in advance. We did a couple of pilots of remote working before the actual lockdown started. Seeing signs early and preparing for business continuity under worst-case scenarios helped us plan ahead and ensure a smooth transition.
DB: How do you envision the post-COVID era? What and how much do you think is going to change for the workforce, and what can HR teams do to ensure they're well-equipped for what's to come?
SR: Despite the transition to WFH being relatively smooth and the productivity being maintained, it has become increasingly clear that some part of the workforce may not require office space at all in the long term. While the percentage of the workforce that will continue WFH even after the restrictions are lifted may vary from one firm to another and their clients, we do anticipate a sizeable portion of the workforce permanently working from home.
This throws up a lot of new challenges; if, say, 30-35% of your workforce does not need to come to the office daily, and if those roles can be called out and calibrated, any attrition in these roles can be backfilled from anywhere in the future! In order to leverage the advantages this scenario presents, HR teams must quickly adopt policies, hiring practices, and retention models keeping in mind a fair share of the workforce would now be working from home. This may lead to better retention of employees, and allow for a lot more flexibility in the workforce.
You don't necessarily have to hire full-time folks anymore, as long as you can package the work to be done and ensure that it can be done remotely, you could potentially hire freelance workers to get the job done. HR needs to come up with flexible engagement models that suit the business needs and create the ecosystem for it to thrive.
DB: How much of an impact do you think the digital transformation will have with COVID catalyzing the urgency for the same? From a people's perspective, what do you think employees can do to prepare for this next wave?
SR: Digital transformation did not catalyze the transition to newer models of working. The lockdown hastened the approach, the technology to support it was already available! Since people were not given too much time to think, they acted swiftly. If there was time to discuss pros and cons, I don't think we would be here today in this situation. However, a scenario like this allowed people to think hard on the need for office space, and take a critical look at jobs that require to work in teams, connect, collaborate, ideate—while all of this can be done through various collaboration tools at our disposal, some prefer in-person meetings for such deliberations.