As ominous 2020 comes to an end, one thing is clear- COVID-19 is here to stay, and the future depends on a lot of unknowns. The pandemic has changed our world and our world of work permanently. From its crippling effect on world economies to the massive shift it has brought in the world of work as far acceleration of remote working and flexibility in workforce management to integration of work and life is concerned, the year has taught us much.
What’s also clear is that it’s time to embark on a journey that is meaningful, purpose-driven, and people-centric. As we move into the year 2021, it’s time to reset work norms that are more human, more productive, and more inclusive. What are these key issues that HR leaders need to reweigh and plan for the year 2021?
In an exclusive interaction with us, Rajkamal Vempati, Head – Human Resources, Axis Bank sheds more light on the opportunities ahead and how we can together build a sustainable and resilient world of work.
What are some leadership lessons taught by COVID-19?
The crisis has demanded that leaders step up and embrace change like never before. Every hesitation about the constraints of working in a distributed, remote model had to be confronted and managed while dealing with this economic event that had such an impact on our businesses and their strategy. A big part of this has been to build resilience – as unlike many other crises where there is line of sight on when it will end, this one has at times appeared infinite.
Another big area of leadership development has been the ability to manage emotions, while people invited the workplace into their homes and dealt with unprecedented anxiety that blurred across family, work, and personal lines. As leaders, we have had to become compassionate and sensitive to the needs of our people while staying focused on the delivery on tasks.
With the coronavirus pandemic altering the way we work; it also offered the possibility for HR and talent leaders to accelerate to digital and enable their workers to stay productive amid this chaos. What are some of the trends you have seen across organizations?
One of our fundamental beliefs on the workplace of the future is that it will exist on people’s own devices – we call this bring your workplace to your own device, and this device is increasingly not a traditional laptop- but the mobile workplace.
The systems that have been the tool for people to complete their daily tasks will have to be integrated into seamless employee journeys with a simple, assisted mobile interface. A trend we see across organizations is that these journeys – while many began with HR functionalities these will now become much more tightly coupled with business journeys and employees will need a single destination for both.
Another trend we see is the need to establish formal channels of asynchronous communication. As Zoom and Teams fatigue sets in, the need to be able to move beyond meetings as the way teams collaborate and get work done becomes increasingly important. The documentation that occurs on these channels will also become the knowledge sharing mechanism that was relied on in the traditional office.
How do you think investments in HR Tech have grown this year and what do you think is going to be the trend in the coming year?
HR tech will also respond to the changing work models of organizations. As we scale up our GIG-A-Opportunities program for example we see the need to ensure there is a solution that can cater to a significant part of the workforce not being in the traditional FTE (Full-time Equivalent) model. I expect that as more organizations scale up alternate work models we will need investment in existing and new solutions to cater to this need.
Employee experience will be a key area of investment. As the existing workforce adapts to new ways of working and newer talents pools begin associating with us the experience will be a key differentiator in terms of attracting and retaining the right talent.
What are your thoughts on the concept of a hybrid workplace? What are some challenges you foresee in implementing a hybrid workplace?
At Axis, we are committed to a hybrid workplace- giving our employees flexibility while retaining the buzz, collaboration, and creativity of the traditional workplace. In our internal feedback from employees, we see they continue to be productive, and would like to continue working from home for at least 2-3 days in the week.
There will of course be challenges, key among them being that we have to avoid creating a two-tiered workplace. The model cannot become exclusionary towards those not in the office. We also need to be sensitive to those in learning roles- starting out their career who may need more consistent mentoring and not just contact of a few days a week. Employees need to be enabled to build networks outside of their immediate task interactions- which may become more difficult in the hybrid workplace.
What do you think the future holds for HR in a data-driven world post the pandemic? What is going to be HR’s new role?
We are already witnessing huge changes in the way people want to work – people want flexibility. The best talent is no longer looking at organizations and career fulfillment through a 40 -50 year journey to the corner office.
One of the biggest roles HR will play going forward is as the custodian of the future of work – shaping their organizations to attract, manage and retain the best talent in this new model.
HR will be critical to building capabilities across the employee lifecycle that enable this transformation. We need to ensure that this is a strategic advantage- not just a cost advantage for our organizations. The systems, processes and tools that this will require are no less than any other major change program organizations have undergone in the past.
What do you think the year 2021 might look like as far as new skillsets and essential job skills are concerned?
As work itself gets reshaped, from tasks to projects, project management will become an important skill. The ability to view an organizational imperative and translate it into actionable, distribute those, and keep them on task in a hybrid model of working will require new communication capabilities and emotional intelligence than before.
Digital and data literacy will become fundamental across functions. Another emerging area of new skills is also knowledge management where leveraging new technology the need to codify and share organizational knowledge will be fundamental to the success of organizations in the future as we move away from a 100% in-office model.