Article: Building a resilient distributed workforce with trust

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Building a resilient distributed workforce with trust

Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. In a recent webcast hosted by People Matters, in partnership with Oracle, two industry leaders highlighted the importance of revolutionary thinking in building a resilient workforce through trust, prioritizing results over employee system activity and understanding the scope of a distributed workforce.
Building a resilient distributed workforce with trust

The crisis that exists today has not only dampened the prospects for business opportunities and shaken up the ways of working for the corporate workplace, but has also disrupted the lives of the workforce. With nearly non-existent work-home boundaries, work in fact has become the epicentre of everyone’s life, based on which they defer or accommodate other commitments. 

The question that then arises is - As employees struggle to bring in the balance, how can employers ensure a productive, healthy, compassionate and resilient working culture at a time when collaborative technologies appear to be the only means to stay connected? 

Finding answers to many questions on similar lines, in a webcast hosted by People Matters in partnership with Oracle, two industry leaders, Leena Sahijwani, Vice President- Group Human Resources at Tata Sons Private Limited, and Shaakun Khanna, Head of Human Capital Management Applications, Asia Pacific at Oracle Corporation, discussed the need to build trust in a digital era, the need to look for results over tracking hours and system activity, and understanding the scope of building resilience across a distributed workforce.

Here are highlights from the webcast.

A resilient strategy for a distributed workforce

Kick-starting the webcast, Shaakun Khanna highlighted that a resilient workforce is one which will manage and run a resilient workplace or a resilient business, and in the current context, given the sudden change and disruption in the nature of working, resilience is the key to survive. 

Sharing how the ongoing crisis has led to a situation where the entire workforce is distributed, Shaakun emphasized that before beginning to address a resilient workplace or workforce, it is essential to understand what a distributed workforce entails. He breaks down distributed workforce into three emerging patterns:

  • Geographical distribution: Geographical distribution here has a much wider connation, beyond working from home or working from office.

The advantage of enabling a geographically distributed workforce is not just access to a wider talent pool for recruiters, but in effect greater flexibility for the workforce to work from a location of their preference or choice, not restricted to the confines of an office or home.

  • Distributed workforce composition: Workforce composition is undergoing a paradigm shift. Organizations are moving towards a more fluid workforce structure that is made up of full-time employees, part-time employees, gig workers and freelancers, to name a few. This will impact how organizations manage their employee policies, compensation, benefits, rewards, and many other employee related aspects. It also has a strong bearing on information sharing, organizational values and ethos, and understandably every dimension of work.
  • Distributed roles and responsibilities: “People have now realized that they have the power to choose what they want to do, when they want to do where they want to do, how they want to do it, and because of that expectations are evolving, and essentially roles and structures are changing,” shared Shaakun. Such flexibility has created an opportunity to identify new roles and skills that enable career growth for employees as well as reimagine growth opportunities for business.

The first question for organizations therefore, Shaakun says is how do you operate in an environment where the workforce itself is distributed? “It will need a different kind of digital strategy, cultural strategy, communication strategy and procedures and policies.”

Workforce here encompasses the entire gamut of employees, people managers and leaders to bring in consistency and uniformity in culture and practices, and a widely accepted belief system to enable said culture. With technology as the sole touch-point making work possible under the existing extraordinary circumstances, such technology has to enable bringing in the much needed resilience, conforming to the desired culture.

 “You may have to reimagine the way the workplace is designed. Technology also has to go through a significant change to support what you are planning to do,” stated Leena Sahijwani. She emphasized that the most important aspect is the culture of the organization which needs to enable a distributed workforce.

“In a distributed workforce, having agility and nimbleness to adapt to different situations is going to be extremely key. This is the time to practice that well, ensuring you are able to evolve your strategies around some of these elements on a regular basis,” added Leena.

Employees are adaptable, is leadership adaptable?

There are no two ways about the fact that the ongoing disruption and chaos is in dire need of revolutionary thinking to manage the circumstances and thrive in times to come. This change however, is required from both employers as well as employees, and is beginning to become visible.

 “Many people have become more open about their vulnerabilities, which makes dialogues more meaningful,” said Leena as she shared how her biggest learning during these challenging times has been that “people are very adaptable”. Building on this adaptability there are some guidelines to help your leadership and organization adapt to the much needed cultural shift to build, enable and empower a resilient workforce for the uncertainties of today and those that lie ahead. These guidelines are:

  • Say no to micromanagement, yes to empowerment: “Micromanagement is never desirable,” emphasized Shaakun, further adding that micromanagement has to go away, otherwise organizations risk losing talent. He suggests that leaders must rather find opportunities to delegate and empower employees and set them on a growth path. While there is a visible challenge owing to the lack of physical presence, observing body language and analysing expressions, there is still room for growth. “We are seeing a great amount of creativity and innovation unleashing as people are working in different environments. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that is so visible these days,” said Shaakun.
  • Track work not working hours: Productivity doesn’t mean longer hours. Organizations have to become mature to leverage and focus technology in the right place. Focus on tech for employees, instead of against employees. Use tech to enhance productivity, and physical and mental well-being of employees, as against increasing their stress and questioning their commitment.

“If we are going to the continue with the bias we had towards face time when we were at work, and replace that with visibility online, I think we will fail,” said Leena .

“The flexibility that a distributed workforce stands to gain gets eroded if the clock hour mind set continues to exist in a digital working environment as well,” she added. 

  • Don’t overdo communication: In an era of digital existence where leaders and organizations are holding onto the suggestion of over-communication being better than lesser communication, it will help to press pause and draw a respectable boundary between necessary communication and giving personal time and space to employees. “Boundaries have to be set which people are respectable of,” suggests Leena.  While being connected becomes more crucial across a distributed workforce, striking that balance to draw healthy boundaries between blurry and somewhat chaotic work-life existence becomes a priority. 
  • Create a greater sense of empathy: Both empathy and a mindset shift are equally important to make business and the workforce sustainable. The need to build trust, a sense of empathy and compassion, not just among employees, but also across career levels cannot be emphasized enough. Knowing when to build a bridge and when to create a boundary is the need of the hour. Managers need to be sensitized on areas like emotional intelligence, letting go of micro-management, measuring outcome over hours of computer activity. “It all depends on where you are as an organization, as leadership in terms of maturity…Leaders and managers need to be upskilled and trained in empathy and compassion,” stated Shaakun. 
  • Technology for employees: “When you are designing technology solutions it’s important to keep employee experience at the core by blending both virtual and physical environment and ensuring that there is a consistency for the workforce,”emphasized Leena. Technology is the single touch-point to hold your distributed workforce together.  “The role of technology has been underestimated,” said Shaakun. Designing and implementing the most effective, employee-friendly and enabling technology is crucial to business sustainability as well as business success.

At the end of the day, be it on the personal front or professional, it’s essentially people who have been impacted ever since the outbreak of the global pandemic. It’s been nearly six months of navigating through the crisis for global businesses. The only thing that made it possible for organizations to survive so far is the agility, adaptability and understanding by the workforce that we are all in this together. 

The trade-off however seems imbalanced as despite desired and realistic outcomes, employees are made to feel that they are still not doing enough, which becomes a deterrent in building a culture of trust, empathy and commitment.

While organizations are focused on building a resilient workforce and a resilient virtual workplace, emerging employee concerns convey the need for a mindset shift, one that makes leaders and managers resilient and adaptable in their approach to people management during crisis. 

To view the complete webcast, click here.

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Topics: Culture, #CultureForDigital

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