Schneider Electric, the global leader in energy management and automation, has been on the journey of flexible work, including work from home options, since the past 7 years. The pandemic had only accelerated this process and as of January 2021, the company moved towards a permanent hybrid work approach.
However, in the constant hybrid work environment, there is a paradigm shift in the way leaders connect with and manage their hybrid teams.
Rachna Mukherjee, the chief human resources officer India & South Asia at Schneider Electric India, says it all starts with “care”.
“We encourage our leaders to implement regular ‘temperature checks’ within their teams, with special focus on their physical and mental wellbeing. Special attention is laid on recognising the resilience and commitment of the team while creating enough opportunities for exchange of information, communication, and celebrations,” she says.
"There is also a need for leaders to accept and acknowledge difficult situations while demonstrating and encouraging vulnerability and honesty. This process helps in building a strong psychological safety for team members. And finally, build human connections in the digital world with trust, empowerment, and accountability. We share a collective sense of purpose and commitment to our employees, company, and communities to shape a more sustainable future.”
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Mukherjee elaborates on how the company has refreshed its leadership expectations for the new normal and aspects of leadership that have become the most important with a distributed team.
Here are edited excerpts:
What aspects of leadership or management have become the most important with a distributed team?
It is our endeavour to provide equal opportunities to everyone everywhere, regardless of their age, gender, geography, or nationality.
Several years even before the pandemic, we globally transitioned from a one-headquarter model to a multi-hub model to deliver on this ambition.
Today, India is one of the four global hubs for Schneider Electric for R&D, innovation, manufacturing, and talent. This has opened up several new opportunities for our workforce with key jobs relocated to the hubs. This contributes towards creating a global distributed leadership structure. It also helps us to deliver on our promise of being the most local of global companies with our executive management team strategically distributed in geographical hubs, closer to our customers and employees.
Our multi-hub model is helping us transition into the new normal with distributed teams and the new ways of working firmly established to re-energise and reinvigorate our workforce.
Moving ahead, we see ‘four resets’ for leaders to become more resilient and future-ready.
These four are Disrupt, Accelerate, Coach, and Collaborate. To thrive in the new normal, leaders need to create disruptive strategies for staying ahead of the curve, accelerate the processes by enabling speed and simplicity for teams, encourage feedback, and nurture seamless collaboration in the team to do business with great spirit.
What leadership styles do you think work best in the hybrid model?
We believe that in this new normal, our role as leaders is to transform culture and build great teams within the organisation.
Delivering impact is more critical than ever. While our digital transformation was initiated way before the pandemic, we have now successfully pivoted to digital interactions with our customers and teams, while maintaining relationships. The nature of work, workplace, and the relationships between companies, customers and employees have dramatically changed in the post-pandemic era.
The new ways of working, with focus on digital-first, agile, hybrid work and wellbeing are set to define organisations of the future. Following this approach would help us stay ahead of the curve while fostering a relationship of trust and care with our employees. We count on our leaders to accelerate the new ways of working.
Against this backdrop, we have refreshed our leadership expectations for the new normal. Disruptive thinking would help us in shaping our future, accelerating and simplifying processes would help in freeing up energy, coaching would contribute towards building the best team, and collaboration will help us achieve our goals together.
We believe that if we positively disrupt more, we shape our future. If we accelerate and simplify, we can free up energy. If we coach and care more, we will build the best team. If we collaborate, we will achieve together. Finally, in the face of increasing ambiguity and complexity, we must all use our judgement to make decisions and empower others to do the same.
Tell us about some of the benefits/ disadvantages in staying with the hybrid or remote model in the post-pandemic period.
As per an internal survey in Schneider Electric, 82% employees preferred to work in a hybrid mode between home and office. Further, if our business performance for the latest completed financial year is any indicator, we have only seen enhancement employee productivity and engagement due to this.
On the flip side, some employees may struggle with establishing the right boundaries giving them the feeling that they are ‘always on’. To overcome this, we encourage our employees (both individually and as teams) to adopt wellbeing discipline and rituals. For this, we have sufficiently equipped employees with resources like a playbook around new ways of working and ensure constant reminders of the same.
For the organisation, there are other benefits by the hybrid model. The permanent hybrid model has reduced the carbon footprint of the company. We pride ourselves in our focus on sustainability in whatever we do. We were ranked the world’s most sustainable company by Corporate Knights last year.
One of the challenges we have identified is the increase in the number of virtual meetings that are set up formally. We continue to encourage employees to use other digital collaboration tools to create a balance. And we anticipate that with an increase in adoption of such tools, this will also get managed overtime.
If your C-team is distributed, how has that changed the way you collaborate?
One thing that has stood with us over the past many years has been our multi-hub model.
While many may see us as a European company, they may not know that our Global CEO & Chairman is based out of Hong Kong, our CHRO is based out of Shanghai, our CFO in Paris and so on and so forth. The entire executive leadership team is equally distributed in three continents – Europe, Asia, and North America - across 10 locations. And this has been the case for many years even before the pandemic.
In India too, the leadership team has been spread across Bangalore, Mumbai and Gurgaon for many years now.
One of the primary stated aims of distributed leadership strategy is to enable ‘collaboration’ (along with speed and innovation). We seek to achieve this through decentralised decision making and empowerment, being close to the markets, customers and employees.
While in our industry we are one of the first to have initiated flexible work options, we are also cognisant of the importance of face-to-face connections to drive collaboration with customers and colleagues.
What skills would you look for leaders and managers of a distributed team?
One must not miss out on the fact that just like earlier times, outcome orientation continues to be one of the most critical skills for a manager.
While the manager may now have to adopt a different set of behaviours with the distributed team, he/she must not lose sight of the end objective. This drive for results, in my opinion, is an evergreen skill and a distributed team does not fundamentally change it while the means of achieving the results are equally important. However, they now need to drive it in a much more collaborative manner.
In Schneider Electric, this has been personified in the transition of our leadership expectation from “Deliver Results” to “Achieve Together”.
Another dimension that has been brought into the forefront is empathy. Be it the pandemic, the geo-political tensions, or pure personal issues – a good manager must be aware and should relate to how it is impacting one or more team members and accordingly provide the right response, with authenticity.
Inclusivity is another skill that needs to be in the repertoire of any leader/manager who is leading distributed teams. Distributed teams are more likely to be diverse in terms of nationality, language, culture etc. A good manager will take the effort to understand these differences. Being sensitive to what is important for different team members is essential.
Also, the leader needs to role model inclusivity so as to set a standard and benchmark for other team members to follow. This can include being mindful of small things like the time of day when a team meeting is organised.
Last but not the least is communication. Working with distributed teams often means that the manager now has less visual and auditory signals coming from the team members.
For instance, non-verbal communication (which is a significant part of overall communication) has seen a dip – both qualitatively and quantitatively (videos may not be on/phones may be mute etc.). So the managers in the new normal need to be extra sharp, focused and highly receptive in picking up subtle cues /signals.