The past year has given us an opportunity to reimagine, re-think, and redefine what our workplace of the future could be like. It has challenged old truths about what a workplace is and what it should entail.
READ the June 2021 issue of our magazine: COVID-19 Rages On: Are You Ready?
The COVID triggered uncertainty is still here and organizations are struggling. New variants of the virus are spreading in several countries including India where the second wave surge has become disastrous. With the uncertainties about the response of the battered health systems, corporations need to reinvent themselves. For several countries, the return to work plan is likely to be staggered as the pandemic continues to provide challenges. In India, organizations are going the extra mile to safeguard their employees and tide them over the difficulties.
Priyanka Anand, Vice President & Head, Human Resources - Southeast Asia, Oceania & India at Ericsson, in an interview with us talks about the continuing uncertainty and business priorities, the evolving role of HR, and more.
COVID-19 pandemic is still here. And organizations are still struggling. How do you see the current scenario and business readiness?
COVID-19 pandemic has brought an unprecedented shift in the ways of working and as an organization, our focus has been on driving a balance between business continuity and employee safety during this time. From an HR leadership perspective, the relevance of HR as a business enabler and a transformative force is perhaps at the forefront in this new normal world. While productivity and employee engagement and experience have been core areas of focus, the function had to pivot and recraft strategies right from the fundamentals of hiring to virtual onboarding, training, and skilling of employees. In addition, sustaining organizational culture while being connected virtually, ensuring employee comfort with empathy and open platforms for engagement are important focal points. In today’s environment, the need for agility and resilience to adapt, change, and pivot applies as much to the HR function as to business models. HR leaders must confront and embrace this reality.
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At Ericsson, the well-being of our workforce has been a top priority during this pandemic even as we continue to focus on customer needs and providing seamless connectivity to service providers. We rapidly adapted to the evolving scenario and have undertaken various initiatives to ensure that our employees are well supported during this time.
New variants of COVID-19 are creating chaos in several countries, especially India. What is your take on how should leaders sail through uncertain times and manage talent?
The pandemic has created many disruptions and an unprecedented health scare that has impacted businesses, people, and communities across the globe. In these uncertain times, ensuring employee safety and well-being is as crucial as business continuity. Leaders must extend support to their teams in every way possible by being empathetic, by regularly checking in on the well-being of their teams, by providing emotional support as well as any other support besides organizational support.
Even as we look at designing the workplace of the future, some of the initiatives we have undertaken include:
We are focusing on Improved remote collaboration for a “work-from-anywhere” principle ..how do we enable more creativity, productivity, collaboration, and engagement:
Digital tools to support the well-being
Working from home has meant increased stress for many – hard to disconnect and maintain a sustainable work-life balance, therefore, we’re exploring digital tools and apps to help monitor and build better habits, for example, Headspace that we launched earlier this month
Improve working from home set-up
Working from home has created greater needs for a proper home workplace setup. In 2020, we launched the furniture support package and there is ongoing work looking into making that a permanent service, enabling it to new hires, etc.
In addition to furniture, we’re also looking at making IT equipment available to order: audio headsets, external monitor, external camera, external mouse, and keyboard. This to improve workplace ergonomics and quality of meetings and individual work.To strengthen the virtual engagement of leaders with their teams, we carried out virtual coaching programs for leaders across the organization. Our ‘Leaders as Coaches’ as well as ‘Leading through Crisis’ program focused on empowering leaders to lead effectively with empathy, providing them with the necessary tools to have greater self-insight and support their teams as required.
Work-life balance, flexibility, and mental health are front-of-mind for employees, according to a report by WEF. How should organizations up their employee support systems in an environment of uncertainty?
At Ericsson, our people have always been a cornerstone of our success. The well-being of our employees is extremely important to us, which led us to launch a wellness program with focused interventions around employee physical wellbeing, financial management, emotional and social wellbeing. We have also set up a 24X7 employee assistance program to provide one-to-one support to employees. We have leaders do regular check-ins with employees, open communication forums as well support programs that we have rolled out – be it supporting employees and their families deal with health aspects related to Covid or the mental well-being of our employees.
We also conduct Pulse Survey from time to time to assess the employee sentiment and understand how we can further augment our existing programs. We continue to ensure that our employees are well supported as they grapple with this new reality.
Do you think the hybrid mode of work that most companies are adopting is going to stay for long? How can HR leaders help sustain company culture in a hybrid work model?
The world has changed, and we know our workplace has to change with it. In some ways, we have leapfrogged into a new way of working that is more flexible and meeting both business and individuals’ needs. This is not negotiable - we need to do this in order to remain competitive, relevant, and an attractive employer.
The past year has given us an opportunity to reimagine, re-think, and redefine what our workplace of the future could be like. It has challenged old truths about what a workplace is and what it should entail. Given the current scenario, many organizations are reflecting on imbibing a hybrid working model, which offers employees both online and offline ways of working to collaborate and create an environment that fosters productivity, growth, and efficiency. Ericsson is also reimagining its workplace toward this new hybrid, flexible model. The new normal is not about work from home alone, but from anywhere. We are focusing on Improved remote collaboration for a “work-from-anywhere” principle ..how do we enable more creativity, productivity, collaboration, and engagement
Leaders have a huge impact on promoting and sustaining organizational culture and this has been especially important given the pandemic situation. At Ericsson, we ensured smooth execution of the cultural transition where employees continue to engage with their workplace/colleagues and feel safe. This past year has challenged some long-held beliefs about ways of working, and globally, the pandemic has sped up the rate of change for digitalization and flexibility in the workplace.
The pandemic has changed the priorities of HR leaders globally. How do you see the changing role of HR?
HR has always been a multifaceted function and its transformative role as a business enabler and a strategic partner is right at the forefront today. While productivity and employee engagement and experience have been core areas of focus for the HR function, we will have to recraft strategies to make them more relevant to the current reality. An important step towards this will be the adoption of technology. HR processes are being automated to improve employee experience and productivity. Technologies such as AI/ML are being adopted to conduct various tasks from manpower planning to employee exit - in fact, over the past year, due to COVID 19, Ericsson’s recruitment and onboarding processes have completely moved online. Technologies like blockchain, IoT, Big data analytics, AI and ML, etc. will further aid activities such as searching for the right candidate, conducting background verification checks, evaluating emotional wellbeing and behavioral analysis, etc.
How are you preparing as a leader to deal with the next phase of challenges? What are your top priorities?
Our current priority and the need of the hour for companies is to stand with their employees and extend all possible assistance and support to help them navigate through this pandemic. For me, ensuring that our employees are safe and their social, emotional, physical, and financial well-being is taken care of while ensuring business continuity are my top priorities.
Where do you see the world of work 3 years down the line?
To cater for a more flexible workplace and new ways of working, we’re exploring our future workplace from a physical, virtual and cultural perspective:
In terms of the Physical Workplace, the offices will be designed based on employees’ different needs and preferences, rather than roles and functions. The offices will be a space where we come together to create, collaborate, and socialize. The Virtual Workplace will enable a seamless and efficient collaboration experience. We’re exploring new and optimized tools and applications to enable a productive and collaborative environment – in and outside the offices. From a People and Culture perspective, we are looking at improving work-life balance through more flexibility. We’re exploring how we as an organization can create empowering leadership and more flexible ways of working that enhance productivity and well-being.
So, the future will allow more flexibility to work from home.
How are you supporting your employees amid this uncertainty? READ this to find out how companies are leveling up their employee support systems during COVID-19.