Protima Achaya currently leads the India Site HR and Talent Acquisition for APAC at NetApp. As HR leader for NetApp India, she works in tight partnership with the site leadership in India, leading and connecting in ways to continue to build NetApp as an employer of choice and building a great place for employees to make an impact and grow.
With more than 20 years’ experience in many aspects and facets of HR, Protima has managed teams in multiple locations in India and APAC. Her strength lies in translating business strategy into HR strategy, talent acquisition plans, and process innovation. She is skilled and experienced in setting up new operations in the APAC region. Her specialties include learning & development, compensation & benefits, and client-facing HR.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Protima sheds light on the lessons learned from 2020 and how well-being will continue to be a focus in the year 2021.
What are some leadership lessons taught by COVID-19?
One of the biggest things I saw was leaders becoming more comfortable expressing vulnerability.
Earlier, leaders were supposed to be more stoic and having all the answers but that’s changed. Leaders have become more comfortable wearing vulnerability on their sleeves, checking in with their teams to see if they are doing well, and having those softer conversations with people which you did not see a lot before, though it was required even then.
Leaders also started leaning more on teams and bringing cross-functional teams together to solve for the crisis and keep the business running in the future and people safe. It changed from that commanded control of ‘I have the answers, I will show you the way’ to more of a team-based approach. And communication and transparency went into an overdrive, which was what you expect in a crisis.
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 myth that got busted was that people can be productive even if you are not seeing them. As the majority of people were working from home, that meant you needed to switch to a mode that is 100% virtual and that too overnight. Companies that had invested in collaboration tools and beyond were at an advantage, especially technology companies. Basically, the pandemic squished that timeline for companies to move at a faster pace when it came to HR tools, communication tools, and collaboration tools to keep the entire workforce connected.
It especially showed in processes like onboarding. Earlier, we used to put so much emphasis on the fact that you needed to see a person in order to make a judgment. But now entire processes are virtual. In this direction, NetApp already had invested in an AI-powered tool for sourcing and was in the process of integration of tools such as video interview told. So things we had thought would become important suddenly became absolutely mandatory.
So most companies have either started this investment or compressed their timelines to make these switches. And assimilate all the things that did you face to face, virtually.
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?
I would say that communication and collaboration tools will continue to remain crucial-the other things that you would look at are how you ensure that knowledge repertories become stronger. People do not have these advantages of water-cooler talks to address any doubts or level zero queries that they might have. Al these things have to someway morph-and how do you ensure that knowledge is equally available to everyone in the company by using open source technologies is going to be important.
Also, the focus on well-being will continue. We have seen the need and the power of it. Even if the pandemic passes, there are still stresses and traumas that employees will feel, and hence the focus on well-being will continue.
What are your thoughts on the concept of a hybrid workplace? What are some challenges you foresee in implementing a hybrid workplace?
I think it’s a given- a hybrid workplace is the way of the future. To expect that everyone will want to return to the workplace for 100% of their time- that’s an idea that has passed.
We have realized now that remote work does not hinder productivity. So while we are not going back to a 100% in-office workforce, what’s helping that is companies have seen evidence that remote work environments don’t hinder productivity.
Combining remote work and office work is going to be a challenge. The pandemic made it mandatory but what you are looking at in the future is to give people the autonomy to make a choice. So it’s slightly different. So your workforce will fall into three types roughly-people who want to come to the office, people who want to work from home only, and a large portion will be the people who want flexibility.
So what companies including NetApp are deliberating upon is how do you define what falls into what category, what is the clarity you put around it, and how do you still collaborate in that space. Will people in the office have an unfair advantage over those working from home? So how do you ensure that leadership is able to balance the aspects of career growth of a workforce part there and part there. You are not trying to change the culture of the company but the challenge will be reinforcing it in a hybrid work structure.
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?
The big thing would be how do you as an HR leader leverage your talent pool and keep your people in pace with all the changes that are happening. The whole technology revolution happens much faster than employees absorbing it. So keeping up the digital literacy of the workforce is where a lot of energy of HR leaders will go into.
In addition, HR’s focus will be on the softer aspects of leadership such as building resilience, building agility. The leadership can’t just keep focusing on just the today- they have to focus on things one year down the road also to keep yourself as an employer of choice and make sure your policies and culture reflects it. That’s what will help you to stay ahead of the pack in both retaining talent and attracting talent.