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.
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, Karthikeyan Natarajan, President & Chief Operating Officer- Cyient, global engineering, and digital technology solutions company, sheds more light on the lessons taught by COVID-19 and what how 2021 will look like as far as work and skills are concerned.
What are some leadership lessons taught by COVID-19?
COVID-19 brought to the fore the importance of empathy. Finally, at the end of the day, people work for people. It is important that people realize that companies are looking after their employees, their families, and their extended families. Because that’s what matters in a crisis.
The second lesson was about trust-especially when you are working from home. Be it between companies and customers or companies and employees, one common theme was trust- because you have to believe that when people are working from home, they are really doing productive work.
The third lesson was about organizations showing resiliency. It means multiple things such as how well the culture permeated across levels, across geographies and how teams came together to support the organizations and individuals during the crisis.
The fourth lesson we learned about is the digital quotient/ readiness that every organization has to gear up for- be it about remote working, cybersecurity, or enabling work from home.
The last lesson is about an organization’s continuous learning-what WFH really changes is the ability to recast your roadmap for the next five years. As an organization how fast we are learning and how we are bringing this to fruition and what are we changing for the future based on the learnings of the last nine months are some of the lessons, we have learned from 2020.
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?
We can put these trends in three to four phases. In the first quarter, we were trying to resolve the teething issues such as those of bandwidth and proper connectivity issues and customer approvals. So it was about getting the basic things right.
The second phase was helping employees on the productivity front-people were working harder and longer to cover up gaps and we needed to ensure how we help them cover these gaps to bring them to the earlier levels.
The third phase was about engagement-what we realized it’s not just about enabling them to WFH but more importantly engaging them, through a multitude of initiatives aimed at ensuring their well-being and fun.
The next phase is about inspiring-given where we are, where do you think we should go? How do you make them realize that no crisis should go waste and should be leveraged to catapult the organization to the next phase? That’s the phase we are currently in and restructuring ourselves for a newer future.
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?
For us, learning is already online. We were doing 30-40% of our programs online, which has now changed to almost 100%. Making our associates ready for the future and skilling them is our number one priority.
The second opportunity that we are looking at is digitizing the whole lifecycle of HR. This means how you can smartly attract talent, onboard them, train them, and recognize them on digital platforms entirely. We are also making sure that people are getting ready for an automated world that includes the entire process workflow.
What are your thoughts on the concept of a hybrid workplace? Do you think it will be a big trend in 2021?
I do not subscribe to extreme views. In my view, in the next five years, maybe you will have 25-40% of the workforce working from home. Not to save on real estate but essentially to help employees avoid the daily commute, to give them more flexibility, and to get more women in the workforce. These initiatives are going to draw more interest than simply the fact that we want everyone to be working from home.
I feel that for innovation and for problem-solving creatively, you still need to be face to face.
You can’t really eliminate all of that saying that everything has gone virtual and humans have become robots. So switching to hybrid work will be more an employee-centric decision than purely a business-centric decision.
What do you think the year 2021 might look like as far as new skillsets and essential job skills are concerned?
Automation is going to be the number one skill—there’s no doubt about it. Whichever role you are playing, you really got to figure out how you can smartly automate what you are doing. Secondly, adding a digital skill on top pf your base skill is going to be very important-be it around AI, cybersecurity, or quantum computing. And thirdly, what’s important is your ability to be agile, flexible, and continue to learn to unlearn and unlearn to learn.
In the next five years, the pace of technological change is only going to accelerate and you don’t want to be left behind. One degree that you have earned at the beginning of your career will not support your employment for 40 years. You have to go back to school every ten years because in ten years, you can become obsolete. Work and learn is a continuous model that people have to get used to.