Article: Creating a virtual/physical hybrid workplace: The new normal of work

Strategic HR

Creating a virtual/physical hybrid workplace: The new normal of work

According to Accenture’s 5 priorities to help reopen and reinvent your business report, leaders would now have to focus on creating a safe working environment that gives people confidence to return to work premises and to adjust to the new virtual/physical hybrid way of working.
Creating a virtual/physical hybrid workplace: The new normal of work

There's no turning back from the new reality of work. The crisis has put us all in a reset mode. Given the current situation with a vaccine for COVID-19 still a far-fetched dream, many organizations have decided to continue working from home for a percentage of their employees. The workplace will now be a combination of virtual and physical set up, with a portion of the workforce working remotely while others are at office, in the field, warehouses or factories. This creates the need for organizations to accelerate their digital transformation journey and ensure a digitally connected workforce. 

Organizations have to be more digital, data-driven, have more variable cost structures, agile operations and automation, and have to invest to create stronger capabilities and also ensure privacy and security. 

“Companies need to go beyond the transactional to truly understand their employees if they want to create productive, inclusive and rewarding working environments for the long haul,” said experts from Accenture, in an email interaction with People Matters. 

They shared that leaders should consider the steps they take to reopen as the first in a long journey of wider transformation. A program of active reinvention that outmaneuvers uncertainty starts with five areas – putting people first, designing spaces that work, solving in phases, committing to an elastic cost structure and getting future-ready.

Scaling up the core digital infrastructure with robust security control

Despite all of the conversations about the digital workspace, it has been challenging for business, IT and HR leaders to plan for the changes required to make the digital workspace a reality. But now it is no longer just an option but necessity with the risk of novel coronavirus to have a more digital, contactless and remote workplace. And hence, many organizations have already started scaling up their current digital infrastructures and those who have not will have to catch up to ensure smooth transition. 

Sunil Peter, Associate Vice President – BCP and IT, Maveric Systems said, “Over the past 45 days, there have been significant investments in terms of scaling up the core infrastructure (network and server capacity) with robust security controls. There are automated systems which are enabled to monitor – track – backup the server and network capacity by over 25% at any given point of time.”

The three focus areas for Maveric Systems have been strengthening the core, bandwidth, and security. 

Neelesh Kripalani, Senior Vice President and Head, Center of Excellence (CoE) at Clover Infotech said, "While building a virtual workplace, the importance of establishing strong cyber security practices cannot be overlooked."

Clover Infotech has hence clearly defined and carefully designed policies with respect to access to external sites, sending out information through emails etc. Employees are advised to refrain from downloading any third party software without the knowledge of the IT team and the required approvals and they have also ensured that they have the requisite security tools to protect and safeguard the systems and data.

Similarly for Cisco, that was already familiar with the mode of remote working digital-readiness was not an issue. But as the need to be more digital arises, it has also had to step-up its current infrastructure and focus more on security. Anupam Trehan, Director, People and Communities, Cisco India and SAARC said, “Now, the preference for digital alternatives in the workplace is rising, but it takes time for new normals to take hold. Some aspects that would need to be considered to enable these new normals are security, scale, consistency, and the experiences of employees, teams and customers. It is about reimagining the way work can be done.”

Introducing and adopting new digital tools for the new normal of work

Some companies already had the infrastructure and tools available at the start of the crisis, but still COVID-19 crisis triggered them to introduce new solutions or use the existing ones in more innovative ways. For other organizations that were not familiar with the culture of remote working, introducing and adopting new tools for the new normal of work was the only way forward. 

MSIG Singapore CEO Craig Ellis shared in an interview with People Matters, “Presently, we are evaluating long-term plans for remote working. We will also push forward what has stood up well during the crisis and capture workarounds that can be absorbed into everyday work practices. Where a gap is deemed to be critical, it will be prioritized amongst other technology projects. We will have to keep our eyes on the future and explore more innovative solutions to keep our operations sustainable and flexible during disruption.”

Similarly, as AkzoNobel India gears to go back to work but in a mode of new normal, it has focused on  the hardware and the software for its people. Anushree Singh, Country HR Director, India Sub-continent – AkzoNobel India shared, “Hardware refers to our preparedness on welcoming employees back to offices and related infrastructure and process changes, while software relates to the minds and hearts of our employees.” From the perspective of accelerating digitization, AkzoNobel India has focused its attention on leveraging tools that existed and also innovating and introducing quick, simple and effective ones. For instance, the new medical OPD plan through an app was launched for employees in addition to the hospitalization insurance benefit. Another user-friendly app backed by an insurance program, will provide a seamless digital experience to our employees in availing services like online consultancy, lab tests, medicines and other medical services on a cashless basis.

They also launched AI chatbot to understand the sentiments and mood of the organization, which they will continue to use. Not only AkzoNobel India, many other companies across the globe have either introduced or are looking to utilize digital solutions to capture employee sentiments to better manage their experience. Joel Paul, General Manager, Randstad RiseSmart India shared that they have designed special training/coaching sessions for our senior leaders to empower them so that they are able to support career development within the organization at this time.

In a recent webcast, JaiKrishna B, President - Group HR, New Business Development and Corp Communication, Amara Raja shared how the company is preparing for the post lockdown phase at an operational level. With about five to six task forces, the manufacturing firm is gearing up to welcome the workforce and creating a safe workplace to work for them. For instance, one task force is particularly focused on health and safety and working on preparing standard operating procedures.

According to Accenture’s 5 priorities to help reopen and reinvent your business report, leaders would now have to focus on creating a safe working environment that gives people confidence to return to work premises and to adjust to the new virtual/physical hybrid way of working.

Managing employee experience in the new virtual/physical hybrid way of working

For leaders it has become essential to ensure that while they are all working in a different set up now, the workforce still feels connected and engaged with the organization and each other. Accenture’s COVID-19 consumer research found that over 64 percent of the global workforce is facing high anxiety over their personal job security. Others are worried that traditional social interaction may no longer be possible. The workforce is slowly returning to work but they are not going back to normal, the way they work, the way the workplace looks, the way they engage with customers, peers, and leaders everything is changing. Hence, while leaders are focusing on building a new safe workplace and scaling up their respective organization’s digital infrastructure, they also have to keep their focus on managing employee experience. 

Accenture and most leaders we interviewed are encouraging to take a people-first approach, while preparing for the new virtual/physical hybrid workplace. 

Experts from Accenture suggest, “Proactively seek feedback from employees and give them a voice. Find the right ‘glocal’ mix of leadership, delegating where appropriate but providing central guidance and coordination.” Further, offer life coaches, mental health support and wellbeing programs to help grieving employees or those managing stress, such as those caring for elderly patients and partners of key workers. It is time to revisit policies, focusing on the most vulnerable groups, such as temporary workers, people with disabilities, single parents or those who lack adequate health benefits.

Nick Lambert, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, Orange Business Services said, “There are three broad areas that companies should consider immediately to support employees: Enable remote collaboration solutions for remote/home working and ensure secure connectivity; run virtual events; and disseminate critical information via omni channel communication, including via chatbots to answer frequently asked questions.”

Businesses that can reinvent themselves—their processes, customer experiences, employee and social contracts, and do so in ways that further their purpose—will be better staged to transition to the virtual/physical hybrid workplace- the new normal of work.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #COVID-19, #TheNewNormal, #ResetWork

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