As organizations reset work and prepare for the new workplace, one thing is clear- remote work isn't going anywhere. At the same time, a gradual return to work is also in progress. In effect, the future of work is hybrid. What does that mean? A hybrid workplace will require an optimum combination of policies, flexibility, culture, and last but definitely not least, technology.
How do employers need to reset the way they have been functioning through the pandemic? What workplace practices they need to adapt to meet the needs of both work and home? How will HR Tech play an important role in establishing this new future of work? In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Feroz Khan, Partner and Head-Digital Advisory, KPMG India shares his thoughts on a hybrid workplace and managing employee experience in it.
What trends have you observed around HR tech adoption amid the COVID-19 crisis? How is the pandemic changing investments in HR tech?
During the COVID-19 crisis, the world has seen the new normal emerging when it comes to an operating model. For the initial one or two months, organizations thought that the situation will come back to normal and thus not a lot of focus was given on the HR technology adoption, but slowly organizations realized that they need to redefine the operating model and leverage digital and emerging technologies to catch up with the crisis. This challenge brought in an opportunity in leveraging various digital technologies with remote working leading the bandwagon. Work from home became the new normal and investment started coming heavily in getting digital solutions and its underlying infrastructure to ensure a seamless working environment for an employee and employer alike. Video conferencing started making headway and digital solutions were developed to monitor the performance of the employee during remote working sessions. Many solutions facilitating communication, project management and collaboration were launched within two to three months of the pandemic. This also brought in disruption in the way hiring and onboarding used to happen and technology was leveraged to ensure seamless remote hiring and onboarding of employees.
Most of the companies have declared remote working for the next few months and hence have started investing in digital technologies, which enable learning, career, and performance management through digital adoption. The fact of the matter is organizations are investing heavily in this to ensure enhanced employee and customer experience, so it can be delivered through emerging technology which is redefining the way we operate today and will become the new normal for tomorrow.
What are your thoughts on the concept of a hybrid workplace?
Given this pandemic, many companies across sectors have adopted a hybrid workplace model which includes a combination of work from home, work from the office and a flexible co-working place. The opportunity which emerged from this pandemic is forcing us to work from anywhere and any device model and it proves that, we do not have to go for work; instead we carry our work with us. Many new-age innovation-led companies across the world are moving towards a hybrid working environment which collaborates physical workspaces with digital mediums and is an amalgamation of a virtual and physical workplace.
In my view, human resource, digital and enterprise solutions play a bigger role in ensuring success of a hybrid workplace and if we do not have the right technology to enable the hybrid workplace, then the productivity will not be achieved.
The new normal working style requires social distancing and it is going to be there for a longer period than we thought. We will have to keep in mind that we stay healthy without any risk and hence a hybrid workplace would prove wonders in maintaining the social distancing and avoiding any risk, thereby ensuring flexibility in work and timings with enhanced security control, through the adoption of digital and emerging technologies. Lastly, it will drastically improve employee engagement and experience.
What are some challenges you foresee in implementing a hybrid workplace?
With every opportunity, there comes a starting challenge and the hybrid workplace is no different. Companies should not expect that 100% of their workforce be present every day in any model and hence it is advisable to start with an 80:20 model.
Main challenge of implementing a hybrid workplace is to manage remote working conditions in light of so much uncertainty coming with this pandemic.
Additionally, the other challenge is to manage the optimization of the hybrid workplace especially for the industrial sector wherein factory workforce are the frontline workers who need to be physically present near the assembly line which is of paramount importance. Both challenges pose a health risk till the time a vaccine emerges. We would have to also consider the operational difficulties which come with redesigning an office layout allowing for social distancing and use of common areas like conference room, washroom etc. This model also poses challenges to the HR department, which must manage the hiring, onboarding, and transitioning of the employees along with remote training and learning processes.
With these challenges, another aspect that needs to be looked into is- building and maintaining the culture of the new business model which leads to change management. Last but not the least, cybersecurity and information security is another challenge that needs to be managed with a hybrid workplace model.
What kind of a workplace model are you considering for your organization? Do you foresee any major changes?
With the uncertainty of the pandemic, we are also considering the adoption of a hybrid workplace model for our organization. The nature of our work is such that we need to be present at a client location and office base location depending upon the situation and hence the hybrid model allows us to redefine our operating model with some percentage of workforce working from home and some percentage working from client location/base location. Our focus is to improve productivity by supporting the right resource mix for any client engagement. We are also in the process of redefining and restructuring our office layout which ensures social distancing with the wellbeing of the employee being paramount and at the same time ensuring client work does not get hampered.
Some of the major changes which we expect are the adoption of operating change management which is related to the method of ensuring employee collaboration and prioritization. Working from home or remotely, demands flexibility and trust within the team and at the same time we need to ensure work-life balance for which we are using digital technologies and new-age communication systems which will allow us to redefine our performance management in a hybrid workplace model and at the same time ensure enhanced employee experience.
How are you thinking about employee experience in a hybrid workplace?
Employee experience in a hybrid workplace model is very important and we need to ensure that the right mix of tools and technologies along with processes are being leveraged for this purpose. Technologies like advanced analytics and behavioral analytics play a great role in ensuring enhanced experience at a hybrid workplace. We need to ensure that the employee is equipped with the right infrastructure and tools to conduct the day to day operations and this needs to be plotted in a customer journey map which should address the pain points of the employee and subsequently also address those pain points in the form of user experience and interface of the digital tools. The employee experience is also dependent upon the process which is being used for monitoring the performance of the employee, especially in the remote working environment.
When it comes to a hybrid workplace model, there needs to be better and greater planning and coordination between the workplace facilities management team and the human resources team.
Technology is evolving around remote working and the same needs to be developed ensuring a human-centric design that plays a larger role in the adoption of the tools and technology so that change management becomes easier. Companies also need to ensure that there are face to face interactions and socialization between employees either through video or through periodic in-person meetings.
What do you think the future holds for HR in a data-driven world post the pandemic?
Post pandemic human resources will have to embrace a new working style that is powered with data-driven insights and people analytics. HR professionals need to upskill themselves with the know-how of digital and emerging technologies which is data dominated. Also, they need to learn the art of analyzing data throwing different dimensions of people output and performance. The more and more HR professionals understand the importance of cross-functional working and collaboration, the more it will enable them to learn the new ways of working. The future of the human resource model will be based upon the insights which come through data modeling and all human resource-related rules need to be put in the form of algorithms to provide some meaningful insights.
The entire lifecycle of the Hire to Retire process will undergo a massive change with new tools and technologies coming into play and the same level of engagement and output needs to be delivered for employees working in a hybrid workplace model.
When the dust settles, post COVID-19, it will become a norm to work remotely and human resource professionals would need to adapt to these changes and will need cross-skilling and upskilling of the human resource cohort.