SJ Raj is the Senior Vice President (human resources operations) at Newgen Software. He has more than 30 years of experience in the field of human resources development. He is responsible for Newgens Human Resources strategy, global operations and programs aligned human resource strategy.
In a recent conversation with us, SJ Raj shares his take on how Newgen Software is looking at remote culture shifts, his top priorities as a leader and changing roles of HR going forward.
COVID-19 is still here. How do you see the seismic shifts in the world of work induced by the pandemic?
The world is going through a transition, but the human race is resilient in its endeavor to find opportunities amid adversity. The future of work has changed forever, especially in the IT sector, where technology is a critical enabler. The change brings with it a paradigm shift in how we approach the workplace. Some changes, including a hybrid workplace setup that incorporates both remote as well as in-office working, were long overdue but got institutionalized during the pandemic. In a world where virtual collaboration is becoming the norm, engaging our employees can prove to be challenging. Enabling seamless coordination between the required stakeholders and a radical shift in existing policies can help in keeping the workforce motivated and engaged.
The way businesses hire talent is also going through a fundamental shift. The gig economy is on the rise, with freelance professionals gaining prominence. Furthermore, organizations foresee humans and machines working in tandem to boost efficiency, accuracy, and productivity.
Most companies are heading toward a hybrid workplace. Do you think the hybrid mode of work is going to stay for long? Do you think the company culture will survive in a remote working setup?
The past year has made it abundantly clear that it is possible to maintain productivity and efficiency even in a remote working environment. Hence, the hybrid workplace model is here to stay and will become a major centerpiece to an organization’s employee value proposition. How well you define the structures around it could be the game-changer in attracting and retaining desired talent. The organization’s culture needs to be viewed in the context of remote working. If companies want to retain employees, they must establish a hybrid model that goes beyond just tweaking policies. The senior management team must provide momentum by leading the way. Furthermore, organizations need to invest in developing their leaders and managers into becoming culture champions as they drive engagement within their teams in a remote working setup.
New variants of COVID-19 are creating chaos in several countries, especially India. What’s your take on how leaders should sail through uncertain times and manage talent?
The well-being of our employees must precede everything. Every leader needs to be empathetic and display a high level of emotional quotient. We must create an environment where our teams feel a sense of belonging, safety, and support. Leaders need to allow flexibility, engage on a 1-to-1 basis, and handhold employees to boost their morale. Look at your deadlines, commitments, and goals through a more realistic lens considering the current circumstances and focus on critical tasks.
Communication is key. Employees always remember how we, as organizations, take care of them during crisis situations. Business leaders need to collaborate with their HR counterparts for introducing innovative ways and extending help to all employees.
According to a report by WEF, work-life balance, flexibility, and mental health are front-of-mind for employees. How should organizations support their employees at a time like this in COVID hit countries like India?
Organizations must clearly spell out their policies on working from home, including no emails on weekends and no calls and/or meetings beyond working hours on workdays. More importantly, fine-tune your medical policies to see how best you can help your employees cover hospitalization and treatment costs, if any. Explore options for offering financial assistance, including interest-free loans and prompt payroll processing. We have to be swift and offer processes that are simple to execute and can benefit maximum employees.
The uncertainty of when they will be expected to physically return to the workplace is causing anxiety to many employees and their families now. Organizations can address this by sharing a tentative timeline and plan of action. Allow flexibility in schedules as many employees have to take care of their dependents.
Additionally, organizations can regularly conduct employee well-being sessions and provide a safe space for the workforce through mindfulness and counseling sessions.
The pandemic has changed the priorities of HR leaders globally. How do you see the changing role of HR amid this uncertainty?
HR as a function has led from the front and displayed extraordinary perseverance and ownership in responding to the crisis and acting as a pillar of support. This is in addition to doing an exceptional job of ensuring the well-being of staff during the pandemic.
The most challenging work for HR now is to instill a balance between the productivity and the emotional wellbeing of employees. We require HR folks who can be the jack of all trades and can don many hats. Considering the uncertainty of the situation, it is challenging to attract desired talent and manage attrition. HR is expected to be ahead of the curve and be proactive in thinking and execution. Going forward, data crunching, extracting insights, and quick trend mapping will be expected from HR professionals to enable intelligent decision making. The current situation will give a huge push to the rapid adoption of HR technology, including the extensive use of artificial intelligence-powered bots.
How are you preparing as a leader to deal with the next phase of challenges? What are your top priorities?
Going by the uncertainties and apprehensions we find ourselves in, it is best to plan a quarterly course of action. To start with, HR is required to reimagine the basic tenets of an organization, including culture, values, and behaviors. Workforce models need to be reset in the context of today. Upskilling, reskilling, and cross-training employees are mandatory now to leverage the know-how for building a future talent pipeline and succession planning. Furthermore, an agile digital platform will help organizations withstand the speed of change and respond rapidly.
Keeping the workforce engaged is another area that requires focus while following the organization’s purpose and ethos.
HR is in a driving seat and is expected to steer the change in the face of this uncertainty. Collaborating across the organization, coordinating with various stakeholders, and building a strong connect with employees will be the key to their success.