The COVID 19 pandemic has ruptured business operations, at times, temporarily suspending work and forcing companies to completely operate online. While there have been tough business calls to take, companies also had to quickly innovate and build systems to support their employees.
Speaking to HR leaders across sectors, Rajkamal Vempati, SVP and HR Head of Axis Bank spoke about how some of the core assumptions of work have been challenged and how HR's role has become critical in remaining the workplace. She addressed leaders in a People Matters – Oracle Cohort session under the theme - DIVE into the #NewNormal.
Rajkamal spoke about four areas that HR professionals need to focus on.
- Reimagining work and the new workplace
While previously too, work happened at office and at home, the fundamental learning over the past few months has been that, “Employees can no longer be bound by physical spaces, desktops or devices, the workplace should be in the palm of one’s hands. And all employee journeys need to be made available on the mobile,” she said.
Whether it is a sales or service offering that’s digitized, HR professionals need to think about how they’re integrating HR processes seamlessly. As companies increasingly move towards a hybrid workplace, investing in the digital infrastructure to support the shift will be critical.
“The reason for making these investments is to make the employee feel free,” she noted, “which could also translate into competitive advantage.” And its by leveraging data, AI, one can support this digital journey.
- Bringing harmony between work and family
‘This is a dilemma that each one is going through and we’re all doing many things to address it,’ she said. While previously, there were leaders who weren’t sure that employees could be completely productive while working from home, working through the pandemic has removed the stigma associated with working from home, it has also led to the realization that work happens even when a majority of the employees work from home.
There are however concern areas – especially in child care, leading to employees working late nights and even on weekends. Speaking about Axis Bank’s own experience she said that younger employees are struggling – and this may be due to a number of reasons including: the lack of infrastructure at home, the need to seek help and direction. In order to address the ergonomic gaps, Rajkamal noted that the Bank is supporting employees with re-imbursements.
The company also looked at what’s disturbing employees – including anxiety, fatigue, over communication, micro-management etc., And came up with guidelines for work, which indicated specific times that employees aren’t to be disturbed including lunch time, no meetings post 7pm etc., all of which led to the formalization of new rituals. Apart from offering helplines and conselling services,
There’s also a need to think critically about engagement. “Don’t rely on learning as engagement,’ she advised HR leaders. Create spaces and the time for employees to have water cooler conversations digitally. At a time when employees are craving for normalcy, it is ok to let them take a day off – because we’re operating at a time when there’s high anxiety emanating from the situation exacerbated by the virus, she said.
- Empowering work associations
“While HR professionals have focused on constructing work around the person, in this new normal, work is already being deconstructed in many ways as a combination of skills,” Rajkamal noted. This gives the function a new opportunity to configure the organization differently.
As digital world shifted towards the customer, in this age of remote work, the power has shifted to the skilled professional and one has to recognize that. Short term gigs and contracts, changing the operating model and segmenting employees with a focus on helping those left behind is an essential exercise.
Apart from mindset and acceptance, trust in your employees is the key to empower work associations. As every HR process, from onboarding to exit interviews, get digitized there’s a far greater need to have conversations with the employees.
There is also a special focused coaching that is needed for managers – as they enable their teams to understand what they have achieved and to have tough conversations.
- Leading with values and culture
There are important questions to be asked about values and culture in a primarily digital set up. They’re critically important because it enables the human connection,” Rajkamal said.
Its culture that binds the company, it’s the human connection that’s needed at a time like this. As leaders, there’s a real opportunity to evangelize the values and speak about them in the context of a business crisis. At Axis Bank, the company started a program called Beyond the manager, which helps in reflection about the physical manifestion of care. It helps translate the sense of identity in the digital world.
There are interesting questions for us to answer and engage in – and there are big shifts – ‘Your desk is not really your desk, if your identity is built on that?
While many companies have already been on many months, and created technology and wellness programs to support their employees, there’s a need to reflect on the manifestation of care given to employees. As the workplace becomes more diverse and flexible, the future for HR will focus on becoming more outcome centric.