One of the biggest reasons why businesses were able to maintain continuity despite a raging pandemic was due to the steps taken by organizations to adopt digital solutions and tools over the past few years. These tools helped transition to a remote and hybrid way of working to help increase productivity and collaboration. Today, as we stand at the threshold of the future of work, we must analyze how to leverage the changes of the past year to design, sustain, and support employees to deliver their best in a hybrid work environment.
Anish Sarkar (CEO India at Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services), Manojit Sen (Global Head of HR, LSC Shell and Board Member at Shell International Shipping), and Yuvaraj Srivastava (Group CHRO at MakeMyTrip.com) explained what role technology can play in making the hybrid workplace more effective. The discussion was moderated by Shweta Modgil, Editor, People Matters. Here are some excerpts.
What makes an effective workplace?
Only when employees look forward to coming to work, are they able to give their best. When they feel happy while working, in turn, they make customers and stakeholders happy as well. This is the essence of an effective workplace, and all our tools and processes must be geared towards these goals. Another way to understand an effective workplace is to imagine it as a zone for focused and distraction-free activities, almost like a sports stadium. In this zone collaboration, teamwork, innovation, feedback, and professional relationships come together to help you achieve your goals. This zone can be created anywhere – inside an office or in your living room – as long as a clear understanding of what it constitutes is embedded in the DNA of the organization.
How can hybrid workplaces be more effective?
We need to begin by asking ourselves whether the pre-Covid workplaces were necessarily and entirely effective, to begin with. If not, then what aspects should be changed to make them more effective today? Ron Friedman, a psychologist and business consultant who authored the book “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating Extraordinary Workplaces” has some interesting insights on this topic. He says that motivation, creativity, and performance are key to increasing workplace innovation, productivity, and efficiency, but joy and fulfillment from the work done are also equally important. His views on how we define and organize work are particularly pertinent in today’s remote and hybrid work setting.
For example, he emphasizes the need to ensure that people feel respected, trusted, their contributions are appreciated, and their interpersonal needs are met. These aspects of the workplace have only accentuated over the past year, and clearly, doing the same things that we were doing before 2020 isn’t going to work. Like Gartner’s 2021 study on hybrid workplaces shows, the top three concerns of HR leaders are employee well-being, burnout, and inclusion. So, we have moved beyond tackling challenges to transitioning into the hybrid or remote work setting and dealing with much more profound issues.
Technology in the hybrid workplace: What to keep in mind while selecting tools?
Digital tools that facilitate remote and hybrid work have been around for a long time. Whether it is video conference setups, collaboration tools, communication platforms, or engagement tools – everything was present when the pandemic disrupted our way of working. The only change that happened was that the usage changed from the occasional meeting to a daily process, and these tools became a way of life from being trendy or nice-to-have resources. The ‘Death of the Conference Room,’ a phenomenon coined by experts, has enabled us to hold multi-location, simultaneous collaboration, using both, physical and digital tools.
So as we go back to our workplaces, we need to find the right tools that solve these new challenges and are suited for the changes that have transpired over the past year. For instance, instead of considering gig workers or contractors to be an offshoot of the core team, now teams are asking whether even the most critical tasks can be done by a gig worker. Similarly, something as simple as an AI-based chatbot can be used to keep track of the pulse of the employee sentiment and deploy specific interventions of support. There is an assumption that things will slowly revert to normal, and we will go about business-as-usual in the future. However, that is unlikely to be the case, and we must choose tools that offer permanent solutions as opposed to temporary fixes.
How to gear up for a post-Covid hybrid workplace?
Before jumping to implement hybrid solutions, we must first disintegrate how our existing processes have evolved. We need to find out what stops us from making the most of our existing tech solutions and HR systems. Organizations have struggled to implement HR automation systems at scale for all their functions in the past. So, maybe, it is time to look at each process differently, and implement a solution that adds unique value to it. For this to happen, we must redefine what constitutes work, product, process, and performance.
If the future is employees choosing their work time slot and seat like they book the tickets for a movie, then we must provide the tools that enable the same, instead of repackaging old attendance processes and systems. Similarly, it is vital to define the cultural aspect and processes separately for performance management. It should no longer be bound by time, but be a function of event, feedback, and priority. The idea is to let people own processes and limit the role of HR and business leaders to monitoring and facilitating. In essence, we need a change in our mindset and technology to reap the maximum benefits from digital tools. A sense of lethargy and complacency had set in while using these tools before the pandemic, and we must use this opportunity to break down old processes and rebuild them.
Overcoming fatigue in the hybrid setting
Technology and tools are force multipliers and enablers, but we must meet employees where they are and work back from there. Introducing more technology for the sake of it will lead to more fatigue and disengagement. Over the past year, the virtual overload and the pressure to always stay switched on, the numerous newsletters and webinars, unscheduled meetings, and virtual training – all of it has taken a toll. The Gartner study shows that 40 percent of remote workers felt an increase in their workload, 84 percent of organizations added more virtual tools, 83 percent encouraged employees to increase virtual interactions, and 77 percent introduced employee check-in to monitor productivity. All this meant that employees were, on average, 4.5X times more likely to be fatigued.
To navigate this challenge, HR leaders must focus on strengthening their cultural values and support internal collaboration for employees that are working in isolation. The goal of all cultural interventions and engagement strategies must be to help employees build mini versions of their workplaces that maintain the same values as their office desks. This will require comprehensive support systems to deliver devices, training, rewards, and engagement in harmony with each other.
To conclude, let’s design our hybrid workplaces to maximize productivity and not add tools indiscriminately. Our processes and interventions must be built to enable the best selection and usage of tools and empower not just managers, but team members as well. Thus, let’s just not increase the time that people spend in meetings but limit the synchronous work to when it is necessary and allow people autonomy over their work.
(This article is based on the session “WorkTech: The Role of Technology in Supporting an Effective Workforce” with speakers Anish Sarkar, CEO India at Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services; Manojit Sen, Global Head of HR, LSC Shell, and Board Member at Shell International Shipping; and Yuvaraj Srivastava, Group CHRO at MakeMyTrip.com. The session was moderated by Shweta Modgil, Associate Editor, People Matters, and held on 5-August-2021 at TechHR India.)