Article: Virtual collaboration as a strategy in remote work

Technology

Virtual collaboration as a strategy in remote work

On Day 1 of TechHR India, leaders from IT By Design (ITBD), Larsen Toubro, and GreyOrange discussed how they have overcome challenges over the past year to enable virtual collaboration across teams and functions.
Virtual collaboration as a strategy in remote work

There is no doubt that collaboration powers organizational success and sustainability. With most work done virtually, organizations are facing unique challenges in managing diverse teams, ensuring smooth collaboration, and adapting. After setting up new practices over the past year, we now face the challenge of how to elevate and sustain them. To understand how we can engrain these into our culture and how technology can be used to ensure business continuity and towards building a cohesive workforce, we got three experts from diverse fields to hold a riveting discussion on the first day of TechHR India.

Sunny Kalia, Co-founder, and CEO, IT By Design (ITBD), and Dr. C. Jayakumar, CHRO, Larsen Toubro participate in a discussion moderated by Ramya Sampath Sharma, Chief People Officer, GreyOrange. Here are the excerpts from the session.

Tech challenges encountered during the transition to remote working

While digital services-based organizations were able to pivot to remote and work-from-home setting, it was simply not possible for businesses in the manufacturing and engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) sectors. Particularly, EPC employs a large number of migrant workers, many of whom made long journeys back home at the height of the pandemic.

These challenges naturally meant that the time and cost estimates for projects significantly increased. Even in the roles wherein work-from-home was partially possible, say engineering or architectural design, technology enablement was a problem. The tools and software used in engineering require heavy-duty systems, and simply asking employees to get laptops wasn’t the solution. Add to that the challenges with broadband, collaboration, and data security.

On the other hand, while IT and ITES tech companies didn’t face many challenges from a technology perspective, they struggled more with worker engagement and motivation. Since tech companies have been laying the groundwork for digitization for years now, the basic framework for teams to collaborate has been in place and swiftly deployed or scaled up. However, the one thing that came into sharp focus was cybersecurity. Before the pandemic, even organizations with global teams spread across the world had limited access and entry points for bad actors. These were usually office locations or data centres and had ample security to fight malicious data attacks. But suddenly, organizations had hundreds or thousands of entry points - one for each employee - and ramping up the security infrastructure proportionately did create challenges. 

Workforce challenges in a virtual work setting

The biggest people's challenge for organizations was how to redefine the KPIs and the KRAs to measure productivity, how to train managers, realign benefits, and change the metrics. Additionally, one of the core challenges was  how to battle anxious employees and help them stay positive amidst the rising negativity. To ensure healthy engagement and motivation levels in a virtual setting, many big and small steps can be adopted.

For organizations like ITBD, something as simple as a virtual happy hour turned out to be extremely helpful in allowing people to connect. Then, realigning the wellness programs to help employees keep up with the changes in the external world was crucial to create a sense of security. At the end of the day, teams must be provided with the tools for collaboration, educated on how to use them effectively, and given the autonomy to use them the best way they see fit.

The other big priority for organizations has been to redefine what success, results, and performance means. The importance of regular and clear communication has grown manifold as it ensures that everyone is on the same page, aligned to the same goals, and aware of the expectations. So by encouraging people to find personal meaning in their work, organizations have been able to make the processes, frameworks, and tools work more effectively in the virtual workplace.

How organizations have leveraged technology for sustaining and elevating new practices

Before the pandemic, campus recruitment drives were akin to a festival. Organization allocated massive resources towards planning, travel, interviewing, and orientation to ensure that candidates have a smooth experience. However, the entire function came to a standstill last year. Despite everyone in the team working remotely, L&T was able to conduct campus placements with over 150 top institutions. Using an internal virtual assessment and recruitment platform, 30,000+ were tested candidates in just four days. Short-listing, interviewing, pre-placement talk, offer letter, documentation, and onboarding – everything was done remotely, something that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago.

Similarly the organization digitized the competency framework and assessment process for remote access with remarkable speed. Taking care of the design, data security, and training of the assessors, the entire assessment process was taken online to conduct tests remotely using virtual machines with 100% security. Done in record speed, and with unprecedented collaboration between diverse functions, both these transitions saved significant costs, time, and effort in addition to elevating the user experience. The organization has had an extremely positive experience and is planning to build upon the successes to make these changes permanent in the post-pandemic world.

ITBD focused on redesigning the overall employee journey, right from entry to exit, which changed significantly over the past year. To ensure that the hiring and recruitment process continues without disruption, virtual job fairs were organized in place of physical ones. Simply conducting virtual job discussions and fairs in breakout rooms over Zoom turned out to be a great blessing because more talent could be engaged in less time and with lower effort. Similarly, to elevate the onboarding experience for new employees, virtual coffee sessions became a permanent fixture of the process. The bottom line is that ITBD used collaboration tools to do the exact things that were done in person, and was able to do it more efficiently, on a larger scale, and more frequently.

Whether time tracking is an effective approach to measure employee productivity

Unless the time worked is being measured as a billable metric for a client, time tracking doesn’t make sense, shared Sunny Kalia of ITBD. Rather than surveillance or micro-management, he suggests that organizations must focus on setting the right expectations, defining performance measures, and creating processes that naturally align different functions and stakeholders. At ITBD, for instance, all business strategies are aligned with the short and long-term goals of different departments. Results are measured based on business outcomes, and this ensures that in the form of shared goals, there is a connective tissue across the organization. The resolve in bringing these alignments and having people understand how their work and performance contribute to the bigger business goals is eventually what makes all the difference.

When it comes to using tools and software, remember, less is more. Many organizations invest in expensive tools, but instead of increasing collaboration, they reduce the time spent on actual discussions and conversations. This makes it challenging to centralize processes and streamline communication. Thus, while choosing digital tools, ensure that they address the needs of the business and the information exchanged between applications isn’t lost in a void.

As our patience for asynchronous work decreases, the need to collaborate smoothly has been amplified. Individuals, leaders, teams, and organizations must keep finding what works best for them to stay connected, what medium and platform are the most suitable, and find solutions that give great results. Remote and hybrid working can only be enabled successfully with the right tools, so they must be chosen with clear goals, an understanding of the overall mindset, and based on their ability to support the organization’s virtual collaboration culture.

(This article is based on the session “RemoteTech: Virtual Collaboration as a Strategy – The Mindset, Skillset & Toolset Needed” with speakers Sunny Kalia, Co-founder and CEO, IT by Design (ITBD) and Dr. C. Jayakumar, CHRO, Larsen Toubro. The session was moderated by Ramya Sampath Sharma, Chief People Officer, GreyOrange, and held on 4-August-2021 at TechHR India.)

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Topics: Technology, #TechHRIN

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