Everyday we hear one news or the other or organizations committing to remote or about organizations getting back to office. One camp saying that “office” is evil and the other saying that companies will lose their edge with remote working. There are voices in-between that raise concerns with both the models of 100% office and 100% remote and these voices are proposing a hybrid way of working.
Never has there been a tougher situation for a CHRO of an organization to take the right decision for their organization and make sure that the decision works. A lot rests on the shoulders of the leadership team and CHROs to guide the company down the decision that they think is best for their company.
What is the right decision?
As with many complicated questions, there is no one universal answer to this question. Our workforce has never been put into such extreme experiments ever in the recent past. With no past that you can build on and no compass that guides you into the future all one thing is for sure and every company has to craft its own work methods and policies that are unique to them. Hence it is quite clear that decision making will have to be a structured process that a CHRO and his/her team should take the organization through to come up with the answer.
Therefore the role of a CHRO in this decision making has become paramount.
Why not let the founders take the call?
A startup or a company is a joint dream of the entire team. The journey is fueled by the passion of the entire team. This decision of going remote or not and if remote then how not only affects the team’s career trajectory but it has a greater impact on how they live. So, does the team’s opinions matter in this question on whether to go remote or not? Of course, it does.
Microsoft recently released their findings from their Microsoft's Work Trend study. The study revealed the following trends:
- Gen Z is getting disconnected from the company and they need to re-energized
- One in 6 employees have cried with a colleague in the past year
- 40% said they were comfortable having face-to-face interactions going forward
- 73% wanted flexible remote work options
- High productivity was masking an exhausted workforce
- 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year
All of the above trends point to emotional, compassionate and well-being decisions that every organisation has to take. The founders might own the ship, but for this decision it is better to make the CHRO the captain of the ship.
What we heard from CHROs across the board
Me and my team have been engaging with CHROs and Founders of over 300+ startups of all sizes in the last 2 quarters. Here is a synopsis of what we heard.
One CHRO of a hardware startup from Pune made a profound statement. He remarked saying that humans in their DNA are social beings. How can just one year in the history of humankind change who we are fundamentally.
Another CHRO of an insurtech startup we spoke to said that the office is more a social place than we imagined in the past. “We make friends here, we find our house mates here, we form our lunch gang and sometimes we even find our better halves at the office.”, she remarked. You can see which camp she was batting for.
The CHRO of a successful technology startup said that their employees saved at least 3 hours in a work day with commuting and other activities that waste time at the office. While she said that she also mentioned that with remote work employees were overcompensating for working from home. Their own self assessment on productivity was that they were not doing well and hence overcompensating. This paradox was something she was interested to address with proper policies and developing a responsible work culture within the team.
Lastly one CHRO was loaded with apprehension on culture erosion that could happen with remote working. She said this even though the organisation was 100% committed to being a remote first organisation.
As you can see CHROs from all these companies were weighing what works for the business, what works for their employees taking into cognizance the short term and long term implications on any decision they take.
The process of arriving at a decision
How do you arrive at such a complex decision? You have to look inward first for a solution and then look outward for ideas to make the solution work.
What founders want?
While we did register earlier that it is not just what founders want, but it is critical to give weightage to what the founders think will work for their firm. Culture starts at the top and founders embody and extoll the culture of the company like no one else.
What your employees want?
All CHROs we have spoken to have run surveys in their organisation to understand what employees prefer and the challenges they have with work from home. Some CHROs have run the survey multiple times in the last one year to see if opinions and preferences have changed. If you need a jumpstart with a survey template, then you can check the WFA Toolkit we co-created with HR leaders. Virtual Town Halls, Virtual Water Coolers, AMA sessions etc are also good ways to get the pulse of the employees.
What are the learnings across the world?
Many companies in the past, even before COVID, have been remote. Many companies took COVID as an opportunity to roll out remote working that they were planning from earlier. These companies and analysts have put out a ton of content on what worked for them and what did not.
What CHROs can’t lose sight of?
In our conversations with CHROs, founders and through the experiences of various companies that have gone remote the following challenges emerge as the ones that CHROs should give top priority to.
Stressed out workforce - WFH has become a stressful experience for people working and people at home. A Microsoft study that was done 6 months into the pandemic revealed that over 30% of the workforce felt they were having burnout at work. Providing work near home infrastructure for employees to step out of home once or twice a week and to socialize is being seen by organizations as a way to help diffuse the remote working stress.
Employee Engagement - Multiple studies and surveys have shown that Gen Z is feeling more disconnected than older generations. This pandemic has snatched networking and water cooler conversations away from Gen Z that is in its formative years as working professionals.
Onboarding of new employees - Onboarding of new hires has been recognised as a big challenge by many of the CHROs we spoke to. To make onboarding easier these are some of the strategies they are putting in place:
- Documenting and digitizing all the processes, forms and company-specific information (such as employee handbooks, employee directories).
- Creating a clear onboarding plan with check-ins at appropriate milestones like 30 day, 60 day and 90 day plan..
- Scheduling orientation sessions for remote hires
- Scheduling video calls with fellow team members and making informal introductions as part of the onboarding process has helped
- One team that we work with has been meeting once a month where they bring all their new hires in to meet the leadership team
Loneliness & other mental health issues - Many of the CHROs reported that their employees were demanding socializing opportunities near home. Some of these companies were already working on providing access to coworking spaces nearby so that their employees can step out once or twice a week and socialize with other coworkers.
Improve communication - It has become all the more important to keep high standards on communication from the leadership to the employees. It is critical to ensure that leaders, managers and team members are oriented on the importance of written communication that is clear and concise.
Social media can give us a different picture, but the truth is, many companies are yet to decide on how they are going to work post the pandemic. The 2nd wave of pandemic in India has put the decision-making further on hold. While the companies have realised the advantage that remote work has given them, seamless functioning, the founders and CHROs also realise the challenges and the importance. The good thing is that with so many companies experimenting with various forms of hybrid remote working, there is a lot of research, tools, and guidelines that are valuable.