About a month ago if someone were to ask us when will we as business leaders be ready for a mass scale Work from Home Scenario, the answer would have been about 5-10 years from now. The current pandemic has made it a reality within a few weeks and pushed us to think of newer ways of managing work. For other industries like manufacturing, hospitality, healthcare and aviation, however, not all functions could be carried out from home. Companies in these industries face additional challenges of ensuring safety of their employees who are working on the frontline.
To discuss these business and people challenges Sandeep Chaudhary, President & Board Member, PeopleStrong interacted with Hardika Shah, Founder & CEO, Kinara Capital and JaiKrishna B, President - Group HR, New Business Development and Corp Communication, Amara Raja in recently hosted webcast by People Matters and PeopleStrong.
The two diverse perspectives from the Financial Services and Manufacturing industry will help you paint a picture of the new normal of work and workforce and enable you to prepare for it. Here are some key takeaways from the virtual session:
Maintaining productivity by leveraging technology
Hardika shared how having a digital infrastructure in place helped them transition to remote working smoothly. At Kinara Capital they ensured that all stayed connected and on track in terms of work with regular huddles. Thanks to technology, only the mode of communication changed, but the conversations, whether with customers or among employees didn’t stop.
“So many things that would have stopped with everyone working from home didn’t actually stop, we even started our annual performance review on PeopleStrong Alt. We went through the entire process like normal!”
Being mentally ready for change and having technology in place has helped Kinara Capital create a more productive workforce even in this new working environment.
While for knowledge workers, IT and finance companies work from home still sounds possible, how does it look for a manufacturing company, with factories shut?
Adjusting to the new normal: How is a manufacturing company dealing with the lockdown?
JaiKrishna agreed that it was indeed challenging. However, when the pandemic began, leadership at Amara Raja began experimenting with work from home, and that made them a little ready for the remote working environment. While they didn’t get much time to experiment with the pilot and were soon rushed into working from home set up with the lockdown announced, they were still 30 to 40 percent prepared.
In terms of a phased shutdown for plants, it was not an easy process. “Most people know us as being the battery manufacturers but we are also in the food business. So we had the food business factory going on. We knew we were burning cash but we were doing it for the benefit of farmers. Then we got some demand from telecom companies for batteries and then we took permission from the government and started manufacturing for that as well. People were more than happy to come and help and most were from nearby places and districts. It was now our responsibility to get into a war footing and ensure that their health and safety was taken care of very well,” shared JaiKrishna.
Need of the hour
At Amara Raja, for white collar workforce, the transition to a remote working environment was relatively easier. But the challenge was how to stay connected with the large workforce in the plants. It was crucial to ensure they were safe and comfortable. Many people moved away or even went back to their respective villages. And then there were a host of people in Amara Raja’s working men hostel. Amara Raja facilitated townships where families could stay and work. Leadership wanted to stay connected with this largely distributed workforce as well and that is when technology again came in handy.
“We facilitated the geo tagging for our entire workforce of 16,000 people. We communicated to everyone that we would like to know where you are and stay connected. And with people checking-in through geo tagging attendance management system of PeopleStrong Alt, we knew they were safe.” said JaiKrishna.
With tech as an enabler, consistent communication is what’s helping both Kinara Capital and Amara Raja stay connected with their workforce, keep them engaged and productive, and also prepare them to bounce back.
Recalibrating expectations from the workforce
The global health crisis has surely disrupted the work and affected the business but it is interesting to see how business leaders, in these tough times, have focused more on people and relationships. The crisis has enhanced everyone’s compassion and empathy quotient. As Hardika shared care and support is the key focus and pushing the business agenda isn’t the priority.
“These are exceptional and uncertain times. This is not the time for us to push the business agenda. It will matter later when the time is right,” exclaimed Hardika. So the focus for Kinara Capital whether engaging with employees or customers has been on being people-centric. Regular check-ins and calls are encouraged to see how they are feeling, what they are worried about, and how they are preparing for post lockdown bounce back.
With the business priorities shifted and the world of work advancing towards a new normal, it is time to recalibrate expectations from the workforce as well. Expecting a similar level of productivity is not wise at this time. The employees are engaged in different ways now and hence the old KRAs and the way they were monitored also changes. The workforce has to be celebrated for maintaining their calm, building new skills, and coming up with new creative ideas.
The focus is more on values and keeping the spirit of work alive.
Preparing for post lockdown: Bringing the workforce back to workplace
JaiKrishna B. shared how Amara Raja is preparing for the post lockdown phase at an operational level. With about five to six task forces ,the manufacturing firm is gearing up to welcome the workforce and creating a safe workplace to work for them. For instance, one task force is particularly focused on health and safety and working on preparing standard operating procedures.
The firm has ‘Amara Raja health and safety management system’ in place which works like a self screening tool and can be used by anyone. So before any worker comes to work, S/he has to go through that screening process and then get into a company transport facility. Later again there would be thermal scanning. The webapp created by Amara Raja can be used by family members as well.
A lot of work is being done to change the infrastructure as well to ensure employees’ health and safety. Once at the plant, the social distancing norm of six feet shall be followed. For warehouses, branch offices and project sites, for field services and franchises, Amara Raja has created SOP documents and is consistently educating them on it.
“For the immediate future, the focus is to see that you get back to serving some amount of the top line of your business. As things evolve, as business leaders we would have to reexamine the way we are designed, how we are as an organization, and how we are structured. It could include redesigning roles and redeploying the workforce,” said JaiKrishna.
Hardika said, “This time in many ways is chaotic but there is also a calm setting in. The calm is allowing business leaders to rethink about all their processes and business models: ‘Are they relevant? Are they effective? The old model has to go out of the window and be redefined for the new normal. So business leaders must use this as an opportunity to reflect inwards.”
The future of HR technology
With these changing work models and remote working being the new normal, the demand for HR tech solutions is also sure to change. There will be more demand for collaborative tools and super apps may see a rise as organizations require simpler solutions to engage with a widely dispersed workforce.
As Hardika said what HR tech solutions have to address now is the disconnectedness of the workforce. Keeping the workforce together would be a top challenge for most HR teams and HR Tech solutions that help them solve this challenge will be high in demand.
At the end of the day in times of crisis, the ability of leaders and companies to keep their workforce together and help them cope with uncertainties is what shapes their future. The world will change, as it does after any social, geopolitical, or economic event of this magnitude. But what would matter is the organization's preparedness and willingness to not only survive but thrive amid the crisis.