MUMBAI: After more than a month of national lockdown, both employers and employees have eased into a new way of working — work from home (WFH) With new learnings emerging, WFH, a concept that was otherwise shunned by many and adopted by few, has gained more acceptance and is expected to become the new norm even after restrictions are lifted.
India Inc leaders and HR experts believe WFH is going to be the way forward for a large section of employees. This would, however, bring about a change in communication, employee-manager relations, ‘work time’ behaviour and would necessitate framing of new HR policies going forward.
Nestle India chairman and managing director Suresh Narayanan said, “We will all be facing a new normal when this crisis is over. Ways of working are expected to evolve, as the long lockdown periods have dispelled many of the notions associated with effectiveness issues while working from home.” Even before the statewide and national restrictions were imposed on commutes, progressive organisations like Hindustan Unilever decided to move entire office-based staff onto a WFH platform, without providing a time frame as to when this would revert to the old way of working.
RPG Enterprises chairman Harsh Goenka said, “Organisations are realising, with cost savings on real estate, there’s a need for hot-desking. The new work model will be vastly different from the old paradigm.” Goenka added that even after the lockdown is lifted, several employees may still have to work from home.
“We may need to understand how seating arrangements would be made at offices. Even after restrictions are lifted, we would need to maintain social distancing in conference rooms, in canteens and everywhere in offices,” said Goenka.
Randstad India managing director & CEO Paul Dupuis said, “When people go back to work, it’s not going to be the same arrangement across organisations. Some could think of having alternate weekly shifts as a new work arrangement. There will also be employees who may have anxiety issues returning back to the office. Organisations may need to allow them to continue working from home.”
While it appears to be certain that the post-Covid worklife would be different from what it used to be earlier, experts said this would require organisations to frame new HR policies to ensure a smooth shift to a new paradigm. Remote working is equal to a distant relation between an employee and an employer. That distance needs to be bridged by ‘over-communication’, said Shital Kakkar Mehra, a business etiquette and cross cultural coach, who believes WFH could lead to social isolation of employees.
“We are used to greeting people at water coolers, coffee machines, elevators, parking lots, and have some quick chats. Social isolation could pose a mental health problem. After Covid, HR’s role will change dramatically in terms of engaging a workforce that is working remotely. They will have to ensure that teams stay connected through virtual lunch meets, for instance,” said Mehra.
Accountability and ownership, too, will undergo a dramatic shift. Earlier, even if employees were at work, they may not have been as productive. They will now have to take up the ownership as productivity will be measured in black and white. Recently, an executive failed to show up for an internal digital meeting with team members. The reason: The executive had started taking siestas. Maintaining discipline is something most executives are talking about.
“It’s important to maintain work hour timings and the duration in which you may be away at lunch or to attend to other personal tasks. However, each one may have their own peak productivity hour. Managers may need to respect that. Productivity may need to be redefined and based strictly on outcomes,” said Mehra.
How will conflicts be resolved? Earlier, if an employee had an issue with his or her co-worker, they would walk across and talk it out. If unresolved, the matter would be escalated. “When you meet someone face-to-face, you can sense the body language. Those conversations may be difficult to execute digitally. One may now choose to either live with such conflicts or push it under a carpet, given the technological barriers. On the other hand, what we always wanted to say, but couldn’t muster the courage, may now be possible, hiding behind the tech barrier,” said Mehra.
In an office environment, usually a manager could get called in by a senior for a feedback session. Stress on articulation was important, but so was body language. “There will be more transparency in a digitally connected world. Informal chats too would now be in a written form. The language may have to become more polished. It will also serve as written proof of what a manager asked of his team members,” said Mehra.
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