If there is one company that COVID-19’s new work normal did not catch off guard, it is Tata Realty & Infrastructure. The real-estate company was already in the process of executing many organisational changes that are now a reality for companies across the world. Reena Wahi, SVP, head-HR, Business Excellence & CSR, Tata Realty & Infrastructure, walks HR Katha through the key initiatives introduced by the Company this year.
The new realities imposed by the global pandemic, in fact, made the execution of many initiatives easier for Tata Realty. Additionally, the Company is a step ahead in embracing not just a remote work culture driven by the latest technology, but also trailblazing aspects, such as peer appreciation, flexible management and gender diversity.
While these initiatives have certainly proved their mettle for the Company and its employees, they also hold key learnings for the real-estate industry and HR professionals at large.
1. Digital evolution
It wasn’t COVID-19 that propelled digital adoption for Tata Realty & Infrastructure. The Company was already in the process of evolving into a digitally-savvy workforce when the pandemic hit. “We were lucky that we embarked on this journey and by the time we were kicking it off, the pandemic had started,” says Wahi. “Therefore, we didn’t have to struggle to drive the adoption for our employee engagement and connect plan during the lockdown.”
It is the changing workforce demographic that inspired the Company to think digital. “We were hiring a lot of GenY and GenX talent, and some from outside real estate,” explains Wahi. “They’re very digitally savvy and are looking for a work culture that a new-age economy company would offer.” This observation, coupled with the need to leverage the new talent led the Company to strive towards a more “digital employee experience, keeping the human aspect in mind” says Wahi. “Besides, as the economy is changing, it has become imperative for your own talent to be digitally savvy.”
2. In-house tech
To make it a seamless experience, Tata Realty partnered with Paris-based Sociabble, an employee communications and advocacy platform. “We noticed that remote work depended on too many different platforms to function efficiently,” says Wahi. “With Sociabble, we launched an in-house tool that brings all these features under one roof.”
The tool combines the best functions of all the technology being used for virtual work today. It allows Tata Realty’s employees to collaborate on projects, interact socially, as well as reward and recognise each other. It also encourages employee advocacy and enables employee-engagement activities.
In addition to Sociabble, the Company joined forces with Oracle’s Human Resources Management System. “This made a lot of admin and HR-related tasks accessible to employees,” shares Wahi. It resulted in “a fair degree of transparency and the ability to do things on their own instead of relying on HR or their manager”.
“Some of our changes were driven by the want to introduce a new culture. We wanted to move away from being a very ‘sales’ organisation.”
3. Cultural revival
When Tata Realty & Infrastructure was born in 2018, as a result of the integration of two Tata companies, the Company’s leadership had begun building a new cultural framework, which was put into practice this year. “Although we are a Tata company, there are certain aspects which are unique in the context of our organisation,” explains Wahi.
The Company took a bottom-up and outside-in approach to define this new culture. “We didn’t want the new cultural framework coming from or being stated by the management,” states Wahi. The leadership was going for a more immersive experience. “We spent a lot of time with our employees to understand what is an ideal work culture for them,” she points out. This was done through many interactive team activities in the year’s first quarter, which involved painting canvases and dramatics companies. “These experiences helped to internalise the essence of the new culture rather than just putting up posters in the office.”
Feedback was also taken from the Company’s customer base. “We believe that a lot of what the customer experiences is a reflection of the company culture itself,” reveals Wahi. “So, we asked them what they expect from our employees, what kind of experience they are looking for,” she adds. All of this combined with the Company’s vision culminated into its new cultural framework that is now in practice.
4. Peer-led recognition
In a bid to break out of the sales-focused appreciation model that the real-estate industry is infamous for, the Company also upgraded its rewards and recognition system this year. “Most recognition in our industry is usually for employees in the sales departments for meeting their quarterly numbers,” points out Wahi. “Some of our changes were driven by the want to introduce a new culture. We wanted to move away from being a very ‘sales’ organisation.”
Instead, Tata Realty wanted to imbibe its key cultural tenet of empowerment in its rewards and recognition programme. “We were thinking on the lines of ‘how do we empower employees and managers to recognise and appreciate each other more often’.” Leaving the archaic and long process of evaluation and assessments behind, the Company launched a tool called AwesomeU, which takes the entire exercise online, lending it an egalitarian dimension.
“Every quarter managers are given kitties from which they can reward their teams,” illustrates Wahi. “They decide who they want to reward and how.” The Company’s leadership wanted managers to have a more active role in employee appreciation. “Why should they go through a formal process of approval? We expect managers to be fair and believe they should be empowered to take fair decisions,” adds Wahi.
Team leads present real-time reward points and ‘spot awards’ to employees as soon as good work is done and recognised. “The points can be encashed in various ways — either an Amazon voucher or if they wish to give it to a charity,” shares Wahi. It’s not just managers who can reward team members; employees can reward each other, and their bosses too! “We wanted to encourage an attitude of ‘let’s — you and me as peers, do something good for each other’,” notes Wahi.
The recognition is not just company-wide, integrated into Sociabble, which is used by the pan-India 800-strong workforce, but can also be shared on the employee’s personal social media. When this was being developed, “the idea was not to limit rewards and recognition to a monthly activity between the manager and employee,” says Wahi. “We wanted to introduce something that allowed people to appreciate each other as they see something good happening.”
5. Diversity and gender inclusivity
With its ‘We for Her’ initiative, Tata Realty has taken long strides towards constructing not just a more gender-inclusive and diverse workspace, but the industry in general too. It is a monthly women’s network, that also encourages the participation of men, to address and resolve the many biases against women in real estate.
One of the biggest biases the organisation noticed, that prompted this focused diversity programme, was the limited participation of women in certain departments. “You’ll see them in marketing, corporate or architecture, but not at the project or site level,” points out Wahi. “It’s perceived that these functions are not suited for women, which is not true.” The forum also addressed issues, such as unconscious biases and women-specific stressors that were unrelated to work.
Rather than looking at diversity as a mandate to be fulfilled, Tata Realty is driven by the intent to “enable women to talk about the challenges they face in the industry, empower them to take on more leadership roles”, claims Wahi. Through the forum, the Company also aspires to achieve industry-wide goals, such as, “How do we ensure equal opportunity for women in the workspace? How can we make them feel safe to join a real-estate firm?”