A new HR profile to handle remote work: Is it essential?

With real-time technology available to help, it is tech savviness that is required and not a new role, feel experts

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Remote working is here to stay, which is also leading to many changes in HR practices. Facebook recently announced a new role — director for remote work. The job description (JD) reads, “The director of remote work will be a strategic thinker who understands distributed and virtual teams, an outstanding relationship builder and a change agent. Our ideal candidate is someone who can collaboratively build on and evolve our remote workforce strategy, with a passion and proven acumen for experience design, process excellence and change management.” This makes us wonder if such a role is a necessity today in India as well, or are organisations doing enough with their existing teams to facilitate a smooth workflow from wherever the employees currently are.

HRKatha’s conversations with industry experts bring out one common ideology of being tech-savvy. The leaders are united in their belief that rather than introducing a new role, the focus should be on how to better use technology to aid this virtual model of work culture now.


Ankita Singh

“If we end up creating new roles, what will we do with the existing ones or the old ones? A little bit of tweaking is what is needed here.”

 


Harnessing technology

Nilay Nilay, CHRO, Indian Shelter Finance Corporation, feels that in the present work-from-home setup, to have a constructive conversation between an HR professional and an employee, more data is required rather than a new profile. “New technology will need planning, monitoring and reviewing of long-term work-from-home processes and productivity. A role can get created, but in today’s world, there is hyper automation taking place. There is technology available to map employee productivity, at home and in office. In that sense, tech is more real-time. It gives managers clear lead indicators. People will go for tech solutions rather than human resources to map and plan this change in work architecture. For any conversation to take place, between manager and employee, data is required.”


Ravi Mishra

“There is nothing for the HR to do differently here for a role to be created. Those who are 45 and above, will need strong technology support on how to use the virtual resources effectively.”


Citing an instance, Nilay Nilay explains that if someone is working from home and his/her productivity standards are below-par, then the manager really needs data to have a conversation with that employee. “Unless one has that it will be difficult to have a constructive conversation.”

Realigning and redesigning

The need to form a new role stems from the fact that with many companies announcing the adoption of the work- from-home model forever, expert hands are required to get the best out of the teams. Ankita Singh, senior vice president, global head – HR, admin, travel, IT, CIGNEX Datamatics, feels it is more important to realign and redesign existing systems as per the changing requirements than manufacture a new title. “If we end up creating new roles, what will we do with the existing ones or the old ones? A little bit of tweaking is needed here. The mode and way of L&D will change slightly. Multi-generation workforce always existed and it is there even now. However, now things are more virtual or the model is hybrid.”


Nilay Nilay

“People will go for tech solutions rather than human resources to map and plan this change in work architecture.”

 


 

Singh is also of the opinion that the emphasis should be more on communication, connect and collaboration. “Whatever HR has been doing so far, they just have to do a little more. We didn’t reinvent an entire wheel, we just realigned our processes. Earlier, it was more system driven, now it has to be mobile,” Singh adds.

Training

Even when there are companies abroad looking to have someone on their payroll to dedicatedly take care of the remote workforce, they too understand the need for technology. That is why, Ravi Mishra, Sr vice president – HR, epoxy business, Grasim Industries, strongly feels that even if a position is created of a similar nature, the person needs to have a sound understanding of various technologies. “Even if someone is hired for the system, the person needs to be very skilled with technology and HR. Competency has to be clear. The person should have an IT bent of mind.”

 


NV Balachandar

“HR professionals should be trained or familiarised with the process. It’s a skill that can be easily facilitated. I don’t see a need to have a separate officer for remote working.”


Mishra also points out here that the need of the hour is a training programme, which can help professionals above 45 to understand the virtual processes. “It is important to know whether the employees are tech-savvy or not. There is nothing for the HR to do differently here for a role to be created. My understanding is that more than 70 per cent do not know all the features of their laptops. Youngster don’t have a problem as they are tech-savvy. However, people who are 45 and above, need strong technology support on how to use the virtual resources effectively.” He also informs that in the last couple of months, they have been able to conduct a lot of HR processes, such as induction and hiring, not only in India but in the US and Germany sitting here. They just need to make sure that virtual processes are effective.


SV Nathan

“Seeing how critical wellness is today, we need someone focussed only on that.”

 


Like several others above, NV Balachandar, executive director, Ashok Leyland, also admits that it should be integrated into main-line HR. “HR professionals should be trained or familiarised with the process. It’s a skill that can be easily facilitated. I don’t see a need to have a separate officer for remote working,” he summarises.

Nathan SV, partner and chief talent officer, Deloitte India, believes, “A few roles will assume importance.” Predominantly four roles will be significant for any organisation, according to him. One is that of director- business transformation. “This whole thing is not just about COVID, but about how one manages one’s clients, people and customers,” he points out. This may involve digitalisation as it is part of the transformation. The second role is that of a chief wellness officer. Wellness is one of the most important components of work today. The third role is that of engagement manager. Gartner has said that 85 per cent of people are either not engaged or disengaged. Under these circumstances, engagement becomes paramount. The last role is one, which we have completely misread — employee care. It is not very well known. We tend to believe that a provident fund or medical insurance, will suffice. That is not true. If one is looking at a normal Indian organisation, there are a host of other things that are crucial.

“We have a person dedicated to employee wellness, without giving the role any lofty titles. Seeing how critical wellness is today, we need someone focussed only on that. Earlier, these were included under a broad and loose term called ‘benefits’. The moment it is called ‘benefits, it sounds like a favour. I personally call it total rewards. Under this, we are looking at people who take care of wellness,” explains Nathan.

It’s obvious that in India, introducing a new role or profile for just the remote workforce is unessential. What is necessary is making the existing HR tech savvy every step of the way, because virtual processes are not going anywhere in the near or distant future.