Microsoft Teams handles about 200 million meeting participants each day, that is, a whopping 4.1 billion minutes of meetings! This data points to a tremendous shift towards teleworking — the new normal.
Yes, many companies have announced that they will work from home forever, or at least until next year. There are also companies that have given their employees the flexibility to choose whether to work from home or office on certain days of the week or month. Twitter, for instance, has embraced this new work arrangement of allowing employees the option to work remotely forever, if they so wish. Similarly, another tech giant, Facebook, will allow 50 per cent of the workforce to work from home, while the remaining will work from offices.
Several organisations, especially those in the manufacturing space, which cannot fully adopt remote working have also found a middle path – while some employees will work from offices and factories, others will continue to work from home, depending on their role and function. In India, at many of the manufacturing plants, planning, sourcing, preparation, execution, and other similar functions, are handled by the maintenance and operations team, which continues to work in a staggered manner. Any work that does not require physical presence is being done from home.
“Organisations will have to shun their old models of engagement and build trust. In a digital world, it’s easy to feel lost, lonely and isolated. Earlier, in workplaces, a lot of social events and get-togethers took place to keep the trust factor intact. This new model of working will have to bring back the trust among employees in the coming era.”
Given the volatility of the situation, organisations have realised that the best way out will be to follow a hybrid work model. Now, the success of this model will depend on how quickly the companies bring in cultural changes. It is true that it takes years for an organisation to create a distinctive cultural identity, and there is a hidden fear that the new hybrid work model will erode this culture.
Anjali Chatterjee, CHRO, AirAsia, is hopeful that there will be a positive impact on the organisational culture as companies have now realised that productivity is location independent.
Chatterjee is quick to add, “Although the hybrid model is a multidimensional concept, different industries will look at it differently, based on their requirements. Talking about the airlines industry, about 90 per cent of the employees are required to report at the workplace and continue with the operations, while the remaining 10 per cent are working from home.”
In the new cultural set up, organisations will have to ensure that communication plays its role to the T even if it means an enhanced one.
Organisations will have to include certain social elements in their communications, that ensure that existing bonds and relationships aren’t compromised.
At Tata Projects, which has also rolled out a hybrid working model, employees come to the office twice a week.
Ganesh Chandan, CHRO, Tata Projects, shares, “These two days are structured just to ensure that whatever engagement and connection that we have built with each other is sustained and nurtured, and employees don’t lose out on the social connect.”
To make things better, the Company has an organised roster, which clearly identifies who will attend office and on which days, to make sure that every employee attends office twice a week. However, at any given point, the Company ensures that not more than 50 per cent of the workforce comes to work in any of its locations.
At Tata Projects, engagement is coupled with learning and development (L&D), and Chandan believes that it can be the new medium for connecting with employees, and providing them a sense of comfort, value and importance.
“Managers should be reminded that ‘out of sight’ shouldn’t be ‘out of mind’. In fact, going forward, in a hybrid workforce model, the manager will have to ensure that this relationship is maintained both within and beyond the workplace boundaries.”
Technology is an enabler
Companies like to believe that technology will bridge the gap that exists in a hybrid model, but the fact remains that no technology can encourage innovation or creative flow of ideas, or bring in the togetherness that makes employees feel that they are a valued part of an organisation.
One has to remember that organisations have been forced to transition from a high-touch world to a high-tech world almost overnight, and technology is just the enabler and not the solution.
Inclusivity in the hybrid world
Working from home also means displaying one’s personal space to the colleagues, and not everyone is comfortable doing that. This affects employee morale. There are chances of the not-so-popular members of the team being left out from important discussions by the manager or the leader.
Another aspect is that the hybrid workforce will see an influx of contractual or consulting workers. Now these employees, who work on short-term projects, may bring in an inherent outsider mentality and an array of previous cultural experiences.
Since they will also get a first-hand experience of the organisation’s culture, companies will have to ensure that such employees feel included. If they feel otherwise, this feeling can be infectious and also impact the existing set of teleworkers.
Leaders will have to ensure all employees, irrespective of their location, participate in team activities, so they do not feel left out. There has to be a constant reminder to the team that everyone is in this together — whether they are in the office or at home; that each one has a role to play in sustaining the company’s culture in the coming era.
Jayant Kumar, joint president- HR, Adani Group, is of the opinion that the relationship between the manager and the subordinates — which used to be very strong in a physical workplace — has changed in the last few months.
“Managers should be reminded that ‘out of sight’ shouldn’t be ‘out of mind’. In fact, going forward, in a hybrid workforce model, the manager will have to ensure that this relationship is maintained both within and beyond the workplace boundaries,” he says. What it means is that the watercooler conversations now need to be taken online.
In Chatterjee’s words, “As long as organisations continue to team up and collaborate outside work, and involve employees in fun activities and discussions, the culture of inclusivity will not be much affected. Therefore, organisations should try to preserve and sustain the culture of collaboration between employees.”
Managers will have to focus on understanding the challenges that have arisen for the employees in the new virtual setting, and set the tone for inclusivity by celebrating the differences of the employees at all levels. Personal interaction and connection with colleagues, as well as stories that humanise leaders will have to be encouraged.
“As long as organisations continue to team up and collaborate outside work, and involve employees in fun activities and discussions, the culture of inclusivity will not be much affected. Therefore, organisations should try to preserve and sustain the culture of collaboration between employees.”
Managers have to learn not to manage
Policing has to stop immediately, and managers have to accept that it is not ‘seeing is believing’ any more. It’s more about outcome than the login hours. A company culture is about fostering shared values, connectivity and most importantly, trust between employees.
“Organisations will have to shun their old models of engagement and build trust. In a digital world, it’s easy to feel lost, lonely and isolated. Earlier, in workplaces, a lot of social events and get-togethers took place to keep the trust factor intact. This new model of working will have to bring back the trust among employees in the coming era,” explains Chandan.
Interestingly, in the new world of work, the introverts have been high on delivery, while the extroverts are missing the spotlight.