Though business in e-commerce is driven by technology, the human element continues to play a pivotal role in new-age economies, making the role of HR more dynamic and challenging.
A big challenge for the e-commerce industry is that it doesn’t have a readily employable workforce to bank on. The situation is very similar to any of the sunrise sectors. This means, it has to employ people who are the closest fit, train them, make them conducive to the new environment and also constantly motivate them to be able to retain them for the longest period.
However, this doesn’t completely describe the role of HR in the e-commerce sector. In fact, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that people policies and management in this sector have to be completely refurbished, revamped and be unprecedented. The rules of the game have to rewritten and should have an unconventional approach. The role of HR in the e-commerce sector is best described in terms of agility, quirkiness and thinking out of the box when it comes to hiring, retention and rewards and recognition policies.
Cultural and skill-fit
Considering the fact that one has to borrow talent from other sectors, the most critical role for HR is to find the right people at the right time and for the right job; candidates who share the same values. Every individual is different and brings varied skill sets to the table. Therefore, it’s crucial for the HR team to identify and hire the right skilled person for a given responsibility.
“Given the aggressive growth of the industry, the team dynamics of HR is constantly evolving. However, the employee model doesn’t change much. It’s just that the hiring process is more skewed towards finding people with a better understanding of the sector,” opines, Kunal Shah, co-founder & CEO, FreeCharge.
While hiring talent, HR also needs to keep in mind that the selection criteria are more from the industry and segment perspective rather than that of the company.
Since e-commerce has to borrow talent from other sectors, moulding them in the new environment is a must and skill development and training programmes are prerequisites for new hires. In fact, a learning culture has to be ingrained in the scheme of things.
At Fabfurnish.com, for instance, training programmes of 15–30 days duration are organised to hone the skills of employees as per the industry environment. The length of the training programmes depends on the job role of the employee. A new employee is allowed out in the field/market only after these training sessions are completed.
HR is not the Bible
In many of the conventional sectors, HR is supposed to be very process driven and rigid. There are companies, which are ready to let go of a talent but not bend rules. Such rigid HR policies are a complete ‘No’ in the e-commerce sector.
Keeping in mind the thinking process and the behaviour patterns of the young, aspirational, socially overactive and highly opinionated workforce today, companies in this sector can no longer afford to follow a conventional HR policy.
“The policies have to be more flexible, and act as guiding principles rather than be followed like the Bible,” says Ravi Asawa, CFO & head-HR, IndianRoots – an NDTV venture. “Moreover, companies are regularly engaging their employees in framing these policies, which helps to build a solid foundation and cultural values,” he adds.
E-commerce firms faced with unconventional business situations are coming up with market- leading and differentiated people practices.
“From employee-friendly maternity benefits policies to an environment promoting workforce flexibility, with no time or location constraints, what were traditionally thought to be superfluities, are now being viewed as hygiene factors,” says, Vishalli Dongrie, senior director and head of human capital consulting, Deloitte.
As people from varied backgrounds join the e-commerce workspace, most of them often do not have the knowledge specific to the sector, and are even unaware of what they are getting into. This makes it even more imperative for e-commerce companies to have clearly outlined processes in place, in terms of who, what, when and why. They need to have defined procedures to perform various tasks followed by a structured work flow to avoid confusions and yet have a flexible HR process.
Flexibility is a key attribute of the e-commerce work culture. In this sector, the focus is not on monitoring the employees, but on ensuring that the workforce gets a conducive environment to exhibit their true potential.
In fact, many of the e-commerce companies don’t believe in employing a monitoring tool to capture the attendance or time sheet of the employees.
“We believe that employees are the owners of their work and it’s their prerogative to decide on the work timings. HR policies in this sector are employee-friendly and enable them to work at their creative best,” quips Shah of FreeCharge.
Keeping the policies as transparent as possible is a key ingredient of HR in e-commerce. “This makes the employees feel relaxed and enjoy their job responsibilities,” says, Ankita Dabas Kohli, co-founder, FabFurnish.
“E-commerce needs an open and transparent work culture where people can give their best without any bottlenecks. The flow of information or knowledge transfer has to happen ‘on the job’ for any new comer, and very importantly, people should have the freedom to express their thoughts freely from day one,” concurs Manjula Rao, head-HR, First Cry.
Real time HR
HR in the e-commerce sector has to be always on their toes.
The e-ecommerce industry works 24×7, 365 days, which means that the workforce is on the job round the clock. In such a scenario, HR in this sector is no longer defined by pre-determined office hours. “Since the employees in e-commerce work round the clock, it is the duty of HR to support them with everything that keeps them motivated,” says Kohli of FabFurnish.
Dynamism and unpredictability are other aspects of this industry, which bring in their own set of challenges for HR.
“Where other industries are able to predict resource requirements months in advance, in the e-commerce industry the predictability could be as low as a couple of weeks. This requires a very nimble and aggressive recruitment team and strategy to keep up with the demand,” says Rao of FirstCry.
HR professionals in the e-commerce sector are a completely new breed — quite distinct from the rest of the gang. Not only are they tech savvy—even getting involved in new product testing along with the tech teams or reaching out to passive candidates on social media—they are true strategic business partners.
They have a strong understanding of varied industries, their talent landscapes and the way people from these industries map onto the e-commerce ecosystem.
HR in e-commerce is also different because the people agenda here features not only in the CHRO’s goals but also forms an integral part of the CEO’s mandate.