Companies, big and small, around the world, have rolled out mandatory remote-working policies to promote social distancing and keep their employees safe. But the big question is, ‘How can productivity be maintained?’
With the coronavirus outbreak, most companies have asked their employees to work from home or telecommute. However, to assume that all employees will be equally motivated, engaged and high on productivity is too much to expect. Some employees are bound to be slow and sloppy, and may treat the opportunity as an extended holiday. Even for the efficient ones who are already in place, if the telecommuting period is prolonged, monotony may set in. This will cause them to struggle to keep themselves motivated.
It will be the HR’s job to ensure that the business and client delivery remain unaffected. Now, that is a daunting task!
In a virtual environment, there is a need to be socially engaged, wherein the ability to ‘see’ a face builds the trust factor between an employee and employer
For companies to keep the workforce engaged during such difficult times, communication is the key. Being away from the team can make remote employees unsure of whether their contributions are impacting the team or project in any way. Connecting them with other co-workers can make them feel connected to the team. Engaging them on social platforms can work in the company’s favour as well. Clearly, timely communication and frequent feedback can assure these employees that their role is valued, and also keep them engaged.
Mindtree has been actively engaging with its employees, sharing health advisories from time to time. A 24×7 medical helpline, staffed by specialist doctors, has been set up for Mindtree Minds and their families. Initiatives such as a microsite and a helpline specifically created for Covid-19 are helping Mindtree Minds get real-time guidance on any coronavirus-related queries.
Most IT organisations are trying to do their bit to keep their workforces engaged. ”Amid the corona virus scare, and the myths going around, we have to take care of the hygiene factors in an organisation. In such a situation, communication becomes the key and you have to provide social distancing measures to the employees. In the midst of chaotic situations like these, the responsiveness is slow. Therefore, we have to deal with employee fear, hygiene, social distancing, practical sessions, and also get epidemic experts on board to keep the employees engaged,” said the HR head of another IT company.
Where employee engagement is concerned, ITC Infotech is not lagging behind either. Suchismita Burman, CHRO, ITC Infotech, stressed on the kind of roles that an employee plays, saying, “ What needs to be done from an engagement standpoint is purely based on the nature of the role each employee plays. From educational engagement and awareness, to helping them in this virtual journey, is what we are focused on.”
“To make sure that productivity is not hampered and employees remain engaged, keeping the line of sight at a certain level and allowing the employees the required access is a key responsibility of the managers,” adds Burman.
Is technology the answer?
Yes, technological advancements have not only allowed us to work from home efficiently, but have also helped companies monitor their employees. Companies are using collaborative tools and time-tracking applications to effectively examine the remote work 24/7. Video conferencing and skype calls keep the individual employees connected to the team and ensure that employees do not feel alienated and lonely.
“Most of the Mindtree Minds are already working from home, as we have enhanced infrastructure and remote-access facilities such as collaboration tools. We are encouraging Mindtree Minds to utilise the time available to enhance their skills, using our digital learning platform, Yorbit,” says Paneesh Rao, chief people officer, Mindtree.
“In the IT sphere, there is a need to ensure confidentiality of data and arrangements are required to keep data secure. While we have a major concern for the employees, the big question lies in balancing customers, employees, stakeholders and society at the same time.”
Technology and remote working, however, also have their drawbacks.
The HR head of a leading multinational IT company opines that there are prevailing challenges that come with a remote working culture. “Every company is trying to make work from home possible. In the IT sphere, there is a need to ensure confidentiality of data and arrangements are required to keep data secure. While we have a major concern for the employees, the big question lies in balancing customers, employees, stakeholders and society at the same time.”
“we have also issued a detailed guideline to employees and managers to handle remote work. This includes protocols for working as per project requirements, client interactions, teamwork and time accounting for the work delivered. We also have a dedicated team working on issues that come up related to technology, connectivity or people. This has helped us respond quickly”
Trust & Transparency
While technology allows us to overcome some of the logistic problems, that is not the only way out in the current situation.
What employees and organisations should emphasise on are trust and transparency. The fact is that transparency is a two-way track. Both the employees and the employers need to share information freely to increase transparency in a remote environment. Transparency leads to recognition and accountability with clear objectives. It cultivates the health and success of a business. More transparency means more trust and the same is the building block of an employer-employee relationship.
At the same time, building a remote team culture based on trust, on a common purpose and on fostering long-lasting productive relationships is the long-term goal of many multinational companies.
However, it is also one of the biggest challenges, as testified by the number of failures. Yet, despite the numerous benefits, the transition from physical to virtual teams is fraught with difficulties causing many virtual teams to underperform or fail entirely. The need to build trust in remote teams is now more pressing than ever.
Richard Lobo, EVP & head HR, Infosys, says, “The primary attention is focused on employee safety while we meet our client commitments. Our experience is that our workforce is professional and understands that irrespective of the physical location of work, the quality and intensity of the work delivered cannot be compromised. We have not seen anything different in the current situation.”
“Infosys is strictly following guidelines issued by local governments to handle this pandemic, which is why we have advised our employees to work from home wherever possible,” adds Lobo.
“However, we have also issued a detailed guideline to employees and managers to handle remote work. This includes protocols for working as per project requirements, client interactions, teamwork and time accounting for the work delivered. We also have a dedicated team working on issues that come up related to technology, connectivity or people. This has helped us respond quickly,” explains Lobo.
We are encouraging Mindtree Minds to utilise the time available to enhance their skills, using our digital learning platform
At ITC Infotech, managers and employees are made to focus on conversations that will eventually help build the trust factor among them. “In a virtual environment, there is a need to be socially engaged, wherein the ability to ‘see’ a face builds the trust factor between an employee and employer,” shares Burman.
Sharing his work-from-home experience, Satyarth Priyedarshi, head of digital, TATA AIA, posted on social media, “There was a time when I loved work from home. Because that meant lunch at home, tea at home, zero commute, zero supervision, zero dressing up requirements, zero interruptions. But managing work from a distance became a series of calls and mails, which went on until late in the evening. Most of the day was spent locked up in the room, which the family didn’t have access to. Confidential calls became a challenge.”
While remote working is the best way to allow an employee’s creativity to flow, in some ways it is still overrated.