By Yeshasvini Ramaswamy
Fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, the world came to a standstill in 2019-20, forcing organisations across the globe to adopt innovative work-from-home policies. Most Indian organisations, too, were caught off-guard with the infrastructure posing the biggest threat to seamless work-from-home strategy. Yet, in a short period, with rapid growth in technology adoption and creating the right virtual environment, companies could adapt to the new reality of workplaces.
The new world order, defined by the “remote working policy”, also necessitated a change in the mindset of both the employees and the employers. For managers, it meant reposing complete trust in employees through transparency in processes, providing digital planning tools, and making workers accountable for their assigned tasks. It was a marked improvement over the earlier environment of trust deficit in the workplace, where managers would keep a hawk-eye on the performance of their employees to ensure timely delivery.
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This changed mindset of the employers provided additional benefits too. It strengthened the organisation’s cultural fabric by improving productivity, reducing attrition, and introducing innovative working methods. Decentralisation and empowerment at all levels were the keys to ensuring engagement in these difficult times. It became an effective way of identifying the next set of leaders and building a culture of democratic decision-making. Research shows that the positive perception of management involves people in decision-making has seen an 8 percent increase in the past two years.
Remote working also opened many new growth possibilities for organisations, beginning with access to untapped talent. With virtual interviews and work-from-home policy becoming the norm, organisations could identify a vast pool of candidates irrespective of residence. It increased their chance of hiring suitable candidates both from home and abroad.
Thanks to technology, employers could now virtually scout the world for the right-skilled employees in a borderless world. They could now tap into niche markets like Eastern Europe, which boasts a vast talent pool of data scientists. The absence of skilled employees no longer constrained Indian organisations.
The new workplace also fosters a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI). It means respecting and valuing the skills and differences each staff member brings to the organisation. It also provides equal rights and opportunities for all workers, irrespective of their gender, colour, age, ethnicity, physical ability, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. With no physical presence, it mitigated any performance bias and supported underrepresented talents.
A fall-out of the pandemic also presented cost-saving opportunities to employers. The spurt in “work for home” and virtual meetings resulted in reduced office space costs and time and cost savings for the employees.
Investing in software and hybrid cloud services to store and analyse data was not the only investment required. Even reskilling and upskilling of employees became an essential item on the “to-do” list of most managers because of the changes in the workplace and the need for learning and development.
For employers, other issues too needed immediate attention. Redesigning the workplace to accommodate a hybrid work environment was high on their priority list. It also meant continuing with a hybrid work model even though the intensity of the pandemic had fallen from its peak level. It also meant added responsibilities for the leadership team, which was now expected to track and monitor employee engagement and performance and the responsible use of employee information.
However, one of the biggest challenges facing many organisations today is deciding whether to continue with the remote working model as the right fit for their organisation or if there is a real need to return to the old model. As per India’s Great Mid-size Workplaces 2022 report- organisations that allow a higher percentage of their workforce to work remotely or have flexible office timings saw reduced burnout compared to others.
Best Workplaces have a significant edge over others around perceptions of employees being able to balance their work and personal life owing to conscious focus and role modelling of the correct behaviour by their leaders.
At the end of the day, an empowered workforce with the right tools is happier and more productive. A true leader must help create a culture that builds skills, embraces adaptability and nurtures wellbeing – from digital capabilities and greater resilience to leadership and creative problem-solving.
(The author is CEO, Great Place to Work India. Views expressed are personal.)