Indira Ramachandra, CHRO, AscentHR

Indira Ramachandra is an experienced Human Resources professional with a track record of successfully handling HR strategy and operations in the information technology and services industries – with an exposure to diverse culture. With over 25 years of experience in HR and business roles, has vast experience in the areas of designing, leading, and implementing best practices & HR processes in employee relations, staffing, Org development, and change management. She has been a trusted advisor and coach in providing solutions across strategic and operational issues impacting business delivering strategies and compliance norms, apart from managing all aspects of scaling up operations.

 

As we are emerging into a whole new digital world, one thing is clear. There are many areas that are getting revisited in terms of doing things – be it running a company or carrying out work. The pandemic is continuing to make organizations reboot their HR practices, business models, and processes. This new reality is bringing several questions to the fore that call for attention from the business and HR leaders from around the world to make high-stakes decisions. One such question pertaining to work culture is: Will the working-from-home (WFH) model become permanent?

There are no conclusive answers to this question. Several generic WFH protocols are available in the public domain. However, these protocols cannot act as a conclusive takeaway. For example, the WFH policies and procedures that are designed for IT companies such as Microsoft and Google might not work for a process-oriented or a discreet manufacturing company. The tools and technologies that enable WFH also differ significantly. For instance, few manufacturing companies use technologies such as software-in-the-loop (SIL), digital twin, and other simulation technologies to enable WFH strategy. These tools might be irrelevant to a FinTech company. Even the proportion of employees who can work from home (either permanently or temporarily) varies across companies.

Work from home is an emerging concept that has no room for generalizations and assumptions. Above all, the WFH concept itself is in the process of maturing and has several variations to it. So, given these complex and intricate scenarios, the answer to the above question is unique to each organization and the industry to which the organization belongs.

The WFH plan also depends on the leaders’ thoughtful responses to the phenomenal disruption brought on by the pandemic in terms of both: 1) changed operating model and 2) changed working culture. This response can significantly impact how well the organization would propel into this new normal era of work and innovation while considering the employees’ well-being. Although the precise answer is eluding, some data-based themes are emerging that are likely to shape the work culture that is about to come.

Recent studies and surveys involving hundreds of business leaders from across the globe representing a diverse section of industries show that business leaders will prioritize making their organization more digital. They will also develop a more flexible and employee-oriented workforce – meaning, they will increase the share of remote workers and contingent workers and expand employee health, safety, and wellness programs. Few studies also estimate that more than 30% of all the employees worldwide will be remote workers by the end of 2021; this percentage is almost a 50% increase compared to the 2019 estimates.

Emerging Working Culture Trends

Currently, there are multiple working culture trends on the anvil. The three popular ones include: work from home, a hybrid work model, and work from anywhere. These trends are being studied deeply and discussed in detail in the industry right now. While some companies are in the planning stages, others have already implemented them and are now observing how it is working. All these work models have to be agile, considering the laws and regulations mandated by the government.

Work from Home: A WFH option is usually offered to select employees rather than a blanket option for every employee. There are variations and few exceptions to this model. Based on the employee’s roles and responsibilities, company’s internal set criteria, and the feasibility of the work that can be performed effectively from home, the company may roll out this option to some employees.

For instance, last year, Microsoft announced that it would allow 150,000 employees to work from home on a permanent basis, excluding essential on-site employees. Recently this year, it made changes to its mandatory WFH policy and enabled its employees to work both at home and in the office giving rise to a new variation to the WFH model.

In the Indian context, banks are also looking into this remote work model, a case in point is a recent media release mentioning Bank of Baroda being the first Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) to consider making WFH a permanent policy for a certain section of its employees and it is involving a management consulting firm to implement the WFH strategy.

Hybrid model: This is another flexible model that is gaining traction, that is evolving continuously, and that is challenging to implement. It is also a work model that is much debated and discussed about in the industry right now. A hybrid work model also has variations. It can mean that some employees are allowed to work remotely while some essential employees work on-site. It can also mean where few specific employees are allowed to work both at home and in the office or any other designated workplace. Organizations may ask employees to work from office for a certain number of days in a week or a month and for the rest of the days to work from home or remotely. Basically, it is a combination of both remote work and on-site work like Microsoft’s policy discussed above.

Work from Anywhere: The proponents of this model believe that neither WFH nor a hybrid model is good enough and that a fully remote, work-from-anywhere model is the best option. Few companies, such as GitLab, Zapier, and others, are fully remote companies. For instance, GitLab adopted and pioneered this model as early as 2014, way before the pandemic hit.

Conclusion

Each of these models has its own set of pros and cons. Companies are in the process of realizing various levels of benefits of adopting a remote working culture. Better work-life balance, reduced commuting stress, financial savings for both employers and employees, positive impact on the environment, and improved productivity and performance are some of the benefits of the new way of working.

The ultimate aim of any work model is to create and manage an improved employee experience that puts both the employees and the organization on the path of success & growth and to emerge stronger and resilient. Whichever model an organization chooses to adopt, the decision should be agile in nature and not as a quick fix meant to address an urgent issue at hand.

Business and HR leaders need to tread cautiously by establishing adequate SOPs and policies in place and move towards establishing a high-performance work culture. The best way forward is to adopt a virtual model which is sustainable, and that fits the needs of a particular organization.

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