The pandemic has repurposed work, workplaces, and work formats. Hybrid work has become the new normal for most organizations. While hybrid work provides flexibility to employees, it can pose challenges for organizations to engage employees, enhance their experience, and most importantly uphold the organizational culture in this new scenario.
It is in this context, we at Caleedo organized a webinar with two industry veterans Ms. Reshmi Shankar, General Manager and Head, Facilities Management Group India and Bangladesh for Wipro Limited, and Mr. Sadanandan C Thondieri, Vice President – Corporate Services, BCM & CSR for Tata Communications, to get their perspectives and opinion on how employee experience and engagement can be rebooted in this new world of hybrid workplaces.
Here’s the key extract of our discussion with them:
Caleedo Talks: In your opinion what are the key attributes that characterize a hybrid workplace specific to the Indian business context and a few workplace strategies that organizations need to adopt to usher in the whole hybrid working culture?
Ms. Shankar: The real-life problems that we used to face have now been replaced by virtual problems. The most important key is flexibility, which now has been accelerated with the outbreak of COVID. In my view, hybrid is not really anything new.
We have always had virtual meetings and technology has always enabled collaboration during virtual meetings. But the scale that we are now working virtually is making this a very unique and novel situation.
The key to a successful hybrid model would be flexibility and technology would support this flexibility so that we have a choice-based mechanism where we can decide when, how, and from where we want to work.
Another interesting aspect would be digital risk and security so that we are protected as an organization and not be exposed to any kind of cyber security risk.
Migrating to a hybrid workplace would involve understanding what your employees require and are looking for, and the kind of customization that suites your organization and community.
Because community and collaboration are probably the foundation of culture. Building a company culture by providing that sense of community in hybrid work model would be another key aspect for building a successful hybrid workplace.
Mr. Sadanandan: Over and above flexibility, health & safety, and collaboration, autonomy should also be considered. The ability of the employees to decide how and where they want to work. Also, I believe that the employee expectations from a hybrid work would be high.
Rather than mere transactions, they would expect that the various touch-points are in a continuum.
We conducted an online poll during the webinar in sync with the theme of the discussion and the audience gave their feedback which would perhaps lend future insights on the subject.
88% of respondents in the poll believe that ‘returning to office’ would benefit them in reinforcing emotional connects with their colleagues and senior managers, and would help them in collaborating better during team meetings.
A minority, 12% of poll respondents believe that it would help them in breaking the monotony of work from home.
Caleedo Talks: What in your opinion would be top three or four employee metrics that the administrators need to track and manage in this new world of hybrid workplaces?
Mr. Sadanandan: There are multiple elements that contribute to overall workplace experience. Today, the hybrid work model brings in multiple components and challenges for creating the overall employee experience at workplace.
Employers would want to retain talent, create culture, provide learning opportunities, provide a sense of continuity and connectivity, manage burn-outs, ensure health and safety etc. There are multiple aspects which keeps the employers thinking about how to deal with this emerging scenario.
With all these elements, workplace certainly has a significant and prominent impact. It is important for workplace managers to have a clear strategy.
The employees would expect a sense of care, experience, and feeling of wanted at the workplace. The employers need to also ensure that this is consistently maintained.
One of the metrics that workplace managers may consider would be to see how they are actually enabling the workplace and from where the employees are working. Next step would be to see how we can enable employees to work from remote locations and the kind of technologies that we need to extend.
Workplace administrators need to see the kind of enablement that is required to ensure employee engagement and productivity irrespective of the model of working they have adopted. The second area of focus for workplaces administrators should be health & safety and demonstrate to the employees that the workplace is safe to operate from.
The last metric would be to see how the whole thing is panning out in terms of managing resources and cost for the organization. Track and manage the utilization levels or the efficiency that we are able to achieve.
Overall, a connected digital platform can make an overall experience. A platform where employees, customers, visitors and other stakeholders can seamlessly operate and have visibility on various metrics.
82% of poll respondents believe that the biggest concern while returning to work is ‘adherence and management of COVID protocols at workplace’ and ‘indoor air quality and surface hygiene levels in workplace’.
A minority, 18% of the respondents believe that knowing the ‘health status of their colleagues and support staff at workplace’ will be the top concern while returning to work.
Caleedo Talks: How would the community engagement usher in the experience that would also help organizations live their purpose and the culture they are trying to establish?
Ms. Shankar: For me, culture is a very 50,000 feet high subject. The sense of belongingness and connectivity is more important.
Today, organizations are operating virtually. On-boarding and exits are managed virtually and human interaction is missing. The more we virtualise, the more we would lack human interaction. While both are equally important, but we need to balance them.
Building a relationship with an organization means building a relationship with your managers, colleagues, and other stakeholders.
Today we are talking with people online in meetings but most of the meetings lack video streaming and this brings in a sense of un-belongingness. We do not know how our workplace, colleagues, managers looks like.
For organization leaders it is very important as the responsibility of creating a culture is on their shoulders. In today’s times, we therefore, have to literally mirror everything we used to do in the erstwhile physical office space scenario in some manner, merging the virtual and physical model.
We can’t really get to know much about our colleagues and connect with them if we do not meet them in a non-virtual environment.
Every manager and every team member has to ensure that we connect and engage at a personal level for the culture at an organizational level to percolate. If organizations do not focus on building this culture then the employee-employer relationship becomes transactional.
Mr. Sadanandan: The need for now and the emerging future is to manage things differently where the paradigms of leadership management need to change. Organizations would continue to work as a network but we would still need to ensure that all elements of experiences that contributes to building a culture are actually taken care of.
The big questions that we need to answer here is, who is going to build that culture and how it is going to be built? That is all I want to add.
In line with multiple surveys and reports by leading organizations, 85% of poll respondents would like to work in a hybrid manner in the future and rest 19% would like to work either 100% from office or 100% from home.
Caleedo Talks: How do you see the workplace enablers step up their game from how they used to run their legacy workplaces to the new world of hybrid workplaces?
Mr. Sadanandan: The fundamental change is about the mindset that you need to deal with a flexible and dynamic environment. When workplaces were restricted to our physical defined office, the realities for workplace administrators were different but now the requirements are different and workplace enablers need to deal with that dynamics and be flexible to adapt.
The first requirement is to have this flexible mindset. Second, would be the ability to involve and enable stakeholders. Workplace enablers alone cannot enable a hybrid workplace, they would need to bring in multiple stakeholders within the organization.
How did we manage the hardest part of the COVID impact through the lockdown where many of our critical transactions, applications were supposed to be run from the office? Without the help of service providers we couldn’t have actually done it.
The third requirement is communication, there is a need to efficiently and clearly communicate on various important metrics. Being able to proactively communicate is the key requirement that I would assume is important.
The next requirement that would be important is doing something new. Just managing and administering conventional workplace designs would not get the job done. The ability to identify the need and evolve the design elements, the support elements as required for the workplaces. Continual improvement is another critical capability that I believe the workplace administrator should have and last but not the least, is being technologically savvy.
They should be able to conceptualize about the tools that they require to manage this environment most efficiently and deliver the experience that organizations intend to provide.
Being able to decide on the technological tools that are required in this environment is a key characteristic as a part of the larger anatomy of a successful workplace enabler.
Ms. Shankar: It is important from an organization’s point of view to de-risk right. If each of these enablers would start working in random then it would give rise to processes and procedures that probably could lead to a bigger problem.
A change in SOPs, policies to truly support and enable empowered group of people is very important. Quickly rebooting your policies to also suit the virtual and the hybrid work culture would be another important aspect in this new scenario.
Caleedo Talks: How do you balance the high sense of human touch and high sense of technology in hybrid workplaces to have a great employee experience?
Ms. Reshmi Shankar: I am somebody who always goes for the human touch before the digital touch. The last few months have taught me both are equally important.
In an office context, we have digital tools that allow us to reserve or schedule services. Digital has its place but in some instances, we require a human touch.
It’s a balance that people have to strike and it comes with being flexible and being able to operate within the changing aspect of this whole evolving scenario because you could have so much ambiguity. So, each of us who have chosen to be in this industry, I am sure over the years would have also picked up the right balance to manage this. There is no one formula to get this right, so we will have use a lot of our judgement in particular scenarios.
Each of us operating in this scenario need to know when the digital need to take over and when the human touch can solve your problem.
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