There has been a drastic shift in how business dynamics are at play. Less reliance is being placed on conventional work patterns, and businesses are pushing outside of their comfort zones to not only make their workplaces appealing but also to build a self-sustaining ecosystem prepared for the future to handle any unprecedented incident like COVID.
When the epidemic spread, the manufacturing industry transformed as companies rushed to implement unprecedented operational changes to maintain business continuity. When it came to the challenge of ensuring company continuity during lockdowns, the hybrid work model came to the rescue. Dr. Bhupendra Kaushal, Head-Manufacturing HR, Zydus Wellness Limited, said, “I see hybrid work as a superset of remote work that will continue to exist in the future, even in manufacturing environments, due to its advantages over traditional work models.” Reduced operational costs, enhanced productivity, and increased employee job satisfaction are some of the merits of having a hybrid work arrangement. Therefore, many industrial companies intend to make the transformation to a hybrid workplace permanent.
The strategic role of human resources as the harbinger of good times ahead for organizations
The human resources (HR) function evolved from being a cost center to the core of the organizational universe. While strategically implementing a hybrid work paradigm calls for human resources leaders to perform a substantial degree of change management, let us consider the more significant role HR must play for a successful implementation.
1. Follow an incremental approach
Implementing a remote work model in a manufacturing company necessitates considerably deeper involvement of the leadership team throughout the deployment cycle. Sumit Neogi, HR Director of Lubrizol, Mumbai, suggests that the leadership approach to executing a strategy should be more cautious than aggressive.
In contrast to service industries, manufacturing environments do not support a hybrid work model's aggressive adoption or discontinuation. They require an on-site crew to keep the machinery operational. Neogi stated, "We followed a step-by-step approach to launch the hybrid work model, beginning with back-office functions that did not require employees to be physically present at work and gradually progressing to the frontline workers across levels. We assessed how productivity was being impacted at each level before moving on to the next phase,".
According to Dr. Kaushal, "HR leaders must live up to the opportunity to take the quantum leap and step into the role of strategic advisors to the CEOs." An HR business leader must be cautious, prepared, and have sharp business acumen and skills- to deliver predictive analysis to shareholders about the precise impacts that the change will have on business functions and craft a bespoke plan to navigate the transformation effectively.
2. Rewire not only processes but also the mindsets of the people
Rewiring a company's policies, procedures, culture, and employee mindset is necessary when switching to a hybrid workplace. Neogi said, "Turning around the new hires' limited cultural assimilation and getting managers who were uneasy about the shift on the same page were two of the biggest hurdles we faced during the process." Some managers find it uncomfortable to abandon their ingrained practices and adopt new ones for leading teams. HR must assume the roles of a catalyst and coach for the managers to get them on the same page and facilitate a smooth transition. According to Neogi, an agile approach to change and an open mindset to unlearn and learn new ways to govern and manage performance are the essential qualities that leaders and managers must possess to make a hybrid model operate in a manufacturing setting.
Human Resources has a significant role to play in shaping leaders and managers into change navigators and fostering a culture where all employees, whether they work on-site or offsite, feel like they belong.
3. Harness the benefits of critical enablers to facilitate change
According to Dr. Kaushal, "strategic implementation of the remote work model crucially involves meeting expectations of new hires and connecting a distributed workforce." Digital technology and virtualization are new-age smart keys to unlock the door to smooth business operations, bring together remote teams, and give employees personalized experiences. Dr. Kaushal informed, "We reimagined frontline work to accommodate physical distancing requirements by adopting online platforms such as teams or zoom." "We utilized appropriate workforce management tools to manage employee wellness, enhance productivity, and ensure safety," he added.
Manufacturing firms should focus on tools to support on-site and remote work combinations. "We identified and digitized practices creating roadblocks to the change implementation, such as conventional attendance and reporting methods," explained Neogi. He added, "We further created the IT infrastructure and laid guidelines for how to be cyber-secured while working remotely." For the smooth transition to hybrid work, HR must train employees in cloud-based collaboration technologies to create, innovate, and cooperate to solve corporate challenges.
In the pre-pandemic stage, large-scale production and installation projects required stakeholders' approval before initiation, resulting in delays and increased operational costs. "The remote collaboration tools and technology have eliminated the need for actual gatherings and associated costs," suggested Dr. Kaushal. HR and management can achieve a win-win situation by leveraging digital tools and technology's advantages over traditional working methods.
4. Be proactive in meeting challenges
Everything cannot be digitized and handled remotely, especially in a manufacturing concern. Dr. Kaushal stated that to overcome this obstacle and give our employees flexibility, “we worked diligently to ensure each employee is multi-skilled to operate at least two different machines.” This reduced reliance on a single person and eliminated any potential panic situations that might have arisen due to a lack of resources.” In a hybrid setting, the workforce must be empowered to alternate between on-site and remote working, giving them some freedom at work; this can be achieved by keeping a talent pool with the requisite resources ready.
A hybrid work arrangement aims to provide the best possible blend of practical work and engagement with reduced stress, a shorter commute, and a reasonable work-life balance. Keeping employees productive and engaged while seamlessly maintaining business operations is the top priority of human resources leaders while creating and implementing the hybrid work strategy.