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New Priorities for Workforce Management in India

​The Covid-19 pandemic is pushing companies to rethink their workplace policies and practices, given that a large number of employees are now working from home.  

Policymaking can no longer follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, policies and practices will have to be tailored to meet the divergent needs and priorities of three different sets of employees that have emerged - those who work in the office or factory (workplace staff), those who work remotely (remote staff), and those who switch between these two groups (composite staff).

Around 95% of organizations have already implemented, or are considering, distinct policies for 'workplace' as well as 'remote' staff, according to a study by SHRM India and Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG) in India, a workforce management solutions company. The study polled around 238 CHROs and HR Heads in India, on the challenges they faced since the onset of the pandemic in regards to workforce management.

"A divergent set of policies are emerging as crucial towards employee health, safety and wellness, attracting and retaining talent, and employee engagement and motivation," said the study. 

Organizations will need to invest in technologies that empower workers no matter where they work from, to get the best out of them.

Contrary to general perception, remote staff displayed higher productivity in the pandemic, according to 68% of companies polled.

Organizations are looking towards robust workforce management solutions including workforce planning and scheduling in order to achieve efficiencies and manage their workforce better.

Here are the top 3 workforce management priorities for organizations in India:

1. Tailored Polices for Divergent Sets of Employees

Organizations now have to think about workers in three buckets - the fully remote staff, the workplace staff, and those who fall somewhere in between, coming to the office occasionally.

Each group has a different set of needs, but with an expectation of equity in terms of processes and pay.

The challenge for HR is to design policies and processes that meet the specific needs of each category of employees, while being fair to all. Technology will play a crucial role to enable this balance. 

When it comes to workplace staff, managing their health and safety was a top priority (69%) for organizations across industries this year, according to the SHRM-UKG study.

Further, among manufacturing companies polled, 62% said that 'workplace sanitization & hygiene' and 61% said 'implementing social distancing' was a challenge with respect to their on-premise workplace staff.

Managing health risks is important not only for business continuity but also could be devastating for employee morale and motivation, apart from far-reaching implications for clients,  as said by the study.

Organizations turned to technologies to manage these risks, such as by introducing contactless attendance using facial recognition, scheduling and staffing solutions as well as creating digital passes to allow a restricted number of employees in office premises.

For remote staff along with health and safety  there were different concerns as well.

Access to technology and infrastructure for the remote staff was a challenge for 41% of the manufacturing companies polled, while 37% said policies & workforce compliance was a concern. Among service companies, 63% said workforce availability and utilization was a challenge with employees who work from home, while 56% felt access to technology was challenging.

As remote working becomes ingrained in organizations, they will need to pay attention to these workers' mental and emotional wellness as well.

"Organizations will have to relook the working hours, rest hours, leave policies, and provide more flexibility in schedules, to ensure sustainable productivity and minimized burnout," said the  study.

To attract and retain talent, organizations felt the relevant policies such asflexible working, safe transport (employee pick-up and drop), and workplace sanitation and hygiene would help.

2. Balancing Productivity, Costs and Compliance

The three main driving forces in the workforce reset will be: productivity, costs and compliance.

Organizations are already thinking of redefining productivity standards, since old metrics may not be relevant in the new hybrid workplace.

To measure productivity, 47% of manufacturing organizations, relied on 'ratio of tasks completed per unit of time' while 46% used the metric of 'tracking employee activity and time spent on different tasks'.

On the other hand, 72% of service organizations focused on 'individual accomplishment of targets and goals', as a primary measure of productivity, followed by 63% that relied on 'employee activity and time spent on different tasks' and 50% that paid attention to 'ratio of tasks completed per unit of time'.

Even as the pandemic played out, some companies adjusted their performance goals. 

Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages, for instance, changed its performance goals at least twice in 2020. "It will be on an evolving basis and based on those goals, we are going to continue to measure associates," said Indrajeet Sengupta, Executive Director and CHRO.

Flexibility emerged as the key to improving productivity through flexible work timings, having a multi-skilled/flexible workforce, and using rewards & incentives.

Meanwhile, workforce costs have gone up.

The rise has been steep for workplace staff, as companies invest in sanitization, socially distant workstations, and other measures for the safety of employees. Around 40% of service organizations said that workplace costs rose by 20% or more.

To achieve cost optimization, companies are turning to re-skilling and training employees, cross-functional team staffing, and cutting down on all discretionary spending, according to the study.

"Technologies that enable the creation of best-fit schedules, allow tracking time and attendance, administer absence and leave, and measure productivity, will help organizations in controlling employee costs, keeping employees engaged, increasing productivity and minimizing compliance risk."

Finally, compliance remains a key focus area. Overall, 44% organizations believed that a remote working policy will be key to enabling the workforce.

Further the study also spoke about how "Workforce policy-making will rapidly evolve…and as a result administration could become more challenging given the variation and speed of response required by organizations.

3. Emerging Tech Presents Solutions for New World of Work

Emerging technologies will play a big role in aligning the right processes and practices for the new world of work.

Organizations have already been turning to these.

For workplace  staff, technologies that allow contactless attendance, and entry and exits, are seen as prime enablers to manage employee safety.

Solutions for workforce scheduling and staffing are considered enablers for planning, deploying and utilizing workplace staff, according to 48% of organizations.

For remote staff, a different set of technologies are more relevant.

Cloud technologies such as those which allow activity monitoring, work monitoring software, and timesheets, are considered as the critical enablers, said organizations.

Still, organizations remain underinvested in these technologies.

Half the respondents to the study said that workforce scheduling and staffing can be further automated. Also, operational activities like 24x7 operations scheduling, flexible work/shift timings, workforce availability and utilization and skill-based scheduling, have more scope of automation.

Such increased automation in workforce management will positively impact employee perception of fairness and equity, as per 83% respondents.

Investments in technology are likely to gather pace in the coming months, as organizations enter a new phase of 'VUCA', or volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

"We see this Covid-19 disruption as VUCA 2.0," said Mahesh Medhekar, Vice president HR at Mercedes-Benz R&D India. "Covid-19 has accelerated the digital transformation in many organizations," he said.

None of us can predict what is in store for us in the future. Change is the only constant. Every adversity opens up newer opportunities for us as individuals and organizations. And thus, organizations need to be prepared for and be responsive to the changes in the work, worker and workplaces and accordingly turn towards effective workforce management solutions to navigate the Now and the new Normal. Scenarios need to re-visited from time to time!

Click here to access the full report: Workforce Management RESET,2020


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