SHRM India in association with Kronos India conducted a joint study in 2020 – "Workforce Management RESET: Strategies & Implications for Changing Times"; with an objective to explore the emerging workforce requirements in the new normal. Further the study also deep dived into how organizations are evolving with their workforce planning strategies and management systems to manage the work, worker and workplaces during times of uncertainty.
Taking the discussions ahead, SHRM interviewed Devvesh P. Srivastav, Head HR & Corporate Services – People & Performance, Apotex India to take his views on the said subject.
Given that you are a research and manufacturing facility, what has been the change in the composition of the workforce between work from office and remote working staff?
From the workforce point of view, we have four setups; Manufacturing, R&D Center, Global Business Services, which is our captive back office for our Canada, US, Australia & ROW market, and Clinical Trails Capability. By definition of these setups, there is a clarity for our workforce planning as to who will operate onsite and who will work remotely. From a headcount composition, 40 to 45% workforce is able to operate remotely and out of that around 20% is classified as composite workforce. The rest being part of pharmaceuticals which is classified under essential services, our operations are fully functional.
I think one of the first things that people have been talking about in these times is rotations because of social distancing implementation, people come in shifts, or sometimes even try to manage the workforce roster in such a way so as to have minimal contacts. In these times, of course, the specialist skills versus people who are multi skilled has come into question. There are organizations which are steering towards multi skilling or trying to train employees, so that more rotations would be possible. What would be your views and what are some of the practices, that you have implemented?
Being part of manufacturing and ongoing R&D set up we need to continue our shopfloor operations to maintain uninterrupted supply of medicines. Of course, we also adjusted workforce planning and experimented delayed or longer shifts. Although, what we did differently and faster was that we identified those with special skills and put them in composite workforce and asked them to come twice a week with an intention to reduce foot falls and avoid pressure on our Infrastructure. They were given green card, which allows them to come twice a week and complete the work as assigned by the departments in two days. We have also brought in different shift timings and provided separate transport while ensuring social distancing and safety. Having said that, being classified under essential services, we never locked down operations even for a single day and a lot of credit goes to the people who responded positively under this unprecedented time. Multi-skilling and taking additional load by the team has shown a positive result.
You mentioned about staggered timings and about people who must come once every two days, did that impact their productivity in any way?
Now our discussion about productivity is relative, as our focus is now to operate and meet the demand under this severe lock down. If I am meeting 85% demand, I feel satisfied. So, in a short period of 90 days, my focus towards productivity is less and more on how well I can manage supply. We will not assess if productivity has gone up or down even though in few critical areas we managed closer to 100% and in few business segments we went beyond 100% while we were working remotely, hence mathematically, I am happy to say that we met the expectations while with a smile on our faces in this anxious time.
Since you mentioned about, the supply versus demand, a lot of organizations today are struggling with increased workforce costs, either because they have to get infrastructure for their remote workers or they have to maintain social distancing. How can organizations in these times optimize costs not only to eliminate leakages but also protect jobs?
It is very sector dependent, as each sector has faced varying degree of challenges due to the pandemic. For example, as garment sector is not classified as essential services, despite being labor intensive, the immediate task for the management is how to manage the cost because you are bleeding each day and we need to manage running costs including manpower costs without any output. On the other hand, pharmaceuticals being part of essential services our challenges are more in our field force and not so much in operations. We thought in early April, that this pandemic will be a boon for pharma, unfortunately actually there is a dip in demand and new questions are raised e.g. – how to eliminate our day-to-day running cost as demand is less. We have become prudent on our hiring plans, and on some of our expansion plans.
My assessment will continue for next 3-6 months, there will be a reduction of 10 - 15% workforce both in direct and indirect because demand is not picking up. There is huge drop in footfall at specialty centers as people are scared to go to such places to avoid exposure in areas where chances of infection are high.
Since you mentioned 15% of your total workforce comprises composite workers and they have the ability to work from home, does that mean that going forward remote working might be leveraged more? And will that lead to reduction in real estate for these composite workers?
This pandemic has taught many lessons to the Indian corporates specially how to assess work from home through a different lens altogether. Work from home in the Indian context poses different challenges compared to other countries, due to infrastructural and technology constraints. Having said that, each organization will shift from "activity orientation" to "result orientation" and that will bring about a change in mind-set for example there will be a self-imposed empowerment and this will impact workforce planning whether remote or on-site employees.
In terms of real estate, it will change in the short-term period for big cities, however, for tier 1 and tier 2 cities, work from office would still be preferred as employees would want to operate from office rather than from their natives and push more towards flexible work arrangement like operate 4 days in a week.
With different categories of employees, do you see different policies coming up?
Yes, I do foresee different policies as the workforce and workplaces are evolving. Today, classification of leaves are becoming redundant and leaves should be treated as leaves and their purpose will be decided by the employee – It is sick, casual, vacation or paternity etc., and it is up to the employee to use it the way she/ he wants. And also, the amount of time that I need a particular resource to do my work, will further determine the payout and all other worker related policies for example fixed term or flexible day / hourly time.
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