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Workforce Management RESET - Indrajeet Sengupta

Excerpts from Interview with Indrajeet Sengupta, Executive Director & CHRO, Hindustan Coca-cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd.

Indrajeet Sengupta

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 Indrajeet Sengupta,  Executive Director & CHRO, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt.Ltd ,  to take his views on the said subject.

Given the new normal in terms of the work, worker and workplaces, how do you view organizations' preparedness in this new normal?

People safety will continue to be of primary importance even as the lockdown eases in most parts of the country. It looks like we are in for a long haul. So, organizations need to take a pragmatic view of the situation and come up with a sustainable solution. Any kneejerk reaction may turn out to be counterproductive. I sincerely feel that winning the trust and confidence of employees, customers vendors and community is the key. This is the time when our values are being tested.

As far as HCCB is concerned, we have given a very clear mandate that only those who are required to be present at the workplace should be allowed to come. So, coming to office is completely voluntary. Even in factories we are manging with skeletal staff. As it is, we are working with only 50 per cent capacity today. An entire set of new work protocols and guidelines have been created and established to ensure complete safety of our associates including our partners and community. Though our offices are open, we allow a maximum of 20 per cent of employees to come to office on any given day. Even those who are working in sales, try to manage work from home. We have empowered them to use their discretion to visit the market only when necessary.

Going forward, we will revise and revisit our manpower planning in view of the emerging business reality.

Given the fact that you have a corporate office and factories where you have a mix of your white collared as well as blue collared employees, what changes have you brought about to ensure optimal utilization? How do you see productivity being measured?

We don't have any blue collared staff in the offices. They are all in the manufacturing side only. On the sales side, there is third-party support, which is outsourced, so our role there is to counsel and help our partners. At the very beginning of the year we had announced that all HCCB employees will continue to get their salaries, increments and incentives, even if as an organization we were going through a rough phase due to the pandemic.

As far as the white collared employees are concerned, we suitably modified the goals for the last quarter in accordance with the prevailing realities. We are rewriting the goals again for this quarter. The goals will continue to evolve because of the kind of uncertainty, all around. There will, however, be no changes as far as the process of evaluation is concerned. We are a merit and performance-based organization.

What is your take on optimizing costs especially during these times?

We have created cross-functional work streams to evaluate our existing processes such as go-to market strategy, the execution metrics, raw materials, inventory etc. These projects are being led by employees themselves and we have seen some great ideas that will eliminate wastage and inefficiencies. There is always opportunity to improve productivity.

When we spoke about costs, real estate gets added.  Do you see that coming down for the rest of the sector? What is your general viewpoint on real estate?

Some companies are surrendering office space or leasing out the part of what they already have. Our approach is to repurpose the office. That might mean, in the longer term, changing the designs and layouts. It is possible to earmark certain roles to be carried out from home only and employees will probably be required to come to office once in a while either for some essential work which can't be managed from home or only to socialise. Besides, we also believe that we will need offices for brainstorming and for celebrating while maintaining the norms of social distancing.

How do you see the entire set of policy making changing? Do you actually foresee a lot of organizations coming up with newer toolkits, newer checklists, processes and policies?

It's not just about work from home policy, but policies related to new ways of working. We have put in a lot of focus on the company's purpose and have involved our employees in the process. We have also thought through the entire set of new probable skillsets that we might require in the new scenario. We are in the process of acquiring licenses for all our line managers with LinkedIn learning, and hence we are carving out a set curriculum for them. We are further working towards a full-fledged health and wellness program, which encompasses everyone including those at home.  Additionally, we have intensified our efforts to promote flexibility and work from home.

So there is a lot of discussion and debate  around the pay cycles and how, especially in the new normal, varied pay cycles will actually help drive better engagement - Let's say for example, a shorter pay cycle, whether it's daily, weekly, fortnightly or anything of such kind. What is your take on this?

We believe that there are many things that are routine and working fine today and we would want them to continue that way. It gives us the comfort, and it gives employees the stability. We would not want to disrupt the pay cycles. By splitting the pay cycles, the operational effort would considerably increase as well, which is avoidable.

Are the labour law reforms for the new normal sufficient? In which area do we need more reforms?

Right now, we are reviewing the newer laws and policies that have been put forth. When I'm talking about industry in general, I think what everyone wants is to have a smaller number of barriers or less amount of forms to be filled in and submitted. For instance, cash is defined in different ways in different acts. Hence, the act should simplify the understanding and not complicate.

It will further help to have as much of the compliances to go digital, as is possible. We feel accessibility should be more eased out, while ensuring the right to privacy and security. The bigger ask from all the changes that the Government is proposing is how to create a safety net around employees and especially for the emerging gig workforce.

What is your take on how organizations or marketplaces are changing with respect to work, worker and the workplace? What is your take on how we need to be prepared for the new normal?

As I mentioned before, offices will need to be repurposed. So, our layout plans including seating arrangement will change. The situation is forcing all of us to reconsider whether we offer food to our employees at the workplace or not. The organizations also need to think through whether they run offices in one shift or two shifts. Accordingly, the workplace will change.

From a work standpoint, it's certain that a lot of work will go digital. That is something we must learn to live with. How one collaborates with others will change.

The processes, such as how do you induct employees, will also change. Maybe one might invest more in augmented reality for induction. I do expect many areas will continue to rapidly start evolving with digital technologies. At the same time, I still hope that most of the work that we do, where human creativity is involved, will continue to stay.

Click here to access the full study report: Workforce Management RESET: Strategies & Implications for Changing Times I 2020

Click here to access the Future of Work Report I 2019


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