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Workforce Management RESET - Lopamudra Banerjee

Excerpts from the Interview with Lopamudra Banerjee, Deputy Director HR south East Asia & Head HR, Carrier Midea India


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 Lopamudra Banerjee, Deputy Director HR- South East Asia & Head HR, Carrier Midea to take her views on the aforementioned.

How is Carrier Midea actually addressing this new normal and how are you preparing for this?

The pandemic and thereafter the lockdown have forced us to rethink a lot about the business model because we had some offerings which were highly seasonal in nature. We had to in a way, reimagine customer needs and products taking into consideration the different stakeholder requirements including those of vendors, partners, suppliers, board etc. We had to digitize or adapt to digitization almost overnight. With a traditional manufacturing setup like ours, we really did not have a concept of work from home prior to this and was made available on a case by case basis. So, for us, I think the biggest headline is how quickly we have adapted to technology. Also, about how we have managed to engage and connect with all our stakeholders at different levels The other big headline has been our need to realize that while it is alright to work within a framework and a structure and all of that, there is a huge need for flexibility at this point in time because I think every stakeholder's requirement and response to the situation on the ground level is very different. And therefore, to say that, okay, now we are rolling out the policy and this is applicable to everybody or from tomorrow we are going to do this, in this way is not really working. Therefore, on a daily basis, we are reviewing situations and really trying to be flexible within a framework, while ensuring that productivity and motivation does not take a hit.

Further our business has got the biggest hit. The channel is not very keen to take on more inventory because on a day to day basis, every market situation is different. For example, Tamil Nadu has again gone into a lockdown. The channel response is that we do not want to be straddled with inventory, because we do not know how that inventory is going to move. Thirdly, it is not enough that a consumer buys a product from us, they also have to get in technicians to install and service them, and a lot of customers are not yet ready to allow technicians to come into their houses. So, all of that is impacting sales and therefore a lot of focus on workforce utilization, costs etc.

How are you optimizing costs, eliminating leakages while protecting jobs?

Okay, so I think the approach always is how can we protect employees. However, having said that, we have been evaluating how we can realign people across roles and functions without impacting productivity. We have done a re-evaluation, and looked at re-structuring.

Our original business plan and targets definitely look like a distant possibility right now but we are all geared up to see how we can still make it happen. We have also looked at cost optimization in other areas such as advertising, relooking at the number of shop demonstrators that are required and also discussion with landlords for waiver on rents. As we have 90% of the teams in the branches actually operating out in the field, we are also relooking at our real estate requirements. We are really looking at all of that to see if we can do a shared seating. Do we really need so many workstations, cabins, cubicles? How often does the team really need to meet?

We further also revaluated our existing 90-day leave policy of accumulation and revised it to 45 days, leading to a saving. So, we actually are re-evaluating multiple things where we can optimize costs.

In terms of the whole labour issue, are you facing any shortage?

One is of course the migrant issue which has impacted us and also the other thing is that even the locals who are coming from the nearby villages are very sceptical, as in case they contract COVID, they would not be allowed back into the village. This required a lot of intervention and communication from us. We spoke and built that trust as an organization, we are committed to maintaining 100% protocol to ensure safety of whoever is coming into the plant at this point in time. Secondly, we are also saying that should something go wrong, then we are there as employers to take care of them.  Due to these efforts, the workforce percentage has gone up in one of our plants now. Our construction agencies are also facing a similar problem with the local labour. We have also collaborated with those agencies and organizations, spoken to the local authorities and sought their help. And we have also conducted a lot of Corporate Social Responsibility activities in and around our factory.

So, keeping these in mind, labour shortage is definitely existing and we are working day by day on it.

What is your take on productivity? How are you seeing it being impacted during these uncertain times?

There is a paradox here, which is that in the beginning of March, we had put in a lot of inventory in the channel. And almost immediately, things started slowing down and then we went into complete lockdown. So, the saving grace for us in this situation is the fact that the channel still had a lot of inventory. So, we are not actually having to produce what we would have normally done in a regular year. So, if that was, if we were producing at our regular capacity, like any other year, it would have been severely affected. This year because the channel had a lot of inventory and we went slow on the production we have been saved, but this is not sustainable.

Just to give you an example we have in both our plants in Ahmednagar, an in-house kitchen because we have about 600-700 people eating every day, including the workmen. When we reopened, we did not have the kitchen staff to come in and cook. We just did not have the number of people that were required to run an industry kitchen of that size. It took us about eight to nine days to get just the kitchen staff and housekeeping back on track because nobody wanted to come to work.

What is your take on the entire policy making and revisions in these times?

We do not have a policy, however, have sent out a communication that our offices have been re-opened and that we are operating with a roster. We have also asked our employees to communicate to HR in case they are uncomfortable and prefer to continue to work from home. And this is a huge change for us, being a traditional manufacturing organization where work from home concept was not truly understood. So, we took a lot of measures to communicate, coach and counsel all the stakeholder – employees, managers, leaders etc. – to say that this will work. trust, safety and wellbeing is of paramount importance, everything else is going to be secondary.

In terms of pay cycles, people are trying to experiment with either shortening the pay cycle for some folks. Is that something which you tried out? Is that something you feel will work?

We did try this once during March, not by design but because of the Yes Bank Fiasco. And it worked fine. Thereafter, we have been running payroll at the normal cycle, which is pay on the last working day of the month. But we are now considering doing this because there is a lot of uncertainty. People do not know what is in store for them tomorrow. And I think if people get paid more immediately for the work, at least at the entry level, there will be a better sense of security. So, we are toying with that idea because we ran it once and that worked well. So, we need to do it, but we have not done it yet.

Part time, work lesser days, split shift - is this something which is being considered within Carrier Midea?

No. So split shift was something that we had initially considered. We debated the merits and demerits of this and then concluded that from a risk factor, it was not safe because there is no time to do a sanitization between one shift and the next. So, what we are considering is that, we will be looking at having more people associated with us from the gig economy. Right now, we do not have the scheme We have everybody on our rolls.  We do not have anybody working out of our offices who are on third party payroll. Going forward we will have a lot more people associated with us and I think, we will be looking at various permutations and combinations of flexi work. I think for the regular employees; we are not looking at any change.

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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