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 Mini Vinod, Head - HR, Gallagher Service Center , to take her views on the said subject.
The past few months has led to the evolution of the new normal. What impact has it on your organization and how have you been addressing the challenges which came with it?
COVID definitely took us all by surprise and showed how vulnerable we were. There was no one who was hundred percent prepared for a disruption of this magnitude! Worldwide, all countries and industries got negatively impacted due to loss of business and dip in economy. Like any other organization, Gallagher also had its own set of challenges. Though we were BCP ready, this was beyond anticipation. As part of BCP testing, 20% of our staff were working remotely at any point of time on rotational basis. The learnings from this helped when we had to get 100% of our staff work remotely. Good IT infrastructure and Digitization of business processes came handy to manage deliverables in this situation. Though we managed the initial phase, we are now on our toes to make changes on the go, knowing that the new normal is here to stay. We are constantly working on equipping the business, our workforce and also the new talent that comes into the organization to embrace the changing world.
Considering all these factors, do you see a labor shortage – already or over the coming months?
On the contrary, I see favorable signs in terms of availability of talent. More and more organization have experienced the good returns of flexible and remote working and hence will look at this as a long term workforce management strategy. This means that we will be now be able to attract diverse workforce – housewives, differently abled, senior citizens, students wanting to do part time work and so on. People staying in small towns don't have to relocate to larger cities, but pursue a career in a world class organization without moving out of the four walls of their homes! The personal challenges associated with commuting to work would no longer be a constraint for pursuing a career. It would be a win-win situation for both organizations as well as job seekers.
How has the workforce composition changed over the past few months?
At Gallagher, 100% of the employees are working from home. We have not had a situation wherein any of us, including the IT team, had to visit office regarding work, post COVID. Attrition has come down too. The youngsters who had earlier relocated from their small towns are now happily working from their hometowns.
Considering the seamless continuity of business that has been achieved with 100% remote working, what will take more priority going forward - flexible staffing, or skill-based staffing?
When we return back to workplace, whenever that may be, Gallagher will pre-dominantly be looking at flexible staffing - a combination of staff working from office as well as remotely. Flexibility definitely will be the need of the hour, because most of the organizations will continue on a hybrid model with workforce working remotely and from office. Having said that, we cannot compromise on skill. Organizations will continue to need people who are skilled and competent. Especially in remote working scenario, it becomes all the more important to have competent and committed people who can work with minimal supervision. Hence, we will have to strike a good balance with a combination of both talent that is flexible and skilled.
Given the shift in workforce to remote operations, what measures of productivity are you relying on? Are there any trends in productivity that you're seeing in these times?
Means for measuring productivity, certainly has undergone a change. There are no physical teams now - All our staff is operating remotely from the comfort of their own homes, which has its own pros and cons also. Hence, we revised some of the performance evaluation parameters that would help them to perform and deliver in an informal environment with less supervision and monitoring. We have noticed productivity being better - could be because of the flexibility and also having more quality time at work.
A lot of organizations across various sectors are talking about incurring higher costs. What can organizations do in these times to optimize costs and more importantly, protect jobs?
Because of the economic slowdown, business, jobs and people's morale have been adversely impacted. It's a challenge for organizations and for HR function to sustain and continue to serve our stakeholders & customers. At times like these, cost optimization ensures we continue to provide exceptional service to our customers - it goes a long way towards sustaining the relationship. As everyone is provided with a laptop on joining, we didn't have to invest additionally on laptops or any IT assets. We could optimize cost in the remote working scenario by cutting down on the budget allotted for fun activities, employee engagement, events etc. To a certain extent, we could also reduce cost towards overtime payouts as the volumes had obviously come down.
What will be the impact on real estate? Do you see its usage coming down with more employees working remotely?
Now that we have seen the benefit of remote working, most organizations are looking at remote-working as a long-term strategy. A lot of organizations are talking about giving up space and don't see a need for all of it in the future. Gallagher is also thinking along these terms. By doing so, not only will there be cost saving for the organization, but for employees too on money and time saved on commute etc.
A lot of organizations are considering adoption of separate policies for workplace vs remote staff. Do you also see a similar approach for Gallagher?
We have made several changes to existing policies to provide options like part-time working, flexible shifts, etc. These were some of the benefits that we used to talk about earlier, but were apprehensive about putting into practice. COVID has taught us that it is possible. We will be looking at making many more changes in our policies to cater to a flexible workforce on a long-term basis.
How will change in the pay cycles impact employee engagement? Will a shorter pay cycle, say weekly or fortnightly drive better engagement?
In India, typically, people prefer a full-time job and monthly pay check. Now that mindset will change. We have our payroll systems built in such a way that it probably doesn't accommodate flexible pay options. But having seen that when things turned topsy-turvy overnight, we adapted ourselves to the changed scenario - hence making systems available for flexible staffing will also make its way shortly. As an organization, we are open to experiment with flexible staffing and diverse workforce.
Are the current proposed labor law reforms adequate to deal with the current times? In what other areas would you expect or want more reforms?
The labor reforms, some of it which were announced recently, are positive steps from the government. However, it may not be enough. We may need lot more reforms in the labor laws to cater to the varied industries and their needs in India. Some of the labor laws are quite outdated and don't apply for IT & ITES organizations. The Overtime policy, Compensatory off policy, Time and attendance requirement are not really made for a flexible / remote working environment and would look forward to further steps from the government on reforms in these areas.
How will the workplace change going forward? Are there any best practices that are already emerging?
The industry has embraced the current changes with a lot of positivity. At Gallagher, lot of our employees are from outstation. They were happy to go back to their hometowns and continue to work without impacting their deliverables and salaries. Going forward, a workplace that is flexible, technology-driven and adaptive to change are the ones that would sustain and prosper.
As we all are trying to adapt to the change, we see people talking about positive changes being brought about in their organizations as well. Organizations are making sure that their employees are comfortable, and able to seamlessly operate while working remotely as well, irrespective of the location. At Gallagher, we have equipped our employees with chair, table, headphones, UPS, broadband, and electricity allowance etc - all that is needed to set up a home office. To avoid burnout, we have also provided additional time offs for people over and above their leaves. Employee engagement and connect continues and in fact has strengthened further with focus on Wellness, hobby classes, virtual training sessions, frequent and engaging connects with the leadership etc. There is also a possibility of employees incurring higher cost in case of hospitalization – hence, we have also provided additional top-up on Medical insurance to handle any medical exigency. While some of these may be considered as additional costs, in reality the organization stands to save. More importantly, this leads to overall positivity among the workforce.
Click here to access the Future of Work Report I 2019