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 Rajita Singh, Head - HR, Broadridge, to take her views on the said subject.
With respect to Broadridge or from an industry perspective, do you actually see a labour shortage in terms of the skills required and requisite number of workers needed within the organization?
So, let me give you a little background about Broadridge. We largely work only with full time associates. We are a B2B Fin-Tech organization in the BFSI domain, so we mostly have full time employees. From a shortage standpoint, we are not really facing a problem. But if you were to ask if all the employees are coming in to work every day, I would say it is a mixed bag. There's still about, 10-12% of people who are not 100% available through the time period, for different reasons, which affects our utilization productivity. It is possible that because of the pandemic scare they just wanted some time to unwind, or because many have returned to their hometowns.
So how do you maximize productivity with your employees scattered across the country?
I am very proud to say that from the Service-Level Agreement standpoint we have been green all through. This was exciting because now everyone feels that work from home, works. But I am of the opinion that we cannot start celebrating too soon and should wait before it becomes a long-term reality to see if this high level of productivity is sustainable.
As we are in a very regulated business, we have never been allowed to work from home, we do not have access to any social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or search engines like Google, and we cannot carry our mobile phones to office. So, when the COVID pandemic spread globally we had to reset our work culture. Broadridge India represents almost 30% of the company headcount. As a result, management and clients agreed that work from home is a necessity. Our IT teams stepped up and went out of their way to help set up the appropriate infrastructure in employee homes. And we now have 4000 "offices" across India today. We had help from the government too (both Indian and foreign) as they relaxed a couple of regulations governing our industry. For us moving from just 1% work from home to 100% work from home in three weeks was a big accomplishment. Because of the novelty of the situation people are excited and eager to make it work. I would like to wait till the euphoria dies down to get a more realistic picture.
You mentioned about Broadridge being a very specialized, very focused in BFSI technology and workers not being available. Has that impacted you in any way? How are you organizing the timings? Can people come in and work basis their preferences given they are in different geographies?
We have very, very consciously decided that nobody in the Broadridge offices across the globe is going to come back to work until Jan 2021. Everybody will be working from home. For us, the health and safety of our associates and their families is a priority. A few of our associates who live in Paying Guest accommodations are not comfortable working from home and hence we will review their requests on a case to case basis and we will open up facilities for them only after getting the required business approvals.
You also mentioned about the SLAs being the best during these times. Are these SLAs only related to productivity in terms of client delivery? Could you elaborate a little more on these SLAs?
The SLAs are very specific to the deliverables to the client. The SLAs include things like quality, time, the agile way of working, etc. because Broadridge is actually adopting a lot of agile methodologies and working toward ensuring that all deliveries happen on time. The three important aspects of our SLAs are time, people and quality.
And therefore, it is safe to assume that both the utilization as well as the productivity of people has gone up during these times?
What about costs? Given that IT has stepped up; your infrastructure costs may have also gone up during these times?
So, for us, because we are a GIC, we are a cost center and most of the costs are actually picked up by corporate. The impact of the cost is not direct to India, because the cost was possibly built into the pricing structure in case a BCP situation arises – and this was a BCP situation.
The second thing is that whenever we rolled out a BCP, we budgeted for other regions to step in and support the affected region. But this time everybody across the globe was down at the same time. So obviously, it was a shock. I would be lying if I said that we had planned for it, it was totally unexpected. But I think we got our arms around it and managed the situation.
A lot of organizations are talking about optimizing costs. Can we just understand what you think about optimizing costs going forward, protection of jobs, avoiding pay cut, etc.?
So, let me give you a little bit of a context on that. Many IT / ITES organizations are GICs where 70-80% of their cost is spent on labour. The remaining 20% is allocated to facilities, upkeep of infrastructure and so on. So, there is not much leeway to optimize costs, other than physical office space.
In order of what costs can be cut with minimum repercussions, the first would be shutting down one's own facilities. Next comes changing people related policies that may not be relevant in these times, for example, we have something like a holiday plan allowance for a particular grade and above. With COVID infections still on the rise, people are not really planning vacations, so it would be irrelevant for us to have that policy even running. Expenditure on experiential training can also be cut as with the social distancing norms most companies are going virtual. Expenditure on business travel is another source for cost saving.
Many companies have put increments and promotions on hold. However, at Broadridge we went ahead with our merit and promotions because we hope that our clients will not only survive but do exceptionally well. It is a wait and watch situation. So, we are being a little conservative going forward.
You mentioned earlier that offices will open only in Jan 2021. Even after that, given what has happened, few of the employees may prefer or continue to work voluntarily, from home or remotely. So, do you see a diverse set of policies for people who will attend office and people who will be working remote going forward?
There would have to be different policies for different sets of employees because their mode of working is different. So far at Broadridge, the only population that used to work from home a lot was the women population, largely post childbirth. So now with men also working from home, we will have to make changes to our policies.
And now with everybody working from home how do you plan to engage employees? Do you see a shorter pay cycle of 15 days/ 7 days as an opportunity to engage the employees more?
No, that won't help. The kind of new products banks have launched in India has everyone paying EMIs for all kinds of loans – travel, home, vehicle, etc. So, a weekly payout would actually reduce their capacity to save money and pay their EMIs. So, we're going to stick to the monthly cycle, at least for now. But yes, I would be open to see if the labour laws and the wage code bill allows for some more freedom for Flexi buckets of components of compensation. I think that would be a big win, with regard to allowing people to select the components that they would like. The government has given the option to reduce PF deduction from 12% to 10%, for three months. We are also telling people that it's a great time to invest in the market because the interest rates are down and markets are down. So I think there's a lot of fluidity in the system. In addition, if the government could be a little supportive with regard to allowing for some level of change in the structure it would be very beneficial.
You mentioned that probably just 1% of the workforce was working from home earlier, and now it's 100%. So how has technology actually enabled (or not enabled) this entire transition?
Technology to me is a tool which is helping us do what we are doing, but unfortunately, some people believe that technology is the only way to go and humans are going to be redundant. But that said, at Broadridge I think technology has been a great enabler, be it collaborative tools like Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, Zoom (before the issue started on cybersecurity) – it has made it a lot easier to connect as compared to a physical space. Anyone can now actually drop a note and set up a video call and not wait for an occasion to connect. Leaders have also become very open, so the skip level conversations have improved, thanks to technology and remote working. It has flattened the organization and collapsed the hierarchy in many ways.
How do you see the workplace changing? In Jan 2021 or beyond if the offices were to open, do you see the actual workplace being very different from where you left it?
I think it is going to be a cycle. Meaning that we are going to start from scratch because at the moment offices are like ghost towns. There is nobody over there. So, all of a sudden, when even 10-15% of the people start coming in, I think it's going to be a little different from what it was earlier. If you talk of working from home or office, it is the people who make the difference. So, I think the state of mind that the people will bring is what will change the entire thing. So many associates have reached out to me directly. Some people have started blogging about how they are feeling about work from home, on the internal forum. When these people will come back to work, their mind-set will be very different from where it is today. And I think that is what's going to shape the workplace culture. There are three levers that had to be factored in. One was the infrastructure, second is associates and the third is leaders. I think all three of them will undergo a major change if not done already. And that is what will make all the difference.
You have already touched on the PF aspect, the Flexi wage code. Are there any other labor reforms you would expect or want to facilitate this new normal?
Guidelines around harassment and disciplinary action committees need a relook. One needs to be a little proactive and lay down rules for dealing with harassment during virtual interactions. We need guidelines on how to deal with mental health, and how to help people stay away from stress.
Is there anything else that you would want to share any best practices at Broadridge?
I can share some of our Broadridge best practices. We changed our leave policy. We came up with guidelines on pandemic related leave.
We introduced a hardship allowance where we gave out almost about INR 25,000 to every single associate across the organization to help them set up their home for work. Now for the base associate population, we are actually arranging for ergonomically designed chairs and tables so that they are comfortable working from home.
We have enabled increased communication between leadership and employees in multiple forms, which has been well received. We have an open Q&A house where anyone can log in and put up a question to management. All those questions get answered in a virtual Town Hall.
In a very exclusive event, we recognized people who have gone above and beyond their call of duty to help colleagues or ensured work continued smoothly. And we recognized the leaders as well who helped with this.
Click here to access the Future of Work Report I 2019