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Workforce Management RESET - Ritu Kochhar

Excerpts from the Interview with Ritu Kochhar, Head HR, Perfetti Van Melle




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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 Ritu Kochhar, Head - HR, Perfetti  Van Melle to take her views on the said subject.

With a clear emergence of 2 sets of workers today – the remote, workplace and composite staff, how did your organization address the various challenges that came along with the pandemic?

Even before the formal lockdown was announced, we shut our offices and further geared up the IT infrastructure and resources to enable our workforce to work from home.

From a manpower distribution point, we have three large plants in Rudrapur, Manesar and Chennai, wherein on any given day over 300 employees walk into our premises. Our corporate office has around 160 + people and the rest are spread across in branches. We also have a large population of third-party sales resources.

While some of the challenges across these groups were similar, most varied.

In our plants, the focus was to resume operations while ensuring safety and well-being of our people. We resumed our operations within a week's time with necessary approvals. We started with limited capacity and since the last 3 months, we have been running the plants on a full scale with 100% capacity.

We have thermal scanners and doctors at the gate to ensure that there is a double check on temperature and overall health of the employees each day. We have also been leveraging Kronos technology to track the attendance and access systems (provided no touch access cards).

Within premises, we continue to focus on two areas -1. Maintain social distance 2. Make health & safety a habit for our employees. We have a three-step mechanism of awareness, audit and awards. Awareness sessions are conducted for employees on social distancing and health. At the same time movements are monitored through CCTVs. Efforts from employees are recognized through weekly rewards for role models.

For all employee groups, we have beefed up our wellness initiatives through awareness sessions, availability of doctors and EAP Specialists and further also provided COVID Insurance for all.  

Do you see a labour shortage arising out of this pandemic?

In the short term, yes!! But in the long run, I feel this should settle.

We faced huge labour shortages when the pandemic started and continue to experience it.

Some of the plants, like our Rudrapur one, have a higher composition of local workforce and the shortages were relatively less. Our efforts were channelized to dialogue with the workforce and address their concerns around the fears attached to COVID. Eventually they resumed work.

The challenges at other plants were more pronounced. Our workforce in Manesar plant, is a combination of both local and immigrant populations. We faced huge shortages there since the migrant workers went back to their natives. Similarly, in Chennai, majority of our workforce is migrant workers and hence the challenges are similar to Manesar plant. When we opened these Plants, we started our operation with about 10% of workforce available to come to work.

What is your take on productivity? How did you see this changing from a measurement perspective?

As far as employee perception goes, most of them report an increase in productivity with the shift to remote working. It's difficult to predict if this can be sustained, though.

As far as business productivity is concerned, the focus today is more on the outcome and not really on the activities involved. While earlier, we used to focus on input metrices such as the time spent by a salesperson in market, they don't seem relevant in the current context.

We are building agility into our processes to make a much more structured approach for the next 8-9 months.

Many organizations are discussing about eliminating cost leakages. How did PVM manage cost optimization during this time?

Like any other organization, we continue to focus on our overheads and discretionary costs. We communicate the same transparently to our people and encourage them to work out solutions in alignment with our business goals. Our people share their inputs through the platform 'Idea factory'. During Covid, the ideas were channelized into two broad buckets:

1. How do we redesign the future

2. How do we save money and reap tomorrow

We continue to receive multiple ideas everyday which are helping us eliminate cost leakages.

Do you plan to relook at your real estate strategy?

Yes, we are. For the time being, considering the uncertainty of travel we are giving up our guest houses in various cities. Other than that, our offices continue to be available for our employees, whoever needs to come in.

Owing to this pandemic, do you see a diverse set of policies emerging for diverse set of needs for different workforces?

Yes, we are definitely relooking at the policies, but we are not calling them policy changes. These are more of guideline re-alignments, as we do not know what is in store for us and which policies would need to be brought back post pandemic. We have come up with guidelines in terms of on-field travel reimbursements especially for sales workforce, availability of cabs without risking their lives, provided corporate deals for phone and internet service providers, and of-course a larger focus on wellness of our employees.

What are some of the technology led interventions / mobility services that you have leveraged?

Currently we have embedded technology in a couple of areas, such as in attendance and contact less access tracking and of course for our virtual meetings. We have a plan to further leverage technology next year, in manpower deployment. This will help us answer some of the critical questions such as the optimum no. of people in each shift, the composition of workforce, people availability and many more. This would help us to make our workforce management process much more effective.

Any other best practices that you would like to highlight?

As an organization, we are investing a lot on people capability and going the extra mile to ensure engagement and well-being of our teams. Our learning programmes have gone virtual and along-with various interventions, we are also driving the need of 'Self-learning' in our people. For all our employees, we have created 'Linkedin Learning journeys' and are encouraging them to pursue the same. We are building the habit of learning and want our people to leverage this opportunity now.

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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