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 Vikram Tandon, Head – HR, HSBC India, to take his views on the said subject.
How are you addressing the new normal? How prepared are you on the various aspects which are impacting the new normal?
I would really say that the whole COVID pandemic has been quite tragic - and it has created two key threats, to lives and livelihoods of people. It has also generated some powerful trends, accelerating e-commerce, digital payments, increased automation, and overall digitization. I think it has challenged people from all walks of life hugely and has been a great leveler of our society. I keep reminding everybody and to the team that COVID has not been eliminated. It is still around us. Pre-COVID our value proposition to our employees was lot of international mobility, an excellent work environment, a great culture and many development opportunities etc. – nowhere did we market that we will keep you safe and free from sickness, because it was taken for granted. Wellness was always there but now the EVP has changed where the key priority today is not just employee health and safety but also the safety of employees' immediate family etc. Our EVP today also focuses on the extensive support that we provide our employees to deal with stress, anxieties, worries etc. and to manage both work and family at the same time.
Coming back to your earlier question, how did we deal with it? I see this as a year of two halves. In the first half we initially reacted to the COVID challenge, then we responded by enabling our workforce to deliver to the customer. We took a call early on to prioritize our customers during this difficult time and established multiple touch points to anticipate all possible needs of our customers and proactively provided solutions. We also had learnings about COVID from our other markets in Asia and were able to quickly transfer best practices to our operations in India. We then enabled all our Branches and offices to function safely in a COVID environment, by ensuring social distancing and making our workplaces fully sanitized so that our colleagues could work without fear of infection etc. We further got into tie-ups with major hospitals across all our locations to treat our staff and their families on priority and strengthened our medical insurance and health and wellness offerings.
Is there any kind of a workforce shortage or skills shortage that you are experiencing?
No, we are not experiencing any shortage of specific skills currently. With COVID all around us, the bigger issue was how to deliver and measure performance, considering that about 80% of our employee base would be working almost 70% of the year from home. We connected with our Line Manager community and they assured us that post COVID, they had stepped up their engagement with their teams significantly and I must say that the business has done quite well, despite all the challenges that we have faced - we are really proud of the results that our teams are delivering across all parts of HSBC, whether in the wholesale or in the retail space, or across service and operations. Our response to COVID has certainly taught us that our colleagues can work just as effectively from their homes and has demonstrated their phenomenal resilience and capability.
Is there any focus to reskill or add skills to the existing workforce to make them more flexible?
We have launched a Future skills program at HSBC and are in the process of identifying skills that would be of greater relevance in the future, for some jobs that do not even exist today. Because we are certain that the pace of change will be even faster and automation, digitization AI etc., will throw up many new opportunities and challenges. COVID has proven without doubt that given the right tools, empowerment and effective IT infrastructure, people can be just as effective working from home as they are while working from an office location. However, working remotely does take away the opportunity to engage in person over informal coffee chats and the bonds that get built in close proximity. We are now saying that if this is the new normal, whether COVID or not, if more people are going to work from home, then what are the skills that line managers need to effectively engage teams remotely?
How are you now defining productivity or how are you measuring productivity? What is the impact that you are seeing on that?
We had a concern in certain parts of the bank that productivity may slip, or existing targets may be ambiguous, or the goalposts may need to change, especially in the Retail business, because if the customer is no longer able to show up in the locations he usually did, then how do you sell him a credit card, a mortgage or a personal loan? So, we have recalibrated our performance parameters to best suit this new environment. We have taken away the emphasis on just sales, to creating engagement with our customer base. This is still an evolving space and will need greater refinement, but we are clear that we will focus on both our customers and our people as we go along.
Are there any discussions on giving up real estate?
I do not think we plan to give up any real estate in the immediate term. However, we have sent chairs to some of our employee's residences, also shipped screens and allowed people to upgrade their home IT infrastructure. Basically, we have tried to create infrastructure in people's homes. I am sure that a review of our real estate requirements will happen periodically, but are we doing it in a very short term? No, because our agreements are long term and we do not know how this will pan out.
If we look at the three categories of employees or workforce - the remote workers, the mandatory office staff and the composite workers - do you see different set of policies being framed in the near future to cater to each of this different segment of workforce?
No, at this point of time, we have not created separate policies based on the work locations of our employees, but we would be open to evolve as things progress. However, we recognize the challenges that our women employees have to cope with, given the multiple roles and responsibilities they have to manage and are always reviewing our policies with a view to provide them with greater flexibility and a more meaningful work life balance. We have also created more empowerment and adopted agile ways of working, so that we can deliver better to our customer's needs.
There is a lot of labor law reforms that the government has proposed in the interim, do you feel those are sufficient to deal with the situation? If not, are there any specific gaps or are there any specific reforms that you may want for the workforce?
We need to recognize that there are not many laws which define working from home or dealing with conflicts, which a work from home situation could bring about. I am sure that the Government too must be reviewing the current situation and will enable more 'fit to purpose' laws to emerge. At this point, we are just focused on keeping our employees safe, helping them to deal better with the blurred lines of home and work and helping them cope better with the stresses and anxieties of not being able to leave their homes, which I suppose each one of us has to deal with. We are focusing on processes that allow us to provide an excellent level of service to our Customers and make it easier for our staff to work from home.
Click here to access the Future of Work Report I 2019