A Humble Suggestion


A Humble Suggestion

As I type this, I can hear a gentleman shouting at the top of his voice on one the most-watched Indian News channel (that’s what they call themselves), and my dad glued to the television, taking in all the wisdom earnestly. Before you jump to any conclusions, I must tell you that it’s not a piece of Breaking News being reported with all that zeal and enthusiasm. It’s the same old amalgamation of COVID, religion, statistics, and blame that they were discussing yesterday, and the day before that (and the one before that…).

Most news headlines nowadays make me wonder, “Whatever happened to journalism?” I agree that a part of the job description is to point out where things are not working correctly. It makes the society aware and well-functioning, or does it? Is it true that society will function well if it only knows what is going wrong? Isn’t it equally important to focus on what can be done to progress from there, and how can we do better? Adding information about where things have become better is only essential for societal welfare, it will also make the press depict society more accurately.

Most of the news that is presented to us is based on a “victim-attacker” framework. Let’s take the ongoing crisis and its impact on the labor class. The poor fellows who are forced to walk kilometers without proper food and sleep on tracks are obviously in a terrible situation. But what happens when the journalists think of them only as victims? They tend to design their reporting in a particular manner by working on blind angles. Pointing out that the condition is horrifying and helpless is one thing, and entirely designing the report around it is a whole other story. What the news is tacitly doing nowadays is a form of marking and tagging – victims face hardships, attackers take advantage, politicians fight and disagree, reporters blame, religion defeats rationality… and many more. What it does to the viewers is that people tend to have blind-angles in their view of the world. They form images in their head and then look around for evidence to confirm their biases. Most viewers watch the news that aligns with their blind-sided thought process, and hence the so-called news channels keep re-heating serving the same dish with slightly different garnish every day. I don’t understand how someone can be so focussed on TRPs that they forget about the enormous responsibility they carry.
What I am suggesting is some constructive journalism where the news, rather than revolving around conflicts and negativity, becomes solution-focused. If the reports are talking about a problem, they should also try to cover the potential solutions. Instead of playing blame-games and calling them debates, the channels should be facilitating more productive discussions amongst the decision-makers. Now that everything is locked-down, journalism has become important more than ever before. I think it’s high time to add some positive and constructive elements to it and make sure that even if it can’t mitigate the situation, it doesn’t cause the societies to break down either.

Life Lessons From The Lockdown

Yesterday, while helping my sister out making chapatis for dinner, I suddenly got a sense of complacency. It was that feeling of becoming an utterly responsible woman who can manage official work and simultaneously help out with household stuff. It was the day when I understood how difficult it is for a responsible woman to manage everything, keeping aside, and not discussing, married working women’s responsibilities (as it is beyond comparison). So it is tough. For a few of you, this might not seem something that difficult to achieve. But for me, it was a milestone. Handling more than one task simultaneously has never been my thing because I always believed in doing one thing at a time and giving my complete best to it. But this B-school experience kept adding feathers of different kinds in my cap. And the first stepping stone for me here was to learn and manage to be multi-functional at the same time. We learn a lot more things during this journey of our beautiful life, but we get very few opportunities to make use of those learnings in real life. I think COVID-19 has given us all that.

“Time,” “Situation,” “Crisis”- these are a few subjective terms which have no definite ending. No one knows about it, and neither anyone can predict it. The only thing we can do is keep ourselves prepared, but again, the level of preparedness is another debatable topic. So, how much should we be prepared? Can we ever be fully equipped in the future after facing what we already had, during the past few months? Well, the answers to these questions are still being researched and studied upon by the best minds around the world. It is the hope that makes us keep going during these critical times- the hope that this eventually will open all those dimensions which were not even though of before, the hope of moving towards a better tomorrow. I know this might sound a little philosophical, but as told by Martin Luther King Jr- “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

A few days back, I saw on the news a woman naming her newborn as COVID. This hit me hard. I am no one to question a mother’s love for her child, but what worried me more was how could we give such importance to something that doesn’t warrant it, at least in this manner? And I really feel that the misdirected attention we have given to this entire situation has made us scared, weak, and pessimistic about our future.

So, instead of looking at what sectors and economy will get impacted by the effect of COVID-19, looking at what new changes it has brought and appreciating those changes for good should be our way of coping with the effects of this pandemic. The beauty of nature that we all got to enjoy during this lockdown, getting time to spend with your whole family which was only possible during weekends (that also was never sufficient enough as the half of weekend goes by in sleeping our stress off, from the weekday’s hard work we have put in).

Answer this question seriously; have you ever thought of learning and doing what you are learning and doing now ever before? NO, right, or even if you have thought about it, you would not have done it yet because of innumerable reasons- “time,” being the most important one.

The essence of time is something we have never realized until it passes by, and then we complain about it. But now, due to this unasked “situation,” the process has reversed. We have sufficient time to realize its essence and set our targets accordingly, but still, we complain. I will not blame anyone for this, as it is a part of human psychology to complain about everything, and I being the master of that, realize this quite well. But I believe that cherishing this situation at times has made us realized that the entire world stands united against COVID-19. Following social distancing by being at home, quarantining ourselves for 14 days in case of detection, clanging utensils & clapping together for 5 minutes, lighting candles and diyas for 9 minutes, these all are the instances which show that we have proved that we know how to keep ours, and our caretakers’ morale high, even in this time of crisis. There is always some positive that we could take out from the negatives, as even a basic mathematics rule says that two negatives can make a positive, we just need to look for that positive.
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The changing ‘work’ order : Challenges in the era of ‘Work from Home’

Ask an employee today what those ‘three magical words’ are, and chances are that he’ll utter ‘Work from Home’ (WFH). Between March 15-21, ‘Work from home’ (WFH) was the most searched term in the world and continues to be one of the most popular search terms on Google. Researchers and practitioners are predicting WFH as the future of organizations. Recently, TCS announced that by 2025, 75% of its employees would be working from home. Many see the move to WFH as a much-needed respite from long commutes, inflexible schedules, and high real-estate costs for both employees and employers. On the other hand, it is now also being realized that WFH brings its own set of problems. A large number of employees are reporting poor productivity, higher burnout and even mental issues from working in isolation for extended periods. In light of this, it may be advisable for HR leaders to critically examine some of the challenges emerging from the practice of WFH and what organizations can do about it, should they commit to such a system.

Maintaining employee productivity:

Studies have shown working from home can reduce employee productivity by as much as 40%. Many organizations, who switched to WFH when the COVID-19 pandemic started, now report that after the initial enthusiasm waned off, employee productivity has been continuously downhill. Many reasons have been cited for this, including employees who are distracted by household chores, the inability to schedule work properly, the lack of a ‘competitive office atmosphere’, and the inability of managers to exercise the same amount of control, which is possible in a traditional workplace. What does this hold for HR leadership? First, during hiring, organizations will increasingly look for individuals who exhibit a high degree of self-control and discipline. Research shows that the one characteristic distinguishing high-performers from low-performers in WFH environments is ‘self-discipline.’ Organizations should resort to using tests and psychometric assessments to determine these traits when hiring for predominantly WFH based roles. WFH will also lead to a change in the incentive structure. In the past few years, incentives have had a larger share allocated towards team performance than individual performance. As people start working in isolation with reduced interaction, reward structures will start tilting towards individual performance to a greater degree.

Cultivating accountability and productivity:

A key challenge in remote work is for managers. The ability of the manager to provide guidance, make course corrections, and intervene to solve bottlenecks is drastically reduced in a WFH arrangement. Many organizations have reported an ‘abuse of email’ – threads over threads exchanged on ‘work’ yet no work being actually performed, as employees keep shifting responsibility to each other. To compensate for the lack of ‘managing’, organizations will need to teach employees how to self-set goals and follow up on them without the need for consistent managerial supervision. The use of OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results) can be precious in this regard. OKR is an outcome driven, collaborative goal-setting methodology that lets teams and individuals set goals with measurable results. The beauty of OKRs is in its ‘cascading effect’- every goal is connected from bottom to top, bringing a tight integration between individual, team and organizational objectives. Employees will soon be trained in adopting such methods as part of their induction process in the organization.

Employee communication:

Productivity losses are attributable to another fundamental issue – the inability of employees to communicate problems within the team effectively. Face-to-face communication is a fast iterating process. One can solve issues quite expeditiously by repeating him or herself. However, the same is not the case with virtual teams. At the end of the day, there are only a limited number of Zoom meetings that a team can have. Organizations would need to work on augmenting the written and online communication skills of employees and make them adept at communicating in a digital environment.

Increased adoption of co-working spaces:

CoViD-19 has also brought to the front a paradox − employers want employees to work from home but (a chunk of) employees now want to return to office. Many employees complain about household distractions and lack of an ‘office atmosphere’ for their lack of productivity. In many cases, employees may be living in small accommodations with a higher number of family members with no personal space. How can organizations balance this demand for an office environment with the policy of working from home? One potential solution could be using ‘co-working spaces’ where workplace facilities are offloaded to external service providers. Employers may soon start giving allowances for buying co-working spaces to employees as part of their CTC. This may help organizations minimize their real-estate costs, while maintaining the traditional ‘office space’ that some employees desire.

Ensuring data security:

One of the most critical challenges of WFH is security. Many of the technologies worked on (specifically in IT and software organizations) are proprietary and usage is secured within the confines of the organization’s intranet. With WFH, organizations can look forward to higher capital investment in strengthening network security. The aspect of security also involves a component of behavioral change. It is not uncommon for employees to copy organizational data to insecure cloud services or personal emails to work upon later. Organizations will need to raise awareness on intellectual property among employees and devise more robust protocols on how data is to be handled.

Similarly, co-working spaces can bring their own set of issues. IT companies tend to have strong access controls to protect client information. Now imagine, two rival organizations having their employees working in the same co-working space and using the same network infrastructure. Even if networks are secured, how do you prevent employees from talking to each other or peeking into laptop screens physically? Thus, the implementation of security protocols will be a considerable challenge. One way could be that organizations sign exclusive contracts with co-working space providers to ensure only non-competing organizations be able to lease space with their employees at the same location.

Preventing work-life spillover:

While WFH provides much-needed flexibility, it also creates a tremendous spillover. Meetings and phone calls at abrupt times will only foster resentment in employees towards WFH. Worse, if not controlled voluntarily, it may soon lead to legal intervention by the government. An example of this is the growing demand for ‘Right to Disconnect’ in Europe, which proposes a complete embargo on office communication outside of working hours. The CoViD-19 pandemic and imbalanced WFH lifestyles will only strengthen demands for such laws in other countries. It may be advisable that organizations voluntary implement protocols respecting individual time and privacy. This will go a long way in making WFH sustainable in the long run.
While remote working may seem like a compelling proposition, organizations need to carefully think about their capability, resources, and preparedness before committing to such a system. After all, it takes a lot of ‘work’ to make ‘work from home’ work for you!

Pivotal Role of HR post-COVID-19: Change is the New Normal

As the severity of the lockdown is decreasing gradually, several businesses are coming back to life, with social distancing being the new norm. This has induced changes in all elements of the business. These changes will create a significant impact on the survival and longevity of the company depending on the action taken by leaders. Change is inevitable due to the dynamic nature of the marketplace, but it occurs gradually over time, whereas the recent economic conditions demand a sudden transformation that can cause upheaval, and hence pre-planned transition is much needed.

A vast set of these responsibilities falls on the shoulders of the HR managers. Companies will have to become employee-oriented, where priority is given to maintaining an employee’s physical and mental health.

Operational Policies –

Should the companies promote work-from-home post COVID-19? Is WFH an advantage in disguise in terms of saving infrastructure costs? Though this pandemic has accelerated the changes in the virtual workplace, better policies regarding work ethics, infrastructural constraints, work-time behavior, performance appraisal and technological barriers will be required for a smooth shift in the new paradigm. Policies needs to be revamped, employee engagement and their ability to bond with their colleagues should be done to maintain their morale.

Human Capital Management –

Is it time to change the organizational culture? Employee-oriented or market-oriented culture? Recently, a study has shown the link between corporate culture, employee commitment, and economic success. Transparency plays a major role in creating trust. Brutal ground realities should not be kept from workers, while at the same time, maintaining hope will be essential to maintain balance – basically a Stockdale Paradox. Workers should also be encouraged for upskilling. Moreover, implementation of employee assistance programme to reduce the risk of infection while re-opening physical workplaces should be done. Employees’ mental health needs to be ensured by providing them trust and direction.

Hiring and Firing –

Should employees be sent on furloughs, layoffs, or retrenchment? Several organizations are preferring furloughs instead of retrenchment as a cost optimization measure. The way in which layoff is done goes a long way in impacting the morale of the existing employees as well. Weak economic cash flows will, unfortunately, accelerate employee termination, but once the struggling industries re-open after the crisis ends, organizations need to be equipped with a re-opening strategy and speed up the recruitment process before the crisis ends. Reviewing the ATS, investment in agile assessment solutions, managing HR Technology, remote hiring, and building virtual hiring technology should be prioritized.

The framework created by Christopher D. Zatzick, Mitchell L. Marks, and Roderick D. Iverson provides choices to companies to get through the layoffs. It is based on two dimensions: Type of downsizing planned, and the company’s existing approach in managing employees.

A steady and calm voice at the top is required to hold people from going astray. A leader should communicate compassion and symbolism with consistency. As the scenario is entirely new, many leaders will be forced to make decisions that are a lot less accurate than before. But nonetheless, decisions made now will have a severe effect on the culture, core values, and, thus, the performance of the company. Whatever was true before may not be true today, with the facts changing on a day-to-day basis. Hence, this situation should be viewed not as a crisis, but as an opportunity to restructure and initiate change in the desired direction.