Sudhakar Balakrishnan is the Group CEO of FirstMeridian Business Services Pvt. Ltd. He is an experienced innovator/entrepreneur with 36 years of work experience in a combination of Sales, Marketing, HR, Strategy Formulation, and P&L Management with 24 years of rich experience within the Human Capital business.
We lived through a pandemic. And like every pandemic in the history of mankind, COVID-19 has left its mark as well. It has irrevocably changed the way we think, live and work. The deeper penetration of technology into all aspects of our lives enabled us to continue to work remotely.
More than a year later, companies and people are now striving to return to the office. While the past year has proven that an office might not be required to work, it is definitely required for team cohesiveness, mental wellbeing and looking at life beyond just ‘work’. A recent Harvard Business Survey indicated that 79% of employees preferred a hybrid work model, instead of an entirely remote role.
This shift, like the shift to remote work, presents many challenges. Some employees are still cautious about the pandemic and are worried about their health, while others are now used to a different pace of working. The return to office also requires us to let go of some habits and adapt to newer ones that are effective. Organisations must change their strategy in order to reintroduce employees in a way that provides all workers with the conditions they require to feel comfortable and safe.
Technology has evolved into a critical and measurable component of HR solutions and it is expected to play a part in employees returning to work. Organisations are now looking to HR solution providers for world-class technology services that will add value to their business by automating key components of their people processes and transforming their talent strategy.
Today, it is critical that all HR solution providers align themselves with this expectation. As employees return to work, effective scheduling solutions can help both companies and employees maintain work continuity.
Who returns to office:
We know that today several roles can be performed remotely. The question, however, is about productivity and the efficacy of the team. HR Teams can use several tools to conduct surveys and gather data on the sentiment among employees on returning to the office.
Pilot programs should be initiated to analyse and understand who needs to be in office and who can continue with a hybrid or remote role. AI-based tools can help evaluate the sentiment, readiness and expectations of employees from the post-pandemic workplace. This helps to create a staggered workplace schedule to accommodate various teams and continue to foster a healthy company culture. Analysis of such data can also provide insights for senior leadership on the kind of benefits and perks the teams expect on the return to the office.
Attendance systems, biometric scans etc. are a part of the norm in an office management system. However, given the strict health and safety norms, contactless systems that can track attendance, monitor temperature and share necessary alerts when required are crucial for a return to the office.
Communication models have undergone a rapid change in the past year and a half. Cisco, one of the leading voice communications platforms, recorded 324 million attendees in March 2021. Other platforms like Zoom, Slack etc. have also seen high growth in the past year. However, with some people now returning to offices, HR Teams have to align to hybrid work models and partially dispersed teams. Processes for quicker alignment, chatbots that can help serve reminders when required, address routine queries etc. are crucial to ensure seamless communication in the hybrid model as well.
Travel to office:
Travel is one of the biggest pain points in the return to office model. Employees who use cabs are concerned about the travel routes and hygiene. Personal transport has become the preferred mode of transport instead of shared mobility or public transport. For companies that offer transport facilities, it is crucial to reassure teams about the sanitisation and safety features of the cabs and buses. HR teams need to align closely with other teams to monitor any concerns and address them.
The pandemic has had an irreversible impact on today’s workplace. Going to work in the next months will undoubtedly be a completely different experience. Employee safety, privacy, and morale will all be top priorities. Smartphones will become the primary means of communication and connection for full-time and part-time employees.
While some changes may be transient, COVID-19 will have long-term ramifications in the workplace, even after the crisis has passed. Flexible work schedules, in which employees divide their time between working remotely and coming into the office, could become the norm.
As a result of improved cybersecurity and remote collaboration capabilities, it will be more fluid and secure. HR departments will use cutting-edge technology tools and services to keep the organisation connected, create a strong employee wellness environment, and provide a more efficient workplace, ultimately.