An opportunity to unlearn, relearn, test capabilities and value systems: Perspectives on remote working

Remote working has become the new normal overnight, bringing with it a new set of challenges for employees and companies alike. At the ‘Future of Work’ webinar, hosted by YourStory and powered by Cisco Webex on 8th April, industry leaders across verticals and functions came together to share thei

India announced its nation-wide lockdown on 24th March in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. And, with that announcement, remote working became the way of life for a lot of companies in India. In addition, organisations also had to completely change the way they carried out their daily operations to avoid major disruptions.

To understand the implications of these changes and what the future holds for organisations and employees, YourStory hosted the ‘Future of Work’ webinar, powered by Cisco Webex on 8th April.

Moderated by Shraddha Sharma, Founder and CEO of YourStory Media, the webinar saw the participation of TN Hari HR Head of Bigbasket; Sudeep Ralhan, HR Head of Walmart Labs; Pankaj Agarwal, Sales Director for Collaboration Business at Cisco, India and South Asia; and Rituparna Chakraborty, Co-Founder- EVP at TeamLease.

‘A time to learn, unlearn, test capabilities and values ’

Hari began the webinar by giving a glimpse of what BigBasket, one of India’s largest online grocery marketplace, had been experiencing on ground. “Today, in some ways,  the country is seeing us as a lifeline. We are seeing a massive spike in orders. But, we are also seeing a shortfall of manpower. While there is some amount of struggle and hustle, we are also innovating at a rapid pace. Things that once took months, are now being carried out in a matter of days,” he shared.

Sharing what the biggest priority was for Walmart Labs, the technology arm of Walmart, was Sudeep. “Our focus has been to ensure that technology supports businesses in the best way that they can. We continue to focus on customers and ensuring the right connectivity and that the company’s data quality and data accuracy is working well.” he said.“It is very challenging. But also an amazing opportunity to unlearn, relearn and test our capabilities and value systems,” added Sudeep.

Pankaj added that Cisco was in a unique position to help in these difficult times. “There are healthcare workers and governments that need support. The need of the hour is to enable doctors to support the maximum number of people even with the travel and geographic restrictions. There is also a need to enable hospitals to better coordinate their efforts even when there are new developments by the minute.”

To that end, he said that Cisco has beens setting up war rooms with interactive video devices on a pro bono basis that have helped with efficiency and address these requirements. 

The Future of Work

Responding to a question on how the future of work will look like, Hari said that while the nature of work has been continuously evolving, there is a possibility that companies will now seriously consider offering the Work From home option for its employees.

Pointing out that the $200 billion IT industry in India has been created by working remotely, he said,“We will now have to take those lessons of working efficiently, without the necessary interaction of large teams, to domestic companies.” Hari also shared his observation on how the lockdown has made a lot more people open to working from home and that companies are going to try and make working from home a more efficient exercise.

Rituparna highlighted that the current situation has reignited the debate on formalising the informal sector and has brought to the fore the reality of those who rely on being outbound for employment in a country like India.

“84 percent of India’s workforce is employed through informal means. They are mostly self-employed and their mechanism for employment generally involves them being outside of their homes.  The lockdown has exposed this divide,” she shared.

Rituparna added that everybody will unilaterally adopt digital workplace tools in the economy whether they are part of the traditional economy or the new-age economy and that going forward, the future of work might see the adoption of  Work From Home as a way of life.

“The future of work is literally now. Most organisations across industries are undergoing a digital transformation,” shared Sudeep.  He added that while the work-from-home dynamic is just one part of the equation, ensuring that the employees are able to adopt these new practices while the basics are being taken care of would be a big test to the HR community.

Pankaj was optimistic that the future of work could see more opportunities for remote working being offered by organisations.“The time that we save in travelling. The increase in employee motivation that it brings about. Organisations will look at these aspects realistically and decide whether they want to incorporate some amount of remote working,”

Pankaj also said it is possible to give employees a sense of engagement by driving a video first culture, and that Cisco has enabled 1,000 organisations for remote working. Further, he also explained the potential of collaborative tools that drive remote working. Sharing a recent example, he said, “The Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Health Sciences trained 25,000 COVID health workers in one day using Webex all over the country and it is going to continue.” 

Battling the challenges of working from home

On asking to share their experiences on carrying out remote working in their respective organisations, Hari noted that those teams that were working effectively before the remote working was initiated, continued to do so after Work From Home began

“Bad management gets amplified when working remotely. It is for this reason that Management 101 is more important than the tools available at the workplace,” said Hari.

Rituparna said that from an infrastructure perspective, the team wasn't prepared when the lockdown was announced, but they mobilised and got the wheels rolling soon after. However, she pointed out that the first task the organisation acted upon was to provide support to their employees. 

“In these conditions, our minds were aligned towards ensuring continuity. People were willing to compromise amid the disruption,” she said. 

Rituparna added that working from home meant there is not much happening to keep people energised. “So we carry out half an hour bursts of meetings so that people do not switch off. It is very important for people to be mentally and physically agile, and we encourage people to allot some personal time for themselves to that end,” she said.

Sudeep said that the transition at Walmart Labs was not very jarring due to the tech workforce working across multiple time zones and businesses. 

“Our first action was to provide immediate support. We ensured that the medical reimbursement could be done virtually and introduced doctors and counselors on call.”

Sudeep added that communication has never been more important in these times. “We have had manager-level meetings on a regular basis. We even had informal AMAs, and sent anecdotes through weekly mailers to keep the morale going.” 

Making ‘Work From Home’ work

The webinar ended with each of the panelists sharing one key takeaway for organisations and its leaders on how to carry out remote working efficiently. “Stay in touch while working remotely the way you stayed in touch in person. Learn management 101 and build trust quickly. Keep everyone updated on what is doing and what is happening,” said Hari.

“Communication and transparency in decision making will go a long way in ensuring the willingness of employees to share the pain,” said Rituparna. She also said that for employees, this is the right time to invoke one’s learnability by adding to one's skill set. 

Sudeep said, “In times like these, we must always question ourselves as to whether we are reacting or responding to an event. Nevermore than before that proving one’s agility and flexibility has been of vital importance. This is the time to build it.” 

Pankaj reiterated the need for leaders to be more humane.. “ This could even mean revising expectations, and reaching out to people beyond work and see if they can be helped in any way possible.”