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How Organisations Are Adapting To The ‘New Normal’ Through Effective Work From Home Policies

Posted: May 20, 2020

From revised policy schedules to meditation sessions to virtual lunches, employers are doing the best they can for consistent productivity and mental well being of employees. 

Coming from an HR background, I am not really unfamiliar with Work From Home (WFH) policies, as well as the pros & cons and the perceptions linked with it. But with COVID-19 running amok across the world, organizations have been compelled to first adopt and then embrace this concept. This got me thinking about the mindset shift of both employees and employers, and how the world, and especially India, adjusted to the “new normal.” 

As they say in press circles, ‘to cover any good story, you need to get your facts right’. And therefore, this piece is not just an opinion but a report that captures the real time scenario that companies & employees are grappling with.

“Change brings opportunity”, says Sanjay Sharma, Regional Manager of Indiabulls Pharmaceuticals, quoting an age-old adage. But it’s worth understanding if proverbs reflect the actual reality.

The Anxiety of the ‘new normal’

There’s no denying that these are troubled times, with the fear of layoffs and salary cuts looming over the horizon. The fact that face to face interactions have been so drastically curtailed adds to the anxiety quotient, and people look  to their organizations for guidance. We keep reading & hearing that the future of work will change, but until we know how that change presents itself, stress and anxiety are going to rule people’s minds. 

I feel that organizations that have anticipated this and have become early movers in trying to find solutions are going to be far better placed when the dust finally settles. This list includes both giants and the young guns in sectors like  FMCG, e-commerce, BFSI, ITES, Cab Services and retail , who have managed to stay ahead of the curve with their employee AND productivity friendly measures. This is because they have understood what makes their people tick far better than their peers. 

“We are trying to be as simple as we can during these times. We are connecting with the employees to understand how they are coping, how they are keeping track of their physical and mental health and so on. Conversations are light and non pushy”, says Sanket Lad, Chief Manager, ECI Telecom. 

Shilpee Prasad, HR Manager at a Food & Beverage firm says, “In uncertain times, employees are anxious about their future. Many of them have never worked from home before and are used to the social construct of the office. As people in HR, it becomes our responsibility to handhold them and create uniform policies to ensure cohesiveness of thought among teams and a consistent level of productivity, if not higher.”

The key takeaway here is that Prasad understands that (a) this is new for employees and (b) they need help and guidance. 

If an organization gets this piece of wisdom right, the rest will mostly fall into place.

The Truly Effective Work From Home Policies 

It is important to understand that any policy works well only when the basics are taken care of. So the first points have to include modalities that permit seamless work-flow to the extent possible. For most organizations, these would be:

  1. Access to laptops/VPN and/or any other device/equipment required to carry out the defined work
  2. Access to collaboration and meeting tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom etc.
  3. Access to messaging apps like Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype etc.

With technical specifications in place, chances of policy compliance are always higher. A policy is traditionally defined as an agreement between an employer and an employee that defines the expectations and responsibilities for employees, which in this case, relates to the Do’s & Don’ts of WFH. Clearly defined expectations will facilitate more productive work and drive a feeling of ownership & contribution towards workplace.

Quoting Kusum Jha, HR Head, Sandwine, a tech-start-up, “Many of our projects need collaborative working and are deadline driven. We employ a mix of productivity and collaboration based apps and the ownership lies with the project manager to ensure that everyone logs in on time and is available for important discussions.”

What do the WFH policies across organisations look like?

The basis of the WFH policies is dependant on the employee mix of the organisation. If the organisation has a remote working team or a sales team, then companies have created specific polices and guidelines for them in the form of SOPs while those who are office employees have a different set of guidelines.

One common practice that has emerged is creation of specific work groups which are independent units of their own. Customised business continuity plans and reporting mechanisms are being provided to them. More than just work, it is also a time when empathy will matter the most.  Besides the fear of the unknown, the other important fear faced by many is one of being unproductive and the consequences that might have both from an employment perspective as well as a psychological impact of diminishing self-worth. If you are a manager, engage your team in a continuous discussion to check on their mental well being.

Another simple yet important point is to define work hours for your team. Sanket Lad, Chief Manager, ECI Telecom says, “We ensure that we are not pushing our colleagues to be in front of the laptop for the whole day, like no calls or meetings before 9:30 am and after 6:30 pm.”  Rather than being too rigid with your team, it is worthwhile to allow them the flexibility to work a certain number of productive hours. This concept allows global teams to function seamlessly as well.

“Defining work hours takes the pressure off the employees to be online at all times. This not only provides support but also improves productivity and accountability”, says Gaurav Chopra, HR Transformation Manager, APAC, Allianz and manages teams based out of different countries.

In this age of digital overburden, I find it overwhelming to have information bombarded from all groups. Keeping work groups specific to work related conversation is a good way to maintain the decorum of work and keep the communication relevant.

Creating informal forums for casual banter and informal communication works great for teams too. We, at Women’s Web, had an informal virtual tea session where there were no planned games or sessions but just candid conversation about how we are coping with the change. This brings about an engagement of a different level where there are no performance expectations because structures activities for fun are not bereft of this expectation.

In the end, it is safe to conclude that all employees look upon their organizations for guidance. The companies that have met this challenge head-on & provided workable solutions stand to gain the most in the post COVID world, both in terms of earning their people’s trust as well as zooming significantly ahead of the curve.

Image via iStock

Ruchi Verma Rajan is a woman on a mission of self-discovery. An avid reader

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