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A COVID Response: Re-skilling is critical!

Anubhav Kapoor,
PM - Content Division

As a digital-only company, we have always been ready to embrace changes and disruptions too. However, things changed a bit too drastically, and too suddenly, when the pandemic hit us. It was during the first week of January 2020 when we felt the tremors of the chaos that was about to follow. Like many industry experts and key decision-makers, we had started preparing since the crisis was unfolding at a global scale but, somewhere deep down, we were hoping that perhaps, it won’t affect us as much. Needless to say that like every other organization, we too weren’t spared.

By the last week of February, the possibility of turning our entire regular workforce into an army of remote workers had turned serious. By the first week of March, with a work-from-home management plan in place, our teams set-up a working space in their homes. Every week since then has been a period of learning, adjusting and evolving. The one, unexpected outcome during the last few months has been the need to groom a new type of skill—an entirely new ‘working’ mindset. This discussion is about our short journey towards this realization and how, we are quickly adapting to it.

Taking a step back to provide more context…

Waking-up at 7 am, managing 40 minutes on the treadmill, borrowing a few minutes to walk the family dog, and ensuring that the car for daily commute leaves its designated parking spot by 9.30 am. This is perhaps a poorly shared example of what a regular working day meant for many of our employees and for others out there. A schedule, no matter how demanding or unnerving, is critical for many. It is something that shapes human lives. It provides an infrastructure that keeps people gainfully employed, far away from addictions or a wandering mind, connected to an ecosystem that gives them a job that promises to pay the bills. For most, a daily schedule helps to keep the world sane! Thanks to the pandemic, everyday lives were thrown out of gear!

The emerging (ab)normal

Contrary to what is being published, working from home is not the new normal. It can be an ongoing struggle for many. Things will take a lot more time to the way they were before 2020 struck us. The relationship between employees and their employers is undergoing a transformation without a clearly defined goal. Employees need guidance because rapidly evolving workplaces are undergoing innovation, digitization, and automation. However, what is equally important is inculcating a new working mindset.

We started listening, really hard…

Run a Google search about new HR experiences as a part of organizational pandemic management and you will surely read about caring for employees and ensuring, they don’t feel disconnected. While our HR was doing something similar, they did something different too—listening, a lot more than before, listening without making any judgment and listening, realizing that this was the only way to understand the psychological challenges people were dealing with. The one, big common across many employee feedbacks was the struggle to create a new, life-from-home schedule and even more difficult was to stick to it. The result was disruptions in communication, often leading to arguments within teams that were traditionally known for bonding well and looking-out for each other. While working deadlines were being met, real-time project tracking and getting the maximum productivity was getting increasingly challenging.

Looking at a new disruption, we started preparing

Our management and senior managers got together via a series of virtual meetings. The agenda was clear—employee well-being, engagement, effectiveness, and recognition was staring at a unique challenge. Many of our employees, including some of the best resources working on key projects, were losing-out to restoring the work-life balance. Without the physical demarcation between a workplace and home, their private lives and working patterns were running into conflicts. As a digitally progressive organization, re-skilling for better outcomes with remotely located teams was perhaps easier for us as compared to some other companies. For us, the bigger challenge was helping some of our employees develop a new skill—working virtually with regular work-like expectations.

Helping our teammates RESET their work-life

We are in the middle of this employee re-skilling exercise. HR teams are working closely with managers and team leaders to groom new working values. We emphasize on:

ACCEPTANCE - Remote working is here to stay

Some people have been going through a type of cyclical frustration. It often begins when there is a sudden build-up of optimism in the media that the typical, normal life is about to be restored. A new drug or vaccine seems just a few weeks away. This is quickly followed by denials and myth-busting that leads to disappointment. We have been working with our employees to accept that the post-COVID era too might carry restrictions that did not exist earlier. The absolute eradication of the pandemic will take time and there is no immediate cure. There is every chance of remote working continuing in some way rather than being entirely abandoned. This acceptance is vital. It helps to process the thought that you cannot escape the situation and have to find a better cope-up mechanism. For employees vulnerable to making knee-jerk decisions, this is also helping them acquire patience and adaptability—skills which should help them as they climb the career ladder.

OPENNESS - Your wellbeing is even more important

Thanks to business owners who look upon us as collaborating digital teams, we have largely avoided the employment scare that the pandemic created. Still, when our teams started settling into their WFH lives and there were apprehensions about continuity in many projects, a sense of apprehension seeped into many people. It meant they became resistant towards sharing anything that could hint at finding it difficult to manage a WFH schedule.

We have been working dedicatedly towards restoring the openness in communication with the goal of making it more liberal than ever before. People are being encouraged to take a break when they feel that family interactions and household duties have drained their energy. Every team now has a Skype group where people are encouraged to share their everyday stories about finding the time to workout at home, jog during odd hours to avoid a crowd, or finding new ways of virtual dating.

Essentially, the message is that pandemic work situation puts-up more challenges to your physical and mental wellness and we understand this. Sharing and talking about it often helps to find a solution. Even sharing snapshots of the most recent gardening conquests is good!

ARCHITECTING - Recreating a regular working day

Our focus has been to bring together the perfect ingredients that can create a simulated working place that is largely similar to working from the office. As a result, our working days now begin with a quick virtual huddle. Our working day now does not assume that people are at home and hence, highly available. Instead, we are recreating a schedule with regular shift timings, a break for lunch, discussions about doing overtime, and providing relaxations to people celebrating a birthday or the addition of a new member in the family. Extending a client call or team meeting beyond the stipulated working hours is back to being set-up more carefully, being sensitive to a person’s availability. This is an effort to restore the feeling of a regular day at the office. The feedback for these initiatives has been encouraging. Many employees feel this is helping them practice more self-discipline and develop remote-working skills. The latter is critical as digital workplaces get more decentralized.

DIY - More inclusion for more cohesion

While working-from-home has led most people to believe that employees need maximum supervision and scrutiny, our approach has been about self-empowerment. We believe that during the ongoing crisis, employees need more purpose sustain productivity, and by contributing more, they are more likely to remain more focused.

At the office, the stare of a manager, a reminder meeting with the quality team, or the sheer presence of colleagues is often enough to ensure people perform. In the WFH scenario, employees can be kept more productive by involving them beyond defined roles. By distributing duties beyond the usual hierarchy and without compromising control, this has helped. Team management chores, like scheduling training sessions or planning around upcoming leaves, are being done by relatively junior resources. As a result, team members who were early preoccupied with their monthly production goals are now feeling more connected, invariably less prone to feeling alienated. Invariably, they are imbibing skills that will be handy for senior roles, working with more responsibility and less guidance.

Concluding Thoughts

The COVID impact has been too unsettling for most organizations. Luckily, our workplace has largely avoided the crossroads scenario. We are working beyond defined KPI responsibilities to retain our talent without waiting for the situation to stabilize. In many ways, the COVID crisis might be helping us recreate our working space for thriving, and not surviving, as the future of work takes a shape not many people can see right now. This will necessitate new mindsets and we believe, introspection is the first step…there will never be a better time to be brutally honest as an organization.