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MANAGING HYBRID WORKPLACES AS THE NEW NORMAL

MANAGING

Organizations are creating hybrid workplaces with a human approach and experimenting new approaches in flexibility, collaboration and productivity

Hybrid workplaces are here to stay. That’s the new normal, so says the numerous executive surveys, industry reports and every panel discussion. Having worked through the pandemic remotely from home, organizations are now faced with the issue of drawing employees back to the workplace. As new variants of the virus disrupt the efforts intermittently, the business world is serious considering to allow employees the flexibility to work remotely.


“We have to understand that dimensions have changed whether it is the location of people or the productivity. People can work from anywhere – it is the new reality.”

Vikas Gupta, CIO, H-Energy


Employees too are wary of returning to office five days a week and think that working from home some days a week enhances productivity and enables a good work-life balance. The pandemic broke through technology and cultural barriers of allowing employees to work remotely and coupled with prevailing employee sentiments the business world is witnessing a structural shift in coping with the new realities where hybrid work environment is a practical need.

The Gartner report Redesigning Work for a Hybrid Future warns that if organizations insist on a return to fully onsite work, they risk losing talent with 39% of knowledge workers in the Gartner survey indicating they could leave if the employers insisted on a ‘hard return’ to fully on-site work. The report observed that the global pandemic was the biggest experiment in the history of work as 65% of employees say the pandemic has made them rethink the place that work should have in their lives.


“We have to find a way to map the synchronous and asynchronous work and find a balance. And this between the two modes is absolutely essential to maximize productivity and innovation.”

Amitabh Mishra, CIO & Analytics Executive, Novartis, USA


A McKinsey survey finds that business leaders are paying heed to these employee sentiments and are permitting hybrid work places. Nine out of ten organizations have indicated that they will be combining remote and on-site working and that customer satisfaction and productivity have increased during the pandemic.

Not all roles and activities can be performed remote. For instance, healthcare workers such as nursing and diagnostics requiring medical equipment up must be at the hospital to deliver care. Just as workers in retail and supply must come to the workplace. Remote work is primarily applicable for highly skilled and highly educated workers in some industries only such as professional services. And the ability to work remotely is directly proportional to the physical, spatial and interpersonal context of the functions and role of the person involved.

Our panel of experts comprising leaders and practitioners from the industry confirm that the hybrid workplace is here to stay.

Says Amitabh Mishra, CIO & Analytics Executive, Novartis, USA, “The new reality is that remote and hybrid work is here to stay. It is hard to image all people will come to office whatever the compulsions may be, whether it is productivity, change in mindset.”

Vikas Gupta, CIO, H-Energy agrees that hybrid workplace will be a norm going forward, “We have to understand that dimensions have changed whether it is the location of people or the productivity. People can work from anywhere – it is the new reality.”

Subhamoy Chakraborti, CIO, ABP, a leading media organization says that as businesses re-open to resume operations there is a change in employee reactions from initial euphoria to sentiments leaning towards a combination. “Reactions of employees were initially euphoric and then it started going down and now employees want to work partly remotely. Now this new structure where some employees will be home, some at the workplace and some people come to office intermittently is what Gartner calls the distributed enterprise where employees are dispersed, yet are collaborating in some form to keep operations moving and deliver services.”


“We spent a lot on cyber security, where it is end-point security, securing the perimeter and monitoring workloads, security was a key investment in enabling our remote workforce.”

Vijay Anand, Vice President Global IT and IS, Visionary RCM Infotech


Rolling out a Hybrid Workplace

Returning to the workplace as the pandemic ebbs requires adjustment regarding workplace assumptions. But it must start with an acknowledgement of the new reality that the workplace is going to be a hybrid environment to create a conducive environment and facilitate productivity. 

Says Jayaprakash Chinnamuthu, Director, Customer Experience, Crestron India, “Collaboration platforms and tools were in use before Covid also but the pandemic accelerated the adoption. Prior to Covid we used these tools from within the office premises but Covid made us use these from our homes and connect via applications that were hosted in the Cloud. As people return to work, the challenge is to deliver a standardized environment to all employees as some are returning to the workplace and some people are still working from home. Once they come to office, they are expected to adhere to standard protocols such as using the meeting room and video conferencing facility while they have already become used to log in from the personal devices and so it is not the same experience for them anymore. While others who are logging from home may not have a similar experience in terms of connectivity, access to resources and the ambience. So how do we bridge the experience and deliver a standardized experience.”


“Initially as offices resumed operations reactions of employees were euphoric and then it started going down and now employees want to work partly remotely, so essentially we now have a distributed enterprise.”

Subhamoy Chakraborti, CIO, ABP Ltd


Challenges also relate to enhancing the security of the workplace—both digital and physical. Thanks to the pandemic, hygiene and health safety protocols have become critical and therefore closer monitoring of employees is called for. Dr Makarand Sawant, Senior General Manager IT, Deepak Fertilizers and Petrochemicals Corp says, “Pandemic has created new workplace challenges to ensure employee health and safety and we are using technology to ensure our employee maintain safe social distancing and wearing masks at all times. We have deployed monitors and video analysis to ensure all workers on the factor floor and in office premises are following protocols. We are also imparting training to create awareness about the new realities and exploring long term technology solutions to ensure good health while also improving employee productivity with transparency and equipping them with more technology capabilities.”

Adds Jaiprakash, “The transition from home to work place is not easy but there are lot of tools and features that platform providers including Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft are rolling out. For example, Microsoft came out with 300 features last year to facilitate the hybrid workplace, so it’s a continuous evolution and we are all learning with the new reality.”

Creating a hybrid workplace is a new experience for all companies and things are still evolving, so businesses must be open to experimentations, iterations and improve things as the new workplace emerges. Gartner recommends a human centric approach while embracing a hybrid workplace to ensure a win-win for employees and organizations. This entails a degree of flexibility and empathy to empower employees and increase their productivity and engagement. Empowering employees will make organizations more responsive to customer demands, productive and resilient to disruptions.  

This message is not lost on Indian organizations which have demonstrated a significant degree of flexibility in offering employees a hybrid workplace. For instance, Deepak Fertilizers and Petrochemicals Corp gives employees the choice of location and as well as a hybrid option. Just as Novartis following its global practice allows employees to choose the days they want to come to office. The Indian IT industry has been following much of these practices even before pandemic.


“Pandemic has created new workplace challenges to ensure employee health and safety. We are also improving employee productivity with more technology capabilities.”

Dr Makarand Sawant, Senior General Manager IT, Deepak Fertilizers and Petrochemicals 


Overcoming Enterprise Security 

Enterprise security new challenges with the onset of Covid pandemic and now in a hybrid work environment, ensuring enterprise security continues to be challenge. As traditional methods of securing the perimeter with firewalls and antivirus vanished as environments became fuzzy, organizations are adopting new approaches and technology solutions to ensure the enterprise is secure. This includes the zero-trust approach where the assumption is that every attempt to access is deemed to be intrusion and a security incident unless it is authenticated.

Says Vijay Anand, Vice President Global IT and IS, Visionary RCM Infotech, a CorroHealth company, “We spent a lot on cyber security, where it is end-point security, securing the perimeter and monitoring workloads, security was a key investment in enabling our remote workforce.”

Adds Subhamoy Chakraborti, CIO, ABP, “Secure access via VPN has become paramount importance as opposed to earlier where this was not a priority at all. Each access point is a potential threat and can be a trojan horse, so security is a key concern in enterprise access.”

Organizations must put in place a solid security framework to combat cyber threats which has been a top security concern. The framework must has a comprehensive risk management approach which identifies the threat vectors and must have mechanisms to proactively monitor and protect the environment. Access must be denied by default unless authenticated and every layer of the access must be secure by design.

Says Vijay Anand of CorroHealth,“A framework is a necessary first step to design a secure enterprise. Once the framework in place, risk mitigation strategies can be designed to protect access by enabling role and identity-based identity access, continuous monitoring tools that can detect unauthorized access and raise alerts in case intrusion is detected while also taking auto-remediation measures to deny unauthorized access.”

Redefining a Hybrid Workplace

As the workplace shifts between home and office, business leaders and managers must undergo a cultural shift to empowering employees on the principle of trust. There is a tendency to doubt employee productivity when they work remotely, yet surveys have affirmed an increase rise in individual and team productivity during remote work. The Gartner report finds that radical flexibility drives high employee performance wherein productivity metrics is not monitored but performance is measured by outcomes.

To usher in a hybrid workplace, performance must shift from being activity based to measuring work outcomes. Goal setting must be cadenced, agile and backed by a dynamic assessment methodology wherein goals are aligned with common objectives and employees must be empowered to drive actions that are aligned to the organizational goals.

Speaking about the global practices at Novartis, Amitabh Mishra, CIO & Analytics Executive, at Novartis, USA, says that there is a need to balance the synchronous and asynchronous work of employees. Synchronous work is defined as that which is done by employees together at a same time, usually in an office environment. But pandemic-induced virtual workplace forced people to modify how, where, and when they work. “We have to find a way to map the synchronous and asynchronous work and find a balance. Gather says innovation gets a boost when working in a synchronous mode, when people are sharing ideas and collaborating in a physical environment. Gartner also mentions that asynchronous working and thinking is a crucial component in innovative thinking, a balance between the two modes is absolutely essential to maximize productivity.”

During the pandemic as organizational leaders were striving to find that balance, many experienced meeting fatigues. Many organizations responded by restricting virtual meetings on a need basis. At Novartis this practiced was pushed from the top and leaders and managers became role models to demonstrate use cases where virtual meetings can be minimized and where it can be employed as an essential tool to boost productivity.

Subhamoy Chakraborti, CIO, ABP Pvt Ltd says that the time has come for IT and HR to work in close collaboration to redefine the needs of the workplace. For instance, there is an urgent need to redefine workplace productivity taking into account the hybrid environment wherein work is location-agnostic and therefore measures must be outcome based. IT must be a facilitator in helping employees achieve those outcomes with tools and enabling a secure and virtual environment. At the same time, with increased automation taking over many processes, HR and IT need to work closely to take into account the productivity contributions of humans and as well machines which together deliver outcomes.


“The transition from home to work place is not easy platform providers are rolling out lot of new tools and features. It’s a continuous evolution and we are all learning with the new reality.”

Jayaprakash Chinnamuthu, Director, Customer Experience, Crestron India


Working Towards a Hybrid Future

Going back to the old routine of a full-time office environment is unlikely to happen in most organizations. Office space is no longer restricted to the physical space and leadership must accept a hybrid working environment to design new strategies and equip employees with the best technologies to facilitate location-agnostic performance outcomes.

New approaches must be underscored with empathy and understanding to build a futuristic work culture. Employee expectations have changed radically and leading organizations are not only recognizing the “everywhere enterprise” as a new reality but actively hold it as a vision to attract the best and diverse talent base while equipping employees to enhance productivity.


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