Tiding Over The Pandemic

Tiding Over The Pandemic

As organisations build their own mix of the blended workforce, they address and mitigate the current experience gaps that can be found within their employees.

In spite of our prayers at the dawn of the New Year, the COVID-19 Pandemic still looms upon us. This has left every other country and company across the globe grappling with the deadly second wave or surge. Fatalities are on the rise, and citizens are crying for immediate relief from the pandemic’s influence. Numerous companies have also begun to reel from its impact. While the first wave saw corporates move work inside the home without substantial disruptions, the second wave has left the workforce severely impacted.


All this has left the traditional model of a linear workforce with full-time employees under severe strain. When the frontline or their immediate families or dependents succumb to the pandemic, the Work From Home option is laced with acute stress. As the workforce slows down in terms of productivity and the deliverables are further pushed, the obvious questions are:–


What about the future of the workforce?


• How do corporates build a sustainable model which can absorb the impact of a pandemic?


Over the past few years, some corporates or greenhorns have been experimenting with a blended or hybrid workforce model. Certain factors such as costs, talent pool, future of work, digitisation etc. have influenced the evolution of this model. With the pandemic extending its shadow, the blended workforce model has seized the attention of several organisations across the globe.


Blended or Hybrid workforce model


A blended workforce combines a variety of employees on different contracts, including permanent staff, part-time workers, temporary workers, contractors and freelancers. Of late, the term has been extended by some firms to include bots and chatbots.


The below mentioned variants are being used to describe the blended workforce model:–


Remote: Entire workforce operating from home


Onsite and Remote: Workforce staggered with some operating from office and the others remote


Satellite: Workforce operating from offices at the same time across multiple sites, and possibly, time zones


The Lessons Learnt


The ongoing pandemic has taught several lessons to global corporates or firms. To begin with, the online marketplace has witnessed an expansion with an increase in the number of online customers. This has contributed to a significant uptick in sales in the B2B and B2C markets. This apart, professional services such as Management Consulting and Marketing Services are in high demand to streamline operations within companies. Many companies are now trying to move their services online to limit physical contact to the fullest. Furthermore, companies are exploring options such as the blended workforce model to manage this crisis and support employees to tide over their anxieties.


As businesses deliberate to adopt a more flexible approach for the workforce post the pandemic, Nationwide recently announced that it would allow 13,000 of its 18,000 employees in the UK to decide their place of work under its novel flexible working scheme. After a full year of exploring newer methods, outside of the traditional 9-to-5 office hours, the blended workforce model seems to be ticking all the boxes in the given situation. Also, the Bank of Montreal (BMO) found that their long-held beliefs on where work has to happen challenged, and anticipated 80% of employees to be a part of a blended office. By allowing employees to operate from home enables business continuity and provides a safe (and arguably more productive) place to work.


The operating nuances of the workforce has witnessed a shift after the onset of the pandemic. For instance, the new generation is more unlikely to join big corporates as they strive for greater independence. To quote a statistic, the percentage of active employees working as freelancers in the US will witness a rise from the existing 33% to 50% by 2027. Against an increasing backdrop of job losses, retrenchment, termination of contracts and layoffs, companies are bound to struggle to hire talent on full-time contracts. While only 5% of employees in the UK had any contractual agreement to work from home in Jan 2020, employees working remotely increased to 60% by March 2021. This development has busted a number of myths such as the need to be in the same place to build rapport, be productive, and safe-keeping of organisational data.


On the other hand, several companies have begun to overhaul their archaic processes and embrace digital tools to build resilience in their respective businesses. Within organisations, several tasks or processes such as operating helpdesks, processing claims, onboarding new employees, training etc. have moved online. Also, the pandemic has accelerated the need for flexible hours and output-based work versus hourly work, which has impacted the workplace and workforce management.


Recent studies undertaken by companies to understand the impact of the Work From Home model has seen the emergence of detrimental reasons like employee fatigue and depression. The pandemic’s second wave has resulted in many employees or their families contracting the virus and has thereby cast a shadow on remote work. Furthermore, the Employee Experience of being surrounded by colleagues, enjoying food in the cafeteria, working out in the gym, sports and cultural events etc. has suddenly disappeared. Though virtual team events, lunches, bonding sessions etc. have emerged on the horizon, the element and experience of collaboration in the workplace have largely been diluted.


The operating cadence in remote work has shifted the boundaries for the normal office hours into midnight leaving no time for members of the family and children. The other revelation was that the daylight hours are mostly utilised for time with the family or domestic chores and most of the official work was being done during early morning or late night hours. With lockdown or containment zones in place, the support model of daycare centres, crèches, domestic maids and child care support has come to a grinding halt. This has resulted in a long working day for the employees, thereby offsetting the engagement and employee experience. A recent development, which could be a kneejerk reaction, has seen a few companies moving work to other geographies which are less impacted by the second wave. Interestingly, companies have realised that a significant cost is associated with employees’ mental health, and hence, no longer remains to be an individual responsibility.


The next Succour


A recent analysis by Microsoft has indicated that a hybrid or blended workforce shall emerge as the new balm. Given the fact that employees are physically and mentally exhausted, it is apparent that companies will be forced to adopt a blended workforce. Jane Fraser, the Chief Executive of Citigroup announced that a majority of its workers would be designated as hybrid, with an expectation that they would work at least three days in the office. On the other hand, Ford, the leading automotive giant, stated that 30,000 of its North American office workers would be allowed to work under a flexible hybrid model in which they would be on-site for certain meetings or projects and stay home for independent work. “This is a new world, and you have to accept it as such,” said Greg Karol, the Chief Human Resources Officer of Lockheed Martin. “We were a company with only 3 percent full-time telecommuters a year ago. You move to this new phase, I don’t expect them to be experts.”


Back home, Indian tech giants like Tata Consultancy Services, Cognizant and others have made moves in terms of embracing a blended workforce. India’s software lobby, The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) believes that the impact of COVID-19 has fundamentally altered how companies look at employees and their workplaces. “In a natural environment, you would never have experimented at the scale. COVID-19 has forced you to do this for 90/95% of the workforce,” said Sangeeta Gupta, Chief Strategy Officer for NASSCOM. “Whether it will be 25% or whether a more gradual shift, a blended model of work from office will be a reality.”


Hence, a blended workforce is seen as a strategic advantage in the war for talent vis a’ vis the pandemic. As organisations build their own mix of the blended workforce, they address and mitigate the current experience gaps that can be found within their employees.


In terms of advantages, the following must be taken note of:–


• Enable better resource planning strategies that better optimise the right skillsets


• Help firms to form a strategic and tactical workforce as per their specific requirements


• Enable organisations to overcome constraints of an internal workforce model


 Add flexibility in terms of reducing risks of failure and restructuring costs


• Provide specific skills on the table which is a critical driver to build and sustain a competitive edge


Change Management


To embark on a blended workforce, corporates need to undertake a revision of their existing State of Work (SOW) and employee contracts. There is a need to demarcate separate cost centres to manage the blended workforce. Also, factors like complexity, programme maturity and available in-house resources are critical to designing the blended workforce plan. Other considerations for the same include benefits, wellbeing, workplace policies, leave policy, diversity, statutory guidelines including country regulations, performance management as well as perks and allowances. A good analytical model using historical data and leveraging the process landscape needs to be developed to build and allocate.


Human Resource Service Delivery teams need to revisit the multiple legacy HR systems and databases and integrate them into a cohesive system to upgrade the employee experience and effectively navigate the blended workforce. Bob Greene in his writeup, Managing and Communicating with a Blended Workforce, states, “Bottom line, as blended workforces become more and more diverse, it becomes more difficult to push a legacy set of standalone HR, payroll, talent management, and workforce management applications to meet evolving requirements.”


Technology is a key binding force to incubate the blended workforce model in a seamless manner. By 2029, the 5G-supported tech will have created an environment where AI can do about 90% of what any of our departments can do at the moment. The current technology makes it easy to collaborate, share work in progress and cocreate irrespective of whether one uses Microsoft Teams, WebEx or Workplace. Companies must look to emulate the technological knowhow which will enable the creation of superior employee experience in a blended workforce set-up. And breaking the silos is of utmost importance in order to achieve this. In a blended workforce model, it will be a beneficial practice to embed the discipline that everyone works in a consistent way whether they share an office or not.


For many employees working in private and the public sector, the Work From Home model has become the new normal. As the pandemic lingers on, multiple corporates and consulting firms across the globe as also the senior leaders and Human Resource teams are engrossed in devising an approach with regards to return to work. In doing so, and trying to reconfigure office spaces in order to explore the balance between social distancing measures and flexible hours, the blended workforce model appears to be the next succour.


Amarpreet Bhamra is a business process management professional with 20 years of work experience in organisations such as Ernst Young, AP Moller Maersk, Tech Mahindra Business Services, Synchrony Financial, TATA Business Support Servicesand GE Capital International Services. Amarpreet holds a double post graduate in Communications and English respectively. He has an Advanced Diploma in Financial Management from Indian School of Business Management and Administration.


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