The traditional boundaries between full-time employment and freelancing will blur: Krish Shankar

The traditional boundaries between full-time employment and freelancing will blur: Krish Shankar

Undoubtedly, HR leaders are continually being challenged to reimagine people strategies and take bold steps in driving their organisations forward, as disruptions come from all angles and many proven paradigms are no longer applicable.


In this exclusive interview, Krish Shankar, Executive Vice President and Group Head - HR, Infosys, talks about how the organisation has set into action a series of plans to stay ahead of the curve during these extraordinary times, and how it stays grounded on its human aspects while making the most of technology tools.


Krish gives an equally exciting take on the evolving role of a CHRO, the areas where HR needs to be more courageous, and the changes he foresees in the talent landscape.

With more than 2.4 lakh employees globally, how did Infosys pivot to working remotely en masse in such a short time? Also, how have you been building a productive and engaging culture for a dispersed workforce?


This pandemic has been an unprecedented event for the entire world. However, at Infosys, we acted early, executed our business continuity plans, and enabled a large part of our workforce to operate remotely.


We successfully enabled 93% of our employees to work remotely within a week through actions like transporting desktops to residences, deploying wireless broadband, and providing for backup power, as well as scaling up our network access and security infrastructure. This was possible by leveraging collaboration technologies for working as well as for staying connected with clients and colleagues.


Right at the start of the transition, we took many steps to mitigate the challenges of maintaining a remote workforce. We handled the two main concerns of connectivity and power by providing Wi-Fi dongles and UPS units to the employees who were facing issues in connectivity. In order to address the high percentage of people working from home, we upgraded our networks.


So far, the feedback from the employees has been positive. We have not seen any loss in productivity as people have got used to it. The feedback from our clients on the speed and agility with which we demonstrated resilience has been encouraging.


To help employees be more resilient during these unprecedented times, we have tweaked the courses on remote team management with specific modules and have also launched courses on stress management, among many others, to enable them to get the best out of the situation.


Recent data from LinkedIn reveals that employees are investing 130 percent more time on reskilling and upskilling themselves since the COVID-19 outbreak. Is a spike in employee learning being witnessed at Infosys? How did your team bring rapid digital innovations to support remote employee learning?


Continuous learning is the foundation on which Infosys has been built, and our focused investment in building digital learning platforms and nurturing the ecosystem has proved to be very handy in empowering our employees to upskill themselves and also in enabling the incoming talent to be onboarded effectively and get ready for their roles in the company.


We have two exceptionally useful platforms — a next-generation employee collaboration and services platform, InfyMe, and a digital learning platform, Lex. These have a modular, mobile-first design and are rapidly scalable and accessible anytime, anywhere. They suggest appropriate learning paths based on employees’ skills.


Our employees have been extensively leveraging Lex to upskill themselves and continue their reskilling journey even during the lockdown.


Over 75,000 employees have used Lex in Q1FY21, averaging 40 minutes of learning during weekdays and over 50 minutes on weekends. Lex now has over 216,500 users. About 94,000 employees completed one or more training programmes in Q1FY21, and their average learning time was 6.2 days.


The number of people who obtained new skill certifications also doubled during the last quarter.


Our investment in InfyTQ, which is our next-gen learning and engagement platform for college students, has helped us engage and remotely train 1,000+ future hires by leveraging this platform and internal apps for engagement. This has ensured that they are continuously engaged in skilling themselves.


What are vital points that function as an imperative as Infosys moves on to gradually reopen its offices? What are your top business and talent priorities for the coming months?


As we gradually repopulate our workspaces after the lockdown, we are incorporating the lessons learnt during this period to meet present needs and reimagine our future workspaces. Our view is that offices will become far more customisable, based on demand and usage.


Greater flexibility will be incorporated into the design to accommodate a larger proportion of the remote workforce. We will use technology to populate available workspaces, to track usage, and to adjust individual preferences. It is something akin to having a base workplace model that can be customised based on usage and reconfigured as needed. Flexibility and speed will be important. Also, health and wellness will become prominent design considerations.


The coronavirus pandemic will have some long-term effects on the way each one of us readapts to working in an office. So, the office will have to be more purposeful to accommodate the specific needs of employees who are operating in a hybrid environment as well as meet the needs of people who would need to be present more regularly.

We have put together a framework that will reduce risk to employees considerably. This includes a protocol that has a hierarchy of controls – personal protection, perimeter checks, dedensifying workspaces, healthy buildings, and remote work options. We have focused on key parameters like air quality, humidity, temperature, furniture, collaboration spaces, etc.


To provide a safe work environment for our employees and partners, below are some of the actions we have taken:


♦ Implemented zoning of our campuses to restrict employee movement


♦ Increased cadence of sanitisation of our office facilities and transport vehicles


♦ Installed temperature checks at bus boarding and campus entry points.


♦ Provided sanitisers at employee access areas like buses, gates, building reception, ECC, etc.


♦ Ensured sanitisation of all transport vehicles (buses/cabs) before and after every trip


♦ Made masks, hygiene products, medicines, and medical facilities available at our offices


♦ Ensured closure of all recreation facilities at our campuses


♦ Restricted entry to campus based on prior approval and self-declaration of health status


♦ Ensured social distancing always – Seats demarcated in working areas, employees to use alternate cubicles


♦ Closed conference rooms and training rooms and encouraged employees to continue using virtual modes of collaboration


♦ Ensured that a 24/7 Medical Centre is operational and accessible to all employees


♦ Ensured that commonly touched surfaces are disinfected on an hourly basis


♦ Ensured that fumigation of the entire campus is done on a daily/weekly basis as required


♦ Ensured that food courts and associated areas are sanitised regularly


♦ Established processes for reporting, quarantining and supporting any person suspected of or confirmed as having tested positive for the disease


♦ Issued travel advisories to our employees and partners in line with government regulations and restricted their participation in events that have large gatherings.


♦ Made arrangements to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees who have travelled for business to locations outside their home country and are currently restricted from travelling back. We ensured travel back to India through Vande Bharat flights as well as on our own chartered flights


Our priorities in the short term are to focus on the wellbeing of our employees, skilling and deployment of talent where needed, and delivering to our client commitments. In the longer term, we would look at what we can learn from this pandemic and how we can move to a hybrid remote work environment.


How do you see the crisis and its impact on the IT sector in particular?


The IT sector can be divided into four broad buckets of companies. There are product companies, IT services companies, ITES or BPO organisations, and the captives of large organisations.


The pandemic affects them differently depending on how much their business model is based on the physical presence of employees.


However, overall, the sector has been used to remote working, and they have quickly transitioned into this probably more smoothly than other industries. There are also opportunities — we could see more digitisation, more opportunities to expand the talent pool, more seamless integration of onsite and offshore work, and more flexibility for employees.


The breadth, depth, and scale of the novel challenges being experienced by HR leaders are indeed astounding. According to you, how is COVID-19 changing the role of a CHRO?


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated many of the changes in the workplace and workforce that were expected to happen over a longer time frame as a part of the natural evolution toward models of the future. For instance, the widespread adoption of “work from home” has renewed emphasis on evolving work policies to support the existing workforce to cope with working from remotely distributed home offices.


To keep pace with these shifts, HR leaders need to upgrade themselves and quickly align with the skills and traits we envisioned “HR Leaders of the Future” to embody.


In a recent survey by the NHRD on “The HR Function in India in 2030 and The Future CHRO” that I contributed to, we identified six broad shifts that HR leaders need to make, the core one being human-centred, to be successful in the next decade, which, due to the current situation, is a more immediate necessity.


The changing roles and skill requirements for CHROs are:


i. Strengthen the Core of Business Acumen: A deeper understanding of the drivers of business strategy will be essential


ii. Leverage Expanded Domain Boundaries: HR is expected to become less siloed, as integrating neuroscience to the existing body of behavioural sciences, behavioural economics, elements of consumer behaviour/marketing etc. will be critical to the increasing role of HR as an influencer across the business.


iii.Architecting the Culture Takes Centre Stage: Having an inclusive culture that enables employees to meet their purpose and feel included will become a business priority. Moreover, elements of culture that will differentiate a business (for instance, building a culture of continuous learning) will be critical deliverables from HR.


iv. Being a Transformation Catalyst: Businesses will need to change course rapidly and ramp up new capabilities with speed. Leading change and transformation will be a big ask, and HR leaders need to come up with mechanisms to enable transformations faster and smoother.


v. Building Technology and Analytics Mastery: A deeper appreciation of new technology, AI, and its impact on work and on how it can be leveraged for people decisions will be critical for a successful CHRO. In addition, they also need to develop mastery over data analytics and its use in decision-making.


vi. Being Authentic and Human-Centred: At the heart of everything is the need to bring a greater human focus into our organisational processes and decisions, which will become even more critical given the steady march of technology and automation. People will look for more humancentric organisations. HR needs to lead this agenda, and who better than the CHRO to be a role model of authenticity and human centredness?


How do you see employee rewards and benefits changing in a post-COVID-19 world?


According to an NHRD survey, employment relations have already witnessed a transition from the formal contract (job security, collective bargaining, and pay equity) to the psychological contract (employability, engagement, and rewarding human capital).


The next phase, with an intensified emergence of the gig economy, is likely to see a shift from the psychological contract to the entrepreneurial contract (risk-sharing, curation, return on investment/value creation, and appropriation dynamics).


As we move partly towards an entrepreneurial contract, rewards need to change.


We believe that organisations will place a premium on contribution and reward people much more in line with that rather than the job level. Increased variable components, linking value created to rewards, and paying a premium for key skills will be very much the future direction.


The pandemic’s toll on mental health is a critical concern area that we cannot afford to ignore. There are silver linings, such as the conversations around mental health are normalising, and almost every virtual interaction begins with a wellbeing check-in. However, this clearly isn’t enough. What is Infosys’s approach to holistic employee wellbeing?


We are doing all we can to be there for those employees and their families that need our support the most while prioritising the safety and wellbeing of our entire global workforce. At Infosys, we are offering counselling services and courses to employees to tackle this sense of isolation.


We also have various wellness initiatives for our employees. We conceptualised a Health Assessment and Lifestyle Enrichment (HALE) plan at Infosys as a focused response to the rising concerns about the wellness of our employees and how it is affecting their families.


Health and wellness, safety, leisure, and emotional wellbeing are four key focus areas of our engagement strategy.


Through our award-winning HALE program, we tackle concerns related to employee stress, health, and overall wellness through workshops, emails, health checks, online chats, fun quizzes, focused communication campaigns, etc.


Some of the initiatives that have worked well for us are:


Samaritans: It is a peer-topeer counselling network of Infoscions who are trained in barefoot counselling and provide counselling to other employees. Employees use this platform to discuss and cope with both professional and personal situations, and this has helped many.


Professional Counselling:


HALE Hotline – It provides professional counselling help in times of crisis. A hotline facility has been made available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whereby calling in, instant access is provided to a trained professional. Each location has a dedicated local number. Issues like cases of serious mental depression, substance abuse, attempted suicides, and relationship issues, etc. have been resolved through the hotline service.


Stress Audit Tool – This online tool (questionnaire) created for self-awareness assists employees in identifying their stress levels and thereby to seek help or take appropriate measures to improve their mental health basis the result


Expert Talks are conducted by professional counsellors, external speakers, on topics ranging from mental health at the workplace to depression to managing work-life balance. Employees can also chat online with the counsellors. A segmentation approach is followed, in which our objective is to have focused sessions for the target population—ours being millennials, family members, women, etc.


Manager Enablement: Awareness sessions and mailers are shared with the managers to enhance the team wellness quotient, thereby resulting in a reduction in the stress levels of the employees.


Mindfulness Focus: Practicing mindfulness through meditation or other techniques improves both mental and physical health. We are in times of a “mindful revolution”, and it has become increasingly important for everyone to be aware of one’s thoughts. Therefore, at Infosys, we promote mindful living to reduce stress and increase productivity.


Wellness Podcasts: Employees are provided with a range of sessions around emotional wellness that they can listen to at any point in time. Topics like managing work-life balance, coping with stress and anxiety, and the importance of mental health, etc. are covered in these podcasts.


Wellness Coach: We have created a unified platform for employees to reach out to professional counsellors across various locations, giving them a more holistic wellness experience. Since the introduction of the wellness coach, the employee experience has been seamless, and employees have just one number to reach out to for their counselling needs.


♦ As mentioned earlier, we have updated our Remote Team Management courses with different modules and also launched Stress Management courses.


Our Family Matters forum touches aspects of parenting, relationship, and emotional and psychological wellbeing of parents and their children. It spans a wide range of topics, from spreading awareness on autism to understanding the learning style and multiple intelligences of children, food habits, stress management, and vipassana meditation.


A specialised exercise regime, Pregna-Care, has been developed for women to cater to pre- and post-natal fitness.


InfyGold+: We have tie-ups with over 20 health and wellness vendors that provide discounted offerings on health and fitness products exclusively to employees at Infosys. They also sponsor fitness products during our wellness-related events such as runs and sports competitions.


Even large organisations are evaluating alternative workforce strategies to cope with the rapidly changing business models and talent needs. How can businesses leverage this growing workforce segment?


The future workplace model will be a more hybrid one, where a certain percentage of people will work from home and the rest from office, and the model will enable employees to switch seamlessly between working from office and working from home.


As a result, we are witnessing trends around companies leveraging new options that have now become more viable to cater to evolving talent needs. This phenomenon will accelerate as better talent platforms get enabled, which will allow more on-demand models to function, giving people better opportunities to deploy their talent and get paid.


Companies are now much more used to having a virtual workforce, and the traditional boundaries between full-time employment and freelancing will blur.


The future workplace will have teams that are multi-locational and diverse in terms of education and backgrounds, as well as a combination of full-time and temporary workers.


This is an opportunity for us to build a better future in terms of reskilling and upskilling, prioritising work, and improving the quality of jobs as well as bringing in a new approach to education and its linkage to jobs.


The feasibility of increased ‘work from home’ also means that companies will be able to look at previously underutilised talent pools. Women or others (for instance, people with physical disabilities) who wanted flexibility, and hence made choices of where and how they work, would now be talent pools that organisations could tap into.

However, in the long term, work would be kind of “hybrid remote”—with people coming to offices for some time in a week—which is needed for collaboration, ideating, team bonding (for which sometimes physical meetings do much better), and also building a sense of connection. So, this new world definitely opens up many possibilities for women who require greater flexibility. We already have a programme called “Restart Her” to get women who had taken a career break to come back. This pandemic would probably further accelerate this programme.


What’s something outstanding Infosys has achieved during this period of extraordinary challenge?


What gives us satisfaction is to see that everyone has come together across all levels and parts of the organisation with a single mission and that we have been able to keep employee wellbeing at the forefront and managed to exceed our customers’ expectations.


Hats off to each and every employee of the company, who has gone out of the way to make a difference in the last few months.


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With 5+ years of experience, Ankita has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire. She is currently Deputy Editor at Human Capital.


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