Remote working is not disconnected working: Saurabh Govil, Wipro CHRO
Despite being seen as a role model by many in the HR industry and his title bearing silent testimony to his accomplishments and successes, Saurabh Govil, President and CHRO of Wipro, does not consider himself an expert.
Not limited by expertise, Saurabh is seeing the fruits of retaining a beginner's mindset come to life in today's time of upheaval and rapid change where, in many ways, we are all beginners. We're facing new challenges and a completely new business world in which many proven paradigms are no longer applicable.
Having been a witness to the changing face of the HR function for over three decades and approaching situations with an attitude of curiosity have enabled Saurabh to thrive through professional rigours and reimagine people strategies.
With more than 1.8 lakh employees globally, how did Wipro pivot to working remotely en masse in such a short time? What are some new developments in the ways of working at Wipro?
Working from home is not new to the IT industry. However, when we had to get 90% of our workforce to WFH in a short span, it was a different ball game. We were able to move the needle on this because of the excellent BCP processes we had set. Equally important was the support we got from customers, the government, and our employees.
It is easy for us to imagine WFH when we have all these comforts, such as laptops, a good electrical connection, a separate room to work, etc. However, many of our employees stay in shared accommodations and work on desktops in the office. We realised this early on and shipped over 35,000 desktops to employees’ homes and enabled over 30,000 data card connections. Our delivery leadership worked closely with customers to ensure all approvals were in place and gave them the confidence that appropriate security measures were undertaken. All internal teams worked together to make this happen.
Never before in the history of the organisation have so many people worked from home at the same time. We are experimenting with new approaches. What worked in the initial phases of the pandemic may not be working well now, so it is a process of learning and evolution.
Our adoption of collaborative tools has increased manifold, and the entire learning set up (technical and leadership) has moved online. Hiring and onboarding are happening in a virtual space, and leadership connects have increased— these are some augmentations to ways of working. Most importantly, there is a greater realisation that WFH can be successful if managed in the correct fashion.
Despite all the good press about working from home, many organisations are grappling with issues of building cohesion within teams, keeping “human” connections going, and handling the feelings of disengagement that remote working throws up. Moreover, the cultural integration of new employees has become a challenge. How can culture and collegiality be built within digital work teams?
At the core of any company’s culture are its values. Employees see how values are manifested, and a crisis offers the best example, though unfortunate, of how a company lives its values.
Leaders must play an active role in maintaining company culture. For many employees, it is their leader who is the face of the company. Since today we are not physically at the same location, open discussions on what we value and what is acceptable are important.
At Wipro, our Chairman has been actively involved in spearheading culture change through an extensive communication campaign where he is reaching out to employees across all levels. We have a Culture Office that ensures that culture is permeated throughout different mediums in the organisation. At all levels, leaders are active and visible in practising the elements of our culture that are enshrined in habits at Wipro. This, to my mind, is the most significant element of building a culture.
Positive people-focused actions during the pandemic and commitment to social responsibility have ensured that employees (new and old) see alignment in practised and espoused values.
All our people processes, ranging from performance management to one-on-one discussions, are completely online. All these, along with new engagement practices such as virtual All Hands Meet, HR hour, and Fun hour, bring the culture alive and pave the way for cultural integration.
Remote working is not disconnected working. If we look at the IT/ITES industry, there are many employees who, even before the pandemic, were always either at client sites or in sales roles. They were working remotely, yet Wipro's culture reached them.
While there is merit in being together in the office to experience the physical aspects of culture, we should not reduce it to just those. Culture runs much deeper.
The concept of “Management by Walking Around,” or MBWA, has been used by managers and organisations for decades to lead more effectively, keep an ear on the ground, listen to employees and engage with them. How can leaders make this up-close-and-personal management style work while managing remote teams behind a screen?
I come back to the same thought – remote is not disconnected. Even before the pandemic, leaders and teams used to sit in different locations, in different geographies and in different time zones. Yet leaders had a pulse on what was happening. There is no denying the fact that WFH requires new ways of connecting. However, to my mind, more than ways of connecting, it is important for leaders to shift their mental models.
Technology enables us to connect at micro and macro levels, and there is no better time than now to harness that.
At Wipro, our HR teams and business leaders are as connected to the ground, if not better than earlier. We have combined personal connects with surveys, large group connects and other interventions.
With flexible work schedules, remote teams and the gig economy all on the rise, how do you see the rewards and benefits landscape evolve and what are the important considerations to keep in mind when planning for FY 2021?
There are several changes happening in the industry and ways of working. Reward systems need to align with these changes.
I see emotional wellbeing becoming more important than ever. Health and safety will be important considerations.
Secondly, with hybrid work models, employers will have to think about different benefits and reward structures globally. For instance, how do we compensate for the increased infrastructure costs of employees? How do we look at travel and meal allowances? How do we define flexible working vis-à-vis remote work and the policies around them? Rewards will have to incorporate such considerations.
Thirdly, reward structures will have to get highly integrated with the operating models to re-evaluate labour costs since organisations may have gig workers, hybrid models, and part-time employees spread across geographies, which will add to the complexity.
Another important consideration will be how the company communicates this to employees. Transparency in reward decisions will ensure there is no perceived inequity.
Does the new work environment demand a new approach to performance management? What should leaders and managers be prioritising on this front, and how can they be more robust?
We do not know how and what the new work environment will be. From the current estimates, we are likely to see a hybrid work arrangement. Along with that, we are also likely to see a larger play of technology via automation, etc.
At one level, it can be argued that organisations will continue to work as per their purpose; hence, there need not be a change in the performance approach. Yet, performance in the current times and the foreseeable future will be in the shadow of COVID-19. We will definitely need to bring more empathy in the process.
There are two aspects to be considered, the first being performance management as a people process and the second being how managers enable performance. Both are interlinked.
An important shift, which has already started taking place, will be towards a developmental system with frequent check-ins. At Wipro, we have a quarterly check-in process that focuses on coaching and development conversations.
Secondly, managers will have to spend more time understanding employee circumstances and providing meaningful enablement for performance. The focus should move from evaluating performance to facilitating performance.
Thirdly, managers will need to gather data from multiple sources to avoid biases based on their old ways of working, which might cloud their judgement. It is more a change in the mental models.
Lastly, if remote working is the norm, then from a process perspective, managers will have to be more aware of how they are impacting the team members so that discussions are not derailed.
Treating performance management in the same fashion as before may prove to be a costly mistake. Instead, managers and leaders need to think about how to make it a better system that reinvigorates employees.
Rather than going all-remote, many organisations plan to go hybrid, combining the benefits of co-located and remote work. While the goals of offering employees the “best of both worlds” are noble, hybrid-remote can make employees feel presented with “the worst of both worlds” if not approached properly. What new challenges and horizons will this new working arrangement create for organisations?
A hybrid workplace is an option that many organisations are considering. However, even in a hybrid setup, there will be roles that always need to work from the office and roles that can work from wherever.
In the past, organisations had hybrid working arrangements, but they were mostly due to employee requests. When an entire organisation wants to opt for a hybrid model, like a large IT organisation, several considerations need to be made.
Some of the things to be considered are as follows:
→ There will be complexity in terms of the operating model. Who will come to work, and how will the method work? What policies should we create?
→ There is an implicit assumption that all employees are fine with working from home and would prefer that. We may be grossly wrong on that.
→ Communication and decision-making gaps need to be addressed. The same challenges that we see in terms of different time zones will be observed here as well, only at a larger scale. For example, if a key decision-maker is in the office and some employees are WFH, will that individual ensure that the remote workers are involved in the decision-making process? How do we account for informal conversations in the office that commonly lead to reprioritisations or new ideas?
Having said all this, a hybrid model does offer more flexibility to employees and promotes a better work-life balance. However, it needs to be managed well.
Organisations will have to invest heavily in building the right culture by educating employees and practising values. The focus will have to be on inclusion – out of sight cannot be out of mind. To that end, promoting collectivism will also be important. It will be a process of evolution, and organisations will have to be nimble about it.
Up-Close and Personal
What is your most significant learning from the pandemic experience?
I have two significant learnings that are quite intertwined. First, global collaboration has never been more important than now to ensure the survival of human civilisation. Second, private organisations can play a much greater role in supporting governments to ensure that we have an interconnected and interdependent world.
How has the crisis affected your thinking about the qualities that matter in the leaders of tomorrow?
Every crisis reaffirms what leaders are made of. To my mind, the two most important qualities that leaders of tomorrow will need are empathy and resilience.
What is your top productivity hack?
Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable!
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
I have started running over the past few years.
♦ Favourite quote: “A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.”
♦ Describe today’s HR in one line: Proud of its heritage and creating a legacy for the future.
♦ What comes to your mind when you hear these words?
→ Resilience: A key to thrive
→ Curiosity: Lifelong and childlike
→ Inclusion: Because we all are human
Has COVID-19 forever changed the way we live and work?
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