A blended workforce is a source of competitive advantage: Saurabh Govil

A blended workforce is a source of competitive advantage: Saurabh Govil

"Maintaining a strong culture in large organisations has always been a complex task, with multiple sub-cultures emerging," says Saurabh Govil, President and CHRO, Wipro. Take a look at this exclusive interview to know more about managing and scaling a blended workforce in the hybrid future of work.

The pre-pandemic war for talent and the pandemic-triggered acceleration of digital transformation across organisations is further bound to enhance the scarcity of talent. Do you believe that a blended workforce (full-time, part-time, contingent, bots, in-office, remote, etc.) can help the IT-ITeS industry rise to this challenge of talent scarcity? Will the pandemic transform the manner in which talent is acquired and onboarded?


A straight answer would be yes. However, rather than looking at a blended workforce as a panacea for talent scarcity, I view the situation differently. Today, there is a greater realisation that a blended workforce is a source of competitive advantage.


A significant portion of work is now being done by employees who, in the traditional sense, would be “non-employees”. A prime reason for this is that the nature of work has evolved to more project-based work. This allows for a greater play of external actors who bring in skill sets and competencies that augment traditional “core” employees.


Also, there is a greater appreciation that a diverse and inclusive workforce delivers better results for the organisation and society. Finally, technology has altered the way we work. Amazon, for instance, has been using physical robots for a long time. Similarly, at Wipro, we have done large-scale automation and are using bots. They are very much a part of the workforce now. These are conditions that exist on the demand side.


From a supply point of view, we have a multi-generational workforce today. A part of this workforce prefers to have a freelance sort of arrangement that provides them with the flexibility to do multiple things without being contractually bound to one organisation.


Hence, we must view blended workforces as a need and not a source to overcome talent scarcity. Of course, it will help overcome talent scarcity but invest in it for the right reasons.


The pandemic has already transformed the way talent is onboarded. We completed our largest talent acquisition in the last quarter entirely virtually. Organisations have realised that they no longer are constrained by location. This opens a completely different set of avenues to acquire talent. If we add the variable of a blended workforce, then the possibilities are immense. There may be some legal and regulatory complexities that one may have to traverse; however, they can be easily managed.


What are the possible fallouts of a blended workforce on the culture of an organisation? How can they be addressed?


In the context of the blended workforce, a question is often asked: How do you institutionalise a culture when, in essence, the company is buying short periods of an individual’s time? That’s a valid question. If, on a project team, you have a lot of external actors, will they have the same understanding of organisational values and translate them while delivering? Rather than fallouts on culture, I view it more as a lack of appreciation of the culture. Fallouts will typically be on customer outcomes.


Maintaining a strong culture in large organisations has always been a complex task, with multiple sub-cultures emerging. The added complexity of a blended workforce will make it even more difficult. Repercussions could be in the form of misplaced practices or a difference in espoused and practised values. The second and third-order impacts could be in terms of dysfunctional teams, poor quality output, etc.


There is no doubt that organisations will need to realign their talent systems to enable cultural assimilation. However, the benefits far outweigh the extreme scenarios. Good leadership and people practices should eliminate most of the fallouts.


Employee experience (EX) has been typically associated with full-time employees and often goes unaddressed for other workforce segments. With non-traditional talent becoming an increasingly important source of competitive advantage, how can organisations deliver optimal EX for them?


The first step to delivering a superlative experience is to view the entire workforce as an integrated workforce. This realisation will be enough for organisations to re-examine their processes. For instance, currently, gig workers or contractors are seldom part of employee satisfaction surveys or mainstream appraisal and career processes.


Secondly, it is important to redesign processes to cater to different segments. For example, in terms of compensation and benefits, we can look at a more expansive approach towards some benefits to ensure equitable access to different workforce segments.


Similarly, it is time to have an integrated performance management approach that considers contributions from all segments of the workforce and provides equitable development opportunities. We can extrapolate this to learning and other people processes. It is in the interest of organisations to create processes and touchpoints for different workforce segments.


In some areas, organisations have made progress. For instance, there are community managers for crowdsourcing platforms that ensure that the community is engaged and getting adequate development opportunities. The next step will now be to integrate these different workforce streams under one ecosystem.


To deliver optimal EX for the non-traditional workforce, two things need to be done:


i. Non-traditional talent is a broad canvas. Within that, understand what each segment wants and needs.


ii. Tailor talent and people processes to become more inclusive and expansive.


In developing a blended workforce, do you believe senior leadership must bring about a mindset shift that full-time employees alone cannot ensure the completion of work/projects? If yes, how can leadership channelise such a mindset change within an organisation in the IT-ITeS industry?


I spoke about the drivers of a blended workforce strategy earlier. If we understand them, we will realise that a mindset shift is necessary to succeed. I will take a step backwards and say that leaders must first internalise and orchestrate it at their level. It is the ‘Say-Do’ ratio that will build more credibility around the shifts required.


The shift to a blended workforce model requires executive sponsorship and support. Leaders need to demonstrate the value of different workforce composition. At the same time, they also need to be open to feedback and concerns from employees and address them promptly. While traditional or core employees appreciate the reasons for a diverse and blended workforce, their fears of becoming obsolete need to be addressed.


One way to do it is to provide employees with a taste of the new work paradigm. Wipro’s internal crowdsourcing platform, Top Gear, has provided an opportunity for full-time employees to experience the real-time benefits of a differentiated work and delivery model. Top Gear enables skill enhancement through structured learning pathways, social learning through skill-based communities, gamified assessments and hands-on experience via projects/challenges across a wide range of skills. Employees can learn, compete and get credits and monetary rewards on successfully completing challenges.


A blended workforce is here to stay, and it is not an entirely new concept. However, we are experiencing a blurring of boundaries between what this workforce traditionally used to do. The scale and contribution to core work as well as the external actors have increased. The best way to channelise mindsets is to show the power of a blended workforce via actual demonstrations.


Depending on the sector, the nature of the work that people do, and the setup an organisation prefers, some companies are going virtual-first while others are rallying to get employees back in-house or piloting a blended working model. Do you believe the office to be an important hub for collaboration, creativity, and innovation?


When the pandemic hit, WFH became a necessity. It is important to have good WFH policies and flexibility. However, I firmly believe that too much of anything is not good. Research has shown that not being in the office has prevented us from building vital social capital at work. Microsoft did a study and found that remote work over an extended time shrunk people’s networks.


On premises, there are greater chances of social interaction and connection, which are needed for collaboration, idea generation, innovation, and social cohesiveness. Informal interactions, which occur more naturally among co-located employees, do not occur as easily in a virtual environment. Some work aspects, such as onboarding new hires, coaching, or working on complex or ambiguous tasks, can become easier while working in an office.


Leaders and managers are at the core of addressing these challenges that may arise in a hybrid work environment. To get the best out of a hybrid model, leaders and managers need to build and sustain a shared culture that extends across remote or in-person work environments.

Ankita Sharma is working as Senior Editor with Human Capital. With 6+ years of experience, she has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire.


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