The need of the hour is to develop adaptability and resilience in our workforce: Mona Cheriyan

The need of the hour is to develop adaptability and resilience in our workforce: Mona Cheriyan

In an exclusive interview, Mona Cheriyan, President and Group HeadHR, Thomas Cook India, discusses the rewards and challenges of a blended workforce in the hybrid future of work.

Although the blending of workforces (full-time, part-time, contingent, bots, in-office, remote, etc.) is not a new trend, it has gained new momentum following the COVID-19 pandemic. Which roles in the travel and tourism industry are best performed by full-time employees, and which are better suited to contingent talent? Do you foresee certain full-time jobs veering into non-traditional domains?


The travel industry has undergone many changes over the last few years. While traditionally, hospitality has not been known for innovation or for attracting the best talent in the market, this has changed in the last few years. The public sector has opportunities in the Directorates and Departments of Tourism at various levels. The private sector has opportunities in travel agencies, tour operators, airlines, hotels, transport and cargo companies etc. Largely the roles are in Sales, Operations, Products & Contracting, Ticketing, Tour Management and Support functions.


The Operations, Ticketing and Tour Management functions can be staffed with a contingent workforce, but the Sales, Products & Contracting functions will continue to be performed by full-time employees. Most roles will allow for some amount of WFH, but the need to anchor back to the office at regular intervals is certain. As with all industries, the use of technology in automating processes, BOTs for speeding up routine tasks and ensuring remote connectivity for all roles is a given in the new scenario.


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. How do you believe the travel and tourism sector will rise to this challenge of talent scarcity? Do you think the pandemic will transform the manner in which talent is acquired and onboarded?


The travel industry is not very different from the other industries. With an enhancement in size, the tourism industry shall need an increased number of qualified travel and tourism professionals. Leadership, good teamwork, good communication skills, ability to research, strong customer focus, presentation skills, interpersonal skills, a broad knowledge of India and the geography of the world are some the qualities that are needed by today’s professionals. Many companies invest in improving their customers’ experience, making it a top priority, and the way to gain success.


However, we are investing the same energy in boosting our employee experience as well. HR has redesigned the employee journey and we now measure the virtual employee experience. Right from the process of selection to joining is now a virtual process. Today, the location of the employee is hardly important as long as there is internet connectivity, employees can be productive. The travel industry, like the other industries, will therefore hire and onboard employees in specific roles with no locational constraints.


Many years ago, NASA engineers were apparently against employing crowdsourcing platforms for the simple reason that they stood to eliminate the culture of NASA— collaboration and brainstorming. What are the possible fallouts of a blended workforce on the culture of an organisation?


While 2020 caused a massive shift in the way people work and businesses operate, it has also changed the position of the HR departments in the cultivation of culture, inclusivity and diversity. While everyone around worries about health, mental status, wellbeing, financial risks, and dealing with all the other stress factors, HR teams need to work on the culture of the organisation. Vibrant company cultures are needed for tomorrow’s post-COVID-19 blended workforces and workplaces to thrive, and HR needs to start building them today.


As travel companies begin to figure out the way to strike the right balance between office and home, and a workforce comprised of traditional employees, consultants and freelancers, the biggest challenge will not be technological. The real challenge is getting the right mix for building an authentic culture in a world where workforces and workplaces are rapidly transforming. It means carefully weighing the mix of digital, analog and in-person meetings and ensuring that teams work towards the common goals of an organisation.


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?


While all of us in the Tourism industry believe that we will have a calibrated return to the workplace, most organisations are thinking about the future of work. I believe that while WFH will work for 30 to 40% of the roles in the Travel sector, all roles cannot be migrated to a WFH model. The physical office for some industries like the Travel industry is a place where employees come together, exchange ideas, build plans and execute various deliverables. It is not just a physical place of work but a place where different people with diverse skills and experiences come together and create a structure.


This defines how the organisation operates, it defines the culture. Culture is not a rule book or a process manual that gets handed out to employees. It emerges from face-to-face human interactions. I believe that while the virtual way of working will work for the Travel industry for the period of the pandemic, the culture will demand a physical office interaction from 50 to 60% of the workforce in the long term.


With older talent rejoining work post their retirement, we are witnessing a more age-diverse workforce than ever before. How can organisations foster intergenerational collaboration and cohesion given the different types of work arrangements (from full-time to freelance) and work models (from remote to hybrid)?


The work environment has changed in all organisations. It has made all of us look at the issue of work differently. Remote working has become the “new normal” in a lot of organizations. In the Travel & Tourism sector, remote working may not be feasible for all employees.


Since a large number of roles require a lot of personal interaction with customers, I believe, a ‘hybrid’ way of working will work best. This will require business leaders to reimagine business models which is an extensive exercise on how employees should communicate, connect and create. The need of the hour is to develop adaptability and resilience in our workforce as we make an accelerated shift towards a new, digital economy. Organisations need to invest in equipping employees with new skills and equipping them with competencies to deal with the “new normal”.




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