17 minute read

Rapid Fire

teN questioNs Rapid-Fire


Anna Tavis

Academic Director of the Human Capital Management Department, NYU School of Professional Studies By Mastufa Ahmed


What has been shaping work and the workplace in the hybrid era?

The aftermath of the pandemic, dramatic climate change, and political instability around the world


Top challenges HR leaders should prepare for?

Unpredictability of the future; growing decision power of employees; complexity and power of technology


What new solutions are emerging to these challenges?

Accelerated technological innovation, unprecedented scientific advances, and the emergence of the younger generation of workers with the most purposeful intentions


How are organisations adapting in response?

They are betting on adaptation, agility and experimentation; they need to experiment, innovate and change


What stands out in the transition to hybrid?

It's not about the schedule but about the choice— choosing between location, arrangements, technologies, and, ultimately, about the “work to be done”

The future of the workforce is at the intersection of data, technology, and humanity


Top area HR leaders should focus on in 2022?

Upskilling the HR function itself to be analytically literate and technologically agile


Why this particular focus?

HR needs to understand technology, the impact it may have on humans, and leverage it in a way that helps humans flourish


Technology again: what does this mean for HR?

The future of the workforce is at the intersection of data, technology, and humanity; HR should be able to leverage tech in a way that helps humans flourish


So, what does HR transformation mean to you, today?

A test for HR: can HR adjust, adapt and continue to provide people solutions to the current needs of the business and the working people?


And what excites you about HR today?

The prospect of HR stepping up to the enterprise leadership role and helping organisations make peoplecentred decisions along the way

while every orgaNisatioN will have to deFiNe its uNique approaCh to hybrid work, it will Need to be grouNded iN Flexibility, well-beiNg aNd iNClusioN. iN aN iNteraCtioN with people matters, IRa GUPTa, head oF humaN resourCes, miCrosoFt iNdia, talks about how to empower employees to do their best iN a way that works best For them, while balaNCiNg busiNess Needs aNd eNsuriNg orgaNisatioNal Culture is preserved By Mamta Sharma

Hybrid work represents one of the biggest changes in how we work, and comes as the employeremployee relationship is undergoing a radical shift. Employees around the globe are re-evaluating opportunities with a new mindset and renewed expectations from their employers.

Ira Gupta, Head of Human Resources, Microsoft India, says there is no single standard or blueprint for the future of work, and every organisation and every individual will need to create their own unique roadmap as they move forward.

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Gupta shares major challenges that leaders face when leading a hybrid team, ways to overcome them and what strategies work to effectively lead a hybrid workforce in the post-COVID world.

What are the major challenges for leaders of a hybrid team?

The diversity of experiences and perspectives is best summed up by what we call the ‘hybrid work paradox’ which is one of the biggest challenges that come with a hybrid environment.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey found that nearly 74% of employees in India want more flexible, remote work options, while at the same time, 73% of them are also craving more in-person time with their teams.

Secondly, one of the most felt aspects of remote work is the impact it’s had on our relationships. Our Work Trend Index finds that 32% of leaders in India say relationship-building is the greatest challenge of having employees work hybrid or remote.

The other challenges are what I call the 3Cs - Culture, Communication, and Collaboration. How do organisations create a culture that is inclusive and empathetic to the different needs of their workforce in a hybrid environment? How do you ensure communication channels between the organisation and its employees are always open?

And lastly how do you ensure effective collaboration when half of the people are in office and the other half is not? For instance, it is becoming important for employees to understand and appreciate when and why they need to come to the office for it to complement their experience and the business outcome.

The employer employee relationship is undergoing a radical shift. Employees around the globe are re-evaluating opportunities with a new mindset and renewed expectations from their employers.

It is becoming important for employees to understand and appreciate when and why they need to come to the office for it to complement their experience and the business outcome

Data from Microsoft’s Work Trend Index finds that two out of three employees in India are more likely to prioritise their health and well-being over work than before the pandemic.

A staggering 63% of workers in India who are currently hybrid are considering a shift to being fully remote in the year ahead and 41% of Indian employees (versus 18% global average) say they left their jobs during the past year because their current job did not meet expectations. Suffice to say that in the last two years, what people want out of work and what they’re willing to sacrifice for a job has evolved considerably.

These are some of the many scenarios that every organisation will need to prepare for to empower their employees for the hybrid workplace.

What works for successfully leading a hybrid team in the post-COVID world?

When it comes to preparing our employees for hybrid work, we are prioritising three things: social capital, knowledge capital, and human capital. Our culture pivoted on empathy and our core values of respect, integrity and accountability have been the north star as we navigate the new world of work.

On social capital, we are focusing deeply on enhancing employee experience and maintaining the everyday connections between our employees, the company, and our mission. Employee experience is even more important in a hybrid world.

On knowledge capital and continuous learning, we are investing deeply in employee learning, providing resources and personalised training content for employees to continuously learn, grow and skill themselves. Our culture is grounded in the concept of what we call ‘growth mindset’, which is essentially the belief that potential is not predetermined. Everyone can learn and grow. This culture of learning is deeply ingrained in every part of our company and is reflected in everything that we do.

The last aspect is human capital. We stay razor focused on ensuring employee wellbeing and supporting employees with their unique needs. The role of the managers and leaders is critical here and more important today than ever before.

Despite the undeniable desire for flexibility, 62% of business leaders in India fear productivity has been negatively impacted since the shift to remote or hybrid work, while 85% of workers say they are as productive or even more productive

Managers need to play a significant role to enable an inclusive, effective, and consistent employee experience while balancing individual and business needs

compared to a year ago.

Managers need to play a significant role to enable an inclusive, effective, and consistent employee experience while balancing individual and business needs. Managers also need to be more intentional about role modelling company culture and values, more thoughtful about understanding individual capabilities and unique circumstances and proactively coach team members for success across boundaries and help teams respond to the changing environment, opportunities, and challenges.

How do you keep hybrid teams engaged?

We offer flexibility to support individual workstyles, while balancing business needs. Our hybrid workplace guidelines allow for flexibility in work site, work location and work hours. Working from home up to 50% of work time is considered standard for most roles.

We are focusing equally on building manager readiness to understand and support individual employee flexibility preferences through training, office hours, and HR consultation. Managers are encouraged to develop team agreements – shared commitments among members of a team on ways of working that allow the team to understand each other’s work preferences and develop shared agreements that balance individual with team needs and set clear expectations for how the team would work together.

We have also adapted our policies to ensure every Microsoft employee has the resources to be as productive, creative, and secure as possible. We’ve been on a journey over the last five years to ensure that our benefits not only focus on physical health, but also cover emotional and mental wellbeing.

We renamed our sick leave to Sick and Mental Health Leave, enabling employees to take time for mental wellbeing as they would for physical well-being. We’ve also introduced Caregiver leave for employees in a caregiving role at home.

We are always looking for ways to improve the employee experience at Microsoft and feedback from employees has been essential to helping us learn and grow. This has become even more important in a hybrid environment. We’ve therefore also evolved our employee listening systems to capture more actionable insights at an increased frequency.

As a tools and platforms company, our focus has been on designing technology experiences that help individuals and organisations prioritise well-being, improve accessibility, and support flexible workstyles. For example, we are reimagining every aspect of the meeting experience in Microsoft Teams to make virtual interactions more natural, engaging, and human.

Can hybrid modes of work fill the chasm between expectations of corporations and aspirations of their people?

The last two years have resulted in significant changes in how employees think of work, their engagement with each other, and their expectations from the workplace. What we're experiencing is possibly the biggest workforce transition of our lifetime.

An earlier such transition in the 1990s was enabled by technology and the internet to achieve greater speed, efficiency, and collaboration. This one, also enabled by technology, is rooted in the idea of Empowerment, Flexibility, and Inclusion.

There is a need for employers to actively listen to and meet employee expectations, while also balancing the organisation’s needs. This will need companies to build a hybrid workplace that embraces flexibility, promotes inclusion, creates lasting connections, and drives innovation.

While there is no single blueprint or design for successfully navigating hybrid work, focusing on flexibility, inclusion and well-being will be a step in the right direction to navigate the complexities and the nuances of a hybrid workplace.

Our hybrid workplace at Microsoft is based on a commitment to flexibility that welcomes and enables diverse ways of working, relies on new learning and mindset shifts, considers business and individual needs, and is built on trust and technology. Our hybrid workplace guidelines allow for flexibility in work site (physical space where we work), work location (geographic location where we work) and work hours to support individual workstyles, while balancing business needs, and ensuring we live our culture.

As employees plan the transition for themselves, we are encouraging them to understand and leverage the flexible work options available at Microsoft, based on their unique requirements, in consultation with their manager, to establish the work arrangement that works for them. We are also empowering employees and managers with tools and resources to enable decision making and operationalise this flexibility as part of our hybrid workplace.

What's your advice to HR leaders to come out stronger post-COVID?

The single biggest piece of advice that I heavily rely on myself is to always operate with a ‘Growth Mindset’. Part of this is accepting that we don’t yet know or have all the answers but still being willing to listen, learn, and take action to drive meaningful change.

It is important to recognise there is no single way of working that applies to everyone and we need to embrace flexibility as part of the new hybrid workplace.

While every organisation will define its unique approach to hybrid, what is clear is that it will need to be grounded in flexibility, wellbeing, and inclusion, in order to empower employees to do their best work in a way that works best for them, while balancing business needs and ensuring organisations live their culture.

Understand the problem and create a transformative solution

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Mukul Jain, founder and CEO of HR tech company HONO, together with latest big investor Aakash Chaudhry, open up on their competitive advantage in the fast-evolving HR tech solutions market

By Mamta Sharma

The HR tech start-up market is booming, as organisations seek to address the complex issue of not only managing their employees but transforming them, and attracting talent in the post pandemic working arrangements.

People Matters spoke to one such startup, HR tech company HONO, on how they define and develop their competitive advantage. Mukul Jain, founder and CEO, HONO, together with latest big investor Aakash Chaudhry, discussed the opportunities that the new markets hold for the platform, and how they plan to leverage them to their advantage in the coming years.

The sweet spot

According to Jain and Chaudhry, the SME (smallto-medium enterprise) segment is very ripe for HR tech products and solutions,

because there, the decision making is faster and more transparent.

“That's a very, very sweet spot, with up to 30,000, potential clients in that segment alone,” says Chaudhry. SMEs, he explains, can change their processes much faster than larger organisations, and their implementation is quicker and less complex.

The trick to matching that speed of implementation lies in the technology, says Jain.

“The traditional methods of employee engagement are not relevant today. The entire workplace experience has been disrupted and the new workplace decisions cannot be instinct driven anymore. This era demands solutions that help to enable, engage and transform your workplace. It requires AI driven collaborations, engagements and sharp real time insights on employee productivity and satisfaction to maximise talent acquisition, management and retention," he says.

“We understand the problem and then create an integrated solution on our technology which can resolve that particular pain point. For example, our solution supports absenteeism management by detecting unplanned absenteeism and automatically scheduling a replacement so that productivity doesn't fall, without any higher costs for the company and without any human intervention, in an unbiased manner.”

At the same time, Jain says that product offerings must be divided into two categories- basic technologies and transformation. “For nearly 60-70% of business houses, their basic needs are not fully met and until that is resolved, one cannot go in for a transformation,” he explains.

Chaudhry elaborates on what this means for a company’s growth and direction: “There are many players who still only want to just use features, and there might not be many who are ready for transformation. But there are always some early movers and we are fortunate to work with them and show them the outcome of this kind of progressive HR behaviour. So this represents a great opportunity for HONO to be the leading player in the transformation space.”

This era demands solutions that help to enable, engage and transform your workplace. It requires AI driven collaborations, engagements and sharp real time insights on employee productivity and satisfaction

Investing in the ‘Perfect Recipe’

Chaudhry explains why he decided to invest in HONO: he actually began as a client of the company, and was struck by the quality of its product.

"On one side, we had brand names whom we were paying a great deal for and still not getting satisfaction, and on the other side, here was this fairly involved company (HONO) whom we were paying in a very economical manner and which had the potential to grow at scale,” he says, about his investment decision.

The platform, according to Chaudhry, needs only an extra push to take it to the next level.

“When we started interacting with HONO, I could see how good it was in terms of work ethics, understanding the customer needs, translating those needs and pain points into a possible solution,” he says.

“For India, there is a need for a very good HR tech company to come out from the country, create a global platform and make a product for the international audience. Those ingredients are clearly visible, and it falls to us to take on the role of a chef, to build this recipe.”

For India, there is a need for a very good HR tech company to come out from the country, create a global platform and make a product for the international audience

The Blue Ocean strategy

HONO isn’t the only HR tech company to recognise that gap and opportunity. Competition is heating up as more firms try to seize the market.

“Most players are coming in with the basics of HR tech enablement. So that obviously is already a crowded market. But for us, we’ve already progressed past that stage. We intend to focus on the 'blue ocean' and not get bogged down by the 'red ocean',” says Jain.

Describing his plans, Jain says the company is venturing into geographies which have a decent population of potential clients and where companies face similar problems. These are mainly the developing nations, where competition also tends to be lower. At the same time, these markets are in widely differing states of maturity and have widely different practices.

“We intend to help clients in these geographies mature their practices,” he says. “In the process we will continue developing and maturing our product to ensure it maintains its differentiation as it is uniquely positioned to drive the dual needs of happiness and productivity in the workplace.

From his perspective, Chaudhry feels that if a company can be very openminded about understanding what stage of HR tech evolution those countries are in, it will be able to grasp associated opportunities more effectively.

“Some countries already have basic hygiene, payroll, and HR enablement and are looking for more advanced transformative initiatives

on the HR side. Those would be the front-runners for us to build that solution. Meanwhile, on the India front we focus on powering the Indian experience. Eventually, we will bring the transformative solutions we have developed in the other markets back to India as a strong competitor in the local market,” he adds. business owners, it is always on our minds that you have your targets, your growth guidelines set out.

“But how do you deliver if your teams are not aligned and not motivated, you’re not controlling your costs, attrition is not in your control, and the people aren’t engaged enough and trained enough to take up

The challenge is here and now

The world of work has changed forever, into a hybrid work culture, and there lie both the challenges and the opportunities, according to Jain and Chaudhry.

“It's absolutely a new challenge for the business owners, the CXOs, and other stakeholders. Managing people, their productivity and engagement in a hybrid, forward looking environment is a big concern. As the current and the upcoming challenges. I don't think companies have a chance to advance in their industry if they don't leverage enough of HR technology, the enablement and transformative initiatives that we are trying to put together,” says Chaudhry.

He adds that people need to open up and realise that this is not a challenge of the future, it is in the here and now. They need to change their outlook not only towards people manageiment until they reach a point where they are confident that the technology works for them,” he adds.

On the HR function’s end, Jain advises HR to become part of the business team, get into key decision making and understand business problems.

“Only then will they be able to solve those problems. HR is all about people, tech, and business now. Tech is the enabler here which connects business and people, and that’s where we come in. The convergence of technology and people needs a considerable amount of research and innovation," he says.

ment, but also towards using technology as an enabler.

“It’s not a job taker, as many people wrongly believe. It is actually a job creator, enabling people to make decisions in a more timely and accurate manner. So, I see a mindset challenge with business owners at both a micro and macro level: we have to open their minds to this perspective, encourage them to exper-

Technology is not a job taker, as many people wrongly believe; it is actually a job creator