In Conversation with R. Nanda, Chief Human Resources Officer, Tata Chemicals Ltd on Back to Office Strategy
R Nanda is currently the Chief Human Resources Officer at Tata Chemicals Limited (a part of Tata Group). As the CHRO, he oversees the global functions of Human Resources, Corporate Communications, and Business Ethics.
Nanda has over 35 years of rich experience in Human Resources across varied sectors like manufacturing, trading, retail, consumer durables, FMCG, telecom, and services. He started his career as a Management Trainee with the Murugappa Group in Chennai after that he has worked as the Group General Manager (HR) with the Amara Raja Group in Chennai – where one of the companies was a JV with Johnsons Controls USA for industrial and automotive batteries.
He has also worked based out of the Middle East – as the Divisional Manager – HR with Oman-based OTE Group and the HR Head for the Dubai-based Landmark Group (large multi-format retail chain operating across the Middle East and India).
Nanda has been with the Tata Group since 2006 – starting with a stint with Tata Communications Ltd – a leading company in the telecom space and had the opportunity to be part of the HR team that saw the company transition from a domestic to the global player and from a monopoly to the highly competitive market.
He has completed his Post Graduation in Human Resources and has also done several professional certification programmes.
Q. As the second wave of COVID-19 is settling down, vaccination is accelerated, Industries are planning to call employees back to office. What’s your plan?
The infection numbers are lowering across India and the economy appears to be slowly bouncing back. As the pace of vaccination picks up, we are also tracking the completion of vaccination across our workforce segments every week and partnering with our group companies in conducting vaccination camps where needed. Employees’ safety is our key priority and reopening offices will be a decision that will be cautiously taken ensuring risk mitigation across all possible touchpoints.
All our manufacturing facilities have been operating almost uninterruptedly and we have put in place all the rretunequired protocols to adhere to the Covid-19 guidelines specified by the health authorities in addition to some general guidelines that we have introduced to ensure quarantine/testing for those traveling into those locations from outside.
At the moment we are considering resumption of offices in a phased manner by regulating the overall numbers that will be permitted on any single day yet making sure that the teams would get a chance to meet up with others in some frequency on a rotational basis.
Q. What are the major challenges that you see in bringing employees back to office/floors?
In my opinion, there are 2 big challenges and both of them are outside of the work premises. The first is the infrastructure and the social support system that is available to the employee for managing the needs of children and others who need care at home when the employee is at work especially in the context where many daycare centers are yet to resume operations.
The second is concerning commute to the office as safely as possible maintaining social distancing and standards of hygiene – both of which are difficult to guarantee once cities open up public transport.
While to some extent this can be mitigated by car-pooling and pick-up-drop services, it may not be practically feasible or economically viable in certain situations. Yet it is important to ensure that the employee can commute to and return from work without the stress of feeling unsafe.
There are other challenges though minor is in terms of reallocation of workspaces to maintain social distancing and insulating employees from having to interact with people outside their work teams.
Q. What is your checklist for Return to Workplace program at Tata Chemicals?
There are broadly 3 main pivots to this,
- Workplace Readiness – covers hygiene checks like entry protocols, appropriate seating arrangements, visitor management, common areas like pantry and washroom hygiene, etc.
- Employee Readiness – vaccination status and existing co-morbidities, etc.
- Mobility Status – dependence on public or private transportation
We are defining the protocols for each of the above to determine the schedule and sequence by which the workforce will resume coming to the office. While there will be an overall plan, any specific constraint at an individual employee level will be examined and appropriate tweaks will be introduced for a defined period.
Q. What changes do you need to make in the workplace in order to provide the best experience for your workforce?
We all know by now that office spaces will not revert to the state it was before the pandemic. Every aspect will change – right from entry to the premises, seating arrangement, pantry, and dining facilities, use of meeting rooms, managing visitors, etc.
There is a need to ensure that each of these touchpoints is well thought through and designed in such a way that it does create both a positive experience and the assurance of care being exhibited by the company.
We will also need to work with the Managers to ensure that the scheduling of their teams into batches is done considering the specific needs of their roles and it may not be a case of “one-size-fits-all”.
We would need to plan how the teams will interact and collaborate while at the office and with the rest of the team which may continue to work remotely. Facility managers will also need to review the air-conditioning, lighting arrangements, and general housekeeping services both from the point of view of the reduced headcount as well as to optimize costs.
Q. Any concluding comments?
Clearly, the pandemic has helped every organization discover alternate methods of getting the work done without the need for a defined physical space. Though there were initial challenges with productivity and timely output in the initial stages. Each team discovered its own rhythm and adapted to the situation to meet its deliverables.
However, almost everyone does miss the workplace camaraderie and the informal networking and team building that a workplace offers.
Nothing can fully replace or compensate physical interactions to virtual ones. A quick conversation with a cross-section of the workforce does indicate that everyone would be happy to be offered a hybrid option which is a combination of occasional work from the office and work from anywhere for the remaining period.
As HR leaders we need to work closely with the Managers to transition to the new way of working and create the best outcomes for organizations with this new hybrid work culture.
Thank you so much, R. Nanda!