In conversation with Srikanth Karra CHRO, Mphasis on Work from Anywhere in New Normal
Srikanth Karra is an industry veteran and seasoned human resources (HR) officer with close to 30 years’ experience in business-focused, innovative, HR systems, and processes.
Srikanth started his career with ITC, where he worked for about 10 years across various geographies before moving to a Silicon Valley startup, Aztec Software, and then to General Electric Capital International Services (GECIS) as their HR Head. He was also the Global HR Head at Syntel Inc., and then the country Head HR for Hewlett-Packard (HP) India. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to invest and work with technology startups, which he passionately continues. He then took on the role of HR Director at Airtel and later as Head of HR Strategy and Culture for Syntel.
Srikanth holds a master’s degree in personnel management and industrial relations from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and a bachelor’s degree in general law from Mumbai University.
Q- How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your organization?
Like every other organisation, the disruption was sudden and rear-guard action needed to be taken to enable business continuity. We had to make an instant and seamless transition into the new normal, both for our organisation and our clients. To do this, the Mphasis leadership team and the Rapid Action team met continuously to assess the situation and responded as the crisis evolved. We adjusted our operations to maintain continuity, and support the safety and health of our people, while yet operating in accordance with guidance from local governments and public health authorities across the globe. Besides introducing workplace norms for the new normal, we relied deeply on our extensive online collaboration capabilities, which made it possible for us to enable our employees to continue with operations, while still responding to the unique demands that each of them were facing.
Q- What are the changes made in the workplace post-COVID-19?
Traditional Business Continuity Plan (BCP) strategies did not prepare organisations for this pandemic. For the first time, in modern history, we faced global lockdowns, which impacted all countries across the globe equally and often at the same time. So, we had to introduce innovation on the ground—ranging from makeshift office spaces, work from home enablement, quick fix applications for onboarding, and management of employee engagement, employee productivity, and employee wellness. For instance, especially during the pandemic, we found that virtual onboarding was faster, smarter, and quicker, while still ensuring that we retained a personalised engagement with employees.
Equally important, ensuring customer engagement, communication, and instilling a growth mindset amidst the panic was key. We achieved this by putting the health and welfare of our employees and the priorities of our clients at the heart of our focus as the world navigated through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also put in place several virus-mitigating actions for a sanitized work environment and social distancing, which were all aimed at reducing potential transmission. Alongside this, we introduced consistent and transparent communication that updated employees of these developments and helped them make sense of these changes as they navigated through the crisis.
Q- Most companies are adopting Hybrid Work Model, working from anywhere, at anytime. How do you see its Pros and Cons?
Everyone is betting on hybrid work models to be the mainstay of the future of work. I guess that is true. In fact, we can expect improved productivity, greater access to talent due to a higher spread of work spots, better efficiency, and control on costs due to a reduction in travel. However, social interaction, which is the key to team and culture building could be altered completely. Another area of concern is cybersecurity and workspace protection. These have traditionally always been areas that have prevented organisations from adopting remote working completely. But now, new technologies and innovation are addressing these issues in the long run.
Q- What are the employee engagement challenges in this model and how to mitigate them?
The IT industry always had a work from home component. However, not at this scale. Technology and collaboration tools, which we are now seeing, were always around. For instance, at Mphasis, we have relied extensively on Microsoft’s crisis communications Power Apps template to stay connected with our employees, building additional apps on top of this to meet our requirements, Based on our experience over these months, I foresee that traditional supervision and work monitoring methods will undergo a big change. The key is adapting to these tools and innovating on additional features to replace traditional systems. For example, bots to monitor productivity and proctoring tools to prevent impersonation. Changes in policy to suit a hybrid work environment are equally important.
At Mphasis, this was a period when we rolled out a series of initiatives, which leveraged technology to bridge distances, and engage with our workforce to alleviate the employee engagement experience. We responded to employee queries, conducted surveys, provided counselling, conducted training, reached out to people with disabilities within the organisation, and launched recognition programs. Key everyday technology tools that proved to be enablers in the new normal were the employee outreach portal, Pulse surveys, sound cloud channels, wellness apps, videos, and webinars. More than at any time in the past, technology was a bridge builder. Especially in these circumstances, we saw that in creating strong relationships with employees, companies will build a superior workforce and develop bonds that will help drive business in these uncertain times
Q- What the benefits and allowances should be offered to employees working on the above model?
Most benefits and allowances should be centered around employee productivity, wellness, and engagement. It would also be worthwhile for companies to adopt a hyper-personalized approach, where benefits and allowances are customised based on an employee’s life situation. While companies had been exploring such customisation of allowances and benefits even before the pandemic, it is particularly relevant in the new normal, where more than at any time in the past, employees are truly experiencing the value of flexibility.
Q- Any concluding remarks?
Just as Covid-19 has accelerated digitisation, I foresee the gig economy also getting a fresh boost in India. While there may have been a temporary disruption of the gig economy in the aftermath of the pandemic, research from the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM) indicates that the gig economy will grow at 17 per cent to touch a staggering $455 billion by 2023. With services getting fulfilled on digital platforms rapidly, work contracts and fulfilment will get uberised. More than ever before, in this pandemic, we have the opportunity to hyper-personalise workplaces to match the needs of employees based on their life situation. At a time when every business is indeed a digital business, organisations can embrace digital transformation by creating targeted, customised employee experiences that help organisations engage with employees to retain talent and elevate career advancement.
I am personally betting on HR services getting to deliver more hyper-personalised services across the employee life cycle with the aid of digital and cognitive platforms.
Thank you, Srikanth!