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Is WFH culture reinventing the wheel of HR?

By Anirban Banerjee, President & Head - HR, IIFL Wealth

In the past, Work from Home (WFH) has always lurked on the fringes of HR policies, tempting for employees and yet always out of reach. However, the pandemic completely upended this paradigm and pushed many organisations to become fully remote. Inevitably, the experience has been mixed. For many organisations and their employees, it has been better than imagined and has resulted in improved productivity and work-life balance. On the other hand, there are companies still struggling to effectively implement WFH policies that can holistically address the challenges of this new paradigm. Either way, a hybrid working model that embraces both remote and office-based work awaits many companies and employees on the other side of this crisis.

As our experience of the last year has taught us, while on paper WFH seems fairly straightforward, in reality, its implementation needs to be highly nuanced. This is especially relevant when it comes to organisational culture.

Imperatives for HR in the new WFH paradigm

In a WFH environment, most managers and HR experts are struggling with two broad things:

  • How to keep the firm culture alive? And for the new joiners, how to expose and imbibe them into the firm culture?
  • Succession planning or team leader roles, how to identify talent without seeing them in action with their peers physically?

This required instituting new policies and measures across the HR lifecycle.


When new employees join an organisation, it is very important to ensure that there is an alignment in culture. In a physical environment, a lot of this cultural integration happens through osmosis and new employees slowly embrace the ways of the organisation. However, virtual environments can be restrictive. While virtual interaction tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet can be leveraged to engage with the new employees, interacting through the day like one would in a physical space is tough. Which is why these interactions need to be gamified. Gamification ensures that the interactions are less restrictive and enables employees to engage in an informal and easy manner. Further, it is equally important to make interactions and engagements more relatable by eschewing presentations in favour of storytelling and other methods of interactive communication. In addition to the above, there are also various technological solutions that are allowing organisations to simulate physical interactions. For example, there is a company that provides a 3D interactive experience by videoing the office in 360 degrees and playing on oculus glasses. Companies can create a custom programme for new employees to give them a walkthrough of the organisation and initiate them into the company.

Increased focus on mental wellness

The Covid-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on health in general and mental health in particular. Today, individuals are not only working remotely, they are also living remotely. Considering that man is a social animal, the isolation is having an impact on individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. Thus, it has become increasingly imperative for organisations to take cognisance of their employees’ mental health and introduce programmes that can effectively help them navigate these challenging times. Recognising the importance of mental wellness, there are companies who have launched a mental wellness platform, to address the psychological issues faced by their employees. Employees can log on to the portal or app and access counselling services and self-help resources such as videos, articles, e-workshops, and podcasts. Further, such initiatives also offer access to complementary psychological services. Such platforms can go a long way helping employees deal with mental health issues and empower them to bring about positive change in their lives.

Establishing new touchpoints

There really is no such thing as overcommunication, especially if you are operating in a remote environment. However, communication needs to be appropriate and through the proper channels in order for it to be effective. This can be done by effectively leveraging existing channels and creating new channels for communication.

Create digital escape rooms where employees can interact in an informal manner without having to focus on the deliverables. Further, ensure that there are regular check-ins between team members and team leads to enable two-way conversations. These can also be extremely critical in ensuring that employees are able to maintain the required work-life balance, are able to take care of their mental wellbeing, and can approach the organisation if they need any assistance. In addition to more channels of communication, we have also found virtual offsites and events like beer calls to be particularly effective.

Increase frequency of town halls: We are already living in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) environment where the future in terms of both health and career seems highly uncertain. In the backdrop of such a landscape, it is important for senior management to regularly communicate with other members of the organisation and clearly lay out their plans and policies for the future. This will ensure that employees are not left guessing about their future, thereby reducing stress and uncertainty.

Learning & Development

At the beginning of the pandemic last year, many people treated the lockdowns and restricted movements as an opportunity to upskill and learn new things. Inarguably, the environment imposed on us can be used to enhance our learnings and upskill. Leading companies have introduced several programmes that focus on both technical and emotional skills enhancements. These programmes range from time management training, negotiation skills, and programmes on empathy and understanding self to a masterclass for sales and non-sales and development of interpersonal skills that focus on conflict management and influencing.

I believe that during this inflection point, leaders, and especially HR leaders, have a stark choice to make. They can choose to do nothing, create new ways of reinforcing the existing culture, or even capitalise on this shift to engender a renewed culture. When co-located, leaders often implicitly transmit organisational culture through behaviour and interactions. In a remote environment, leaders need to proactively decide the type of culture they want to promote and adopt the relevant communication tools to transmit this culture without distortion.

While the current shift does not warrant a re-invention of the HR wheel, it definitely demands some targeted modifications. Inevitably, the HR role is going to become more critical and complicated in the new hybrid environment.

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ET HR World