If you haven't noticed, technology has been driving behaviour for the last 20 years. Now, under the dark shadow of COVID-19, the behaviour is driving technology. Right in front of our eyes, we are watching a major shift as businesses send their employees into Work from Home (WFH) mode, compelling technology to come up with human-centric solutions. In India, 4 million IT workers across organizations were moved, recording the single-largest WFH transition in history.
It put tremendous pressure on networks, hardware, security and support, but it was done.
It was a laudable effort. Without WFH, many businesses would not have been able to keep the lights on. But it was also an eye-opener. Most organizations used the processes and organizational structures they have been using for decades in the wake of WFH. These practices are rooted in the assembly lines of the 1920s when workers had to be managed and motivated by factory supervisors and managers.
Is it possible these organizations missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reorganize the world of management? There are two aspects to the question:
- We need to recognize that COVID-19 is establishing planet-scale challenges, new behaviours and motivational patterns—these call for an adjustment in management practices
- We have at our service a unique confluence of technologies that have been under development for the last 15-20 years from AI, Blockchain, mobile computing, cloud computing, automation, digitization, IoT and drones all connected via the Internet—these can organize, drive and manage a new way of work
The sum of these aspects is bigger than the parts. Therefore, it would be short-sightedness to be satisfied with incremental change.
The power of the two factors is transformative. It can create a new world. In the last two months, we have witnessed how hyper-automation has driven WFH. Without digitization and automation, this scale of change would otherwise have been impossible and, in most likelihood, inconceivable. The pressures of COVID-19 compressed it into two months. What this demonstrates is simple. If we want to, we can leverage technology without waiting for a cataclysmic event to drive us there. But here is the good news: As employees move to the WFH model their productivity doesn't drop, and with well-directed supervision, they can continue to be productive; there is no need for micro-management.
The practical and measurable upside of WFH
At Tata Sky, the Indian direct broadcast satellite television company, which is a joint venture between the Tata Group and Walt Disney, this dramatic change has been underway for some time. The DTH operator is trying to ensure that as many of its 1600 employees as possible continue to work from the safety and comfort of their homes long after COVID-19 has been vanquished. This is because even with most employees currently in WFH mode there has been no impact on operations. New products have been launched on schedule and even financial reporting was completed with a remote workforce.
Encouraged by the results of its WFH initiative, Tata Sky has begun to renegotiate its real estate. Tata Sky’s contact centre, with 5,000 indirect employees working from home, also has plans to ensure that a reasonably large number continue to work in this mode. The company expects a major saving from not having to pay for tables, chairs, utilities, and rentals.
Monthly meetings, for which senior management would travel to Mumbai from all parts of the country, are now done over video calls. The level of discussion is better and more productive—plus the company will save between Rs 3 and 4 crore a year in travel costs.
The sales force of the organization that made daily visits to dealers and distributors have switched to Skype and Webex because of the lockdowns. Their productivity has not been affected. It has improved. Happily, sales resources can talk to two additional dealers every day (than normal) simply because they are not spending time stuck in traffic while trying to meet dealers.
The new ways of working have opened management eyes within Tata Sky. The results have been so dramatic that it now has 18 initiatives that look at the future of work. The project is called "Re-imagine" and its remit is to answer the question, "What would a digital native broadcast company set up in the times of COVID-19 look like?" The answers will help Tata Sky design hardware and software to replace the current set-top boxes, allowing the provisioning, management, and support of customers remotely.
Automation got them here…without linear growth in management bandwidth
To be fair, Tata Sky hasn't done this overnight. It has been on intense automation and digital transformation curve for some time and it has watched its business grow on the backs of these initiatives. But even more encouragingly, it has seen employee productivity improve with no linear growth in management cadres. This can, in part at least, be attributed to the fact that the organization does not have a top-down culture of managing productivity. People are allowed to experiment and fail. Everything is based on trust. For example, in the WFH model now, the company does not worry about tracking attendance. An employee who is not working logs into the system to say he/she is on leave. It is the culture of honesty and responsibility that makes the WFH model viable. As Tata Sky has discovered, people want to contribute; they just have to be provided with a fecund environment in which to do this.
Tata Sky has also been successfully trimming management fat with consistency. Over the last few years, its 11 layers of reporting have been trimmed down to 5. Technology has helped flatten organizations by supporting an environment of trust and productivity.
It helps that the organization has a learning culture rooted in its recruitment process itself. Candidates that demonstrate an appetite for self-improvement, learning, and agility are handpicked.
At the bottom of this systematic management of culture (rather than the management of individuals) is the fact that technology has been used to automate everything that can be automated, leaving people free to do what they crave to do the most - which is to be creative.
"In the emerging post-COVID-19 period, we anticipate hybrid work environments that match the organization's and employees' needs in harmony," says Milan Sheth, EVP-IMEA, Automation Anywhere. "We call this new environment a Work from Anywhere environment, where employees seamlessly leverage all the digital capabilities of the organization in a secure and compliant manner with the help of digital workers that help them learn and work with the software systems in the most productive manner. We firmly believe this will usher in the next era of creativity and help organizations achieve new frontiers in building for the societies and communities at large and stay relevant.”
Author: G. Sambasivan, Chief Financial Officer at Tata Sky Ltd
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