Leading with Empathy into the Hybrid Working Future

Even as every industry is in the midst of ‘transformation’ led by digitalization, a global wave of lifestyle changes is redefining the employee value proposition that companies so carefully nurtured over the years. With the recent influence of the global health crisis, increasing shifts in personal priorities are changing employees’ expectations of work culture. Tanay Kediyal, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Allstate Solutions Private Limited (ASPL) shares his views on how these shifts will shape the hybrid working future.

Tanay Kediyal, VP and COO – ASPL

1. Over the last few years, how has the work environment been redefined?

The workspace as we knew it, has changed forever and with it, the experiences of the workforce. As someone who has been in the industry for several decades, I’ve had a front-row seat to this transition from the physical to the virtual. Today, I see that every home has a workstation similar to what one would expect in the office. Earlier, organizations needed to invest in well-designed physical facilities fitted out with active spaces, vibrant conference rooms, and bright colors to keep employees engaged. Now, when we think about how to create virtual engagement, we need to think about the basics – how to provide each of these ‘offices’ the bare minimum infrastructure. Today, the physical and virtual coexist to create a hybrid working environment that looks like it’s here to stay. In-person meetings and working from the office for most companies will now have a whole new meaning with a greater sense of health and safety, togetherness and collaboration.

2. How have employee expectations changed and what is driving the change?

Today’s workforce expectations extend well beyond financial wellbeing. In my experience, this change in expectations is stemming from the ‘big uncertainty’ of our times that has given people the opportunity to introspect on what’s really important. One common question has been “Is my manager, my company showing a lot more compassion and active support, not just to me but also to my family?” I think it quite aptly describes the change in expectations but I would rather believe it’s rooted in how people want to recalibrate their priorities. It’s intriguing, what is really compelling people to leave the comforts of a city and return to their hometowns – a trend we’ve been seeing in many cities. I’m not surprized, therefore, to hear of a chef in an established restaurant in the heart of Mumbai choosing to move back to his hometown where he can enjoy a simpler lifestyle with family. People are reflecting whether their personal goals are aligned with their professional purpose. As they journey through this phase, they are expecting a lot more help from their employers.

At the same time, there’s a greater expectation of working conditions becoming simpler, safer, cleaner, and generally more accommodative driven by sensitivity to the individual’s situation. There’s also a large influence with the expectations of Gen-Zers who have entered the workforce, who have a keen eye on holistic wellbeing, connection with the right causes, and sense of purpose.

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3. Companies have responded by empowering employees with tools to transition to a digital world. But in the hybrid world, how do we create a cohesive digital employee experience?

During these testing times, companies and individuals both have been challenged in their ability to bounce back and continue business as usual. And this has largely been possible because technology and collaborative tools have made giant leaps in their applicability. We rely more heavily than ever on tools and technology to connect, collaborate and even, stay operational.

From the time we used inland letters to now, where emojis and bit-sized communications are the norm, the fundamentals are still the same. The channels we use have changed but the basic needs of trust building, one-to-one connections, and engagement are more relevant than ever. As leaders, we need to ask: “How do we bring in the binders that will tie all the experiences together for the employee seamlessly?”

A lot more needs to happen and as we look to build a uniform work culture we must continue to leverage our ‘social capital’.

While we have empowered employees with a host of tools, making the virtual experience as close to reality as possible, we also need to flex newer muscles that we didn’t know existed. Allstate India using virtual apps to creatively onboard new hires is a good example.

4. Clearly, digital transition demands a major mindset shift. How do managers and leaders navigate through this and ensure all sections of the workforce are included, engaged, and thriving?

By leading with empathy – it is non-negotiable. While the digital platforms can ensure unifying experience, technology alone, will not suffice. Greater compassion from managers towards employees will help close the gap. I already see the levels of empathy going up in most people, since the pandemic hit. There’s greater appreciation of the challenges that people might be facing.

Allstate India has been at the front helping people during the crisis to an extent where we have received numerous industry awards. I see this time of uncertainty as an opportunity to introspect.

While technology empowers us to challenge the impossible, layering it with greater sensitivity in our people-to-people interactions, will help build a sustainable working environment.

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