VIRTUAL OFFICES-The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting ---The absence of HR in the public sector encourages a spirit of confrontation ---Finds out how  organisations are reaching out to their employees and soliciting their ideas --10 ways to ride the Bad Times -- A workplace odyssey,special report by Site Author --
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      There was a time when taking a leave of absence from work, for personal reasons, was a frowned upon thought, especially when the team was working towards tight deadlines. You would then report to office in two minds, which in turn, would affect the outcome of your work. However, with the changing face of India Inc, this situation no longer persists, because, today, all you have to do is speak to your manager and seek his/her permission to allow you to take the leave and finish work at the same time, without hampering the outcome of either.

      As the corporate world is increasingly becoming concerned about the productivity and work life balance of their employees, they are bringing in several initiatives to enhance it. Providing the option to work from home or anywhere outside the office for their employees is one such initiative.


There are many reasons why many organizations are letting their employees to work from home. A facility, which was enjoyed mostly by women, is now a favourite among men too. As commuting is getting increasingly difficult day by day, we realize that many of our employees spend quite a bit of their productive time traveling, to and fro from office. This is one of the reasons why we are looking at work from home as an option for our employees,” says Sudeesh Venkatesh, Head HR, and Tesco HSC. 

      At present, about 150 of our employees have opted for this. And we are looking at extending this policy to a larger group, based on the feedback and suggestions we have received,” adds Venkatesh.

      At Cognizant, several people globally avail the facility to telecommute. Most of these are managers and above, who are required to travel frequently to different parts of the world,” says T Sridhar, Chief People Officer and Cognizant. “Apart from managers, in a new initiative, we are providing the flexibility of telecommuting on need basis to some other people engaged in production support activities. For example, around 50 people across levels, who are engaged in production support work in India for one of our clients, have been provided with laptops and the necessary access over a virtual private network so as to enable them to service our clients during particular hours or over the weekends with the clients permission,” explains Sridhar about the telecommuting initiatives at Cognizant.


Today, technology has also made telecommuting a viable option. Virtual private networks, more secure connectivity, instant messaging software, remote access tokens etc. are making telecommuting much easier. Nortel is exploring a concept called ‘unified communications’ to make telecommuting a hassle free experience,” says Sukhvinder Ahuja, Director – Unified Communications, Nortel. Using this technology, we can converge video, voice and data into a single platform. So when you are at home with your laptop, you have seamless access to your office phone and data. For all practical and business purposes like attending a videoconference or sharing a file with your colleague, you are virtually sitting at the office desk. We secure the system by running a security tunnel,” explains Ahuja.


Telecommuting has a lot of benefits. Experts say that telecommuting has increased flexibility among employees, thus offering them a more balanced life. According to Sridhar, it is beneficial for the employee, the employer and the community at large as it alleviates traffic congestion and its stress–induced health fallouts on commuters, enhances productivity of employees, reduces costs both for employers as well as employees, gives discretionary time back to the employee, improves the attractiveness of an organization, broadens the labour pool, reduces fuel consumption and improves air quality.

      But as it is said, every coin has two sides, telecommuting also have certain challenges. There are many things that the employer and the employee must consider before going for it. Brand width constraints, data security, creating an office culture open for telecommuting etc. are key concerns for many organizations. One could lose on the work culture, if he/she is working from home. But if one can strike a balance by working for a few days from home, you can overcome this,” opines Ahuja.

      Managers are accustomed to managing by observation and by supervision. This mindset could be a major setback,” opines Venkatesh.                          

      Also employees need to develop a more disciplined way of working and the ability to work with-out supervision. Also, its important to have clear performance goals and evaluation processes before considering this option. The employee must have the ability to manage things independently and must be able to maintain an excellent working relationship with his/her colleagues and peers. It is important to maintain a high degree of self-discipline in order to keep productivity high. Also, when you work from home, there is no restriction to the number of hours being put in so you could end up being more stressed than before,” adds Venkatesh. 

      Shilpa Bhardwaj, Director, People Success, Sapient believes, Working from home is a wonderful opportunity with a little bit of juggling and effort to create a distinct working mindset. Employees can also feel isolated in some ways, which might effect their day-to-day interactions. Connection to the team or company can also be a challenge. But with the regular team meetings and conference calls one can overcome this”.

      Allowing people to work from outside the office is bringing in very positive outputs. So we are encouraging the concept of going to work rather than going to office,” concludes Ahuja. 

      So, if you are in a situation of spending time with your guests and working at the same time, fret not. All you have to do is speak to your employer who will give you the option of doing both, all from the comforts of your own home.  



‘The biggest HR challenge India faces is in the public sector’

SAYING IT WITH STRIKES: The absence of HR in the public sector encourages a spirit of confrontation.

     This is the season of strikes. Bank staff (dont call them workers) has been agitating for wage revisions and a ban on mergers. Reserve Bank of India employees have walked out demanding higher pension. Bureaucrats and public sector employees are waiting for the Pay Commission largesse, so they have been relatively quiet. But in many other places – as workers and extract as much as they can by way of festive season bonus – acrimony is at the top of the agenda.

     So it should not be a surprise that the newspapers have reported that the unions of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) are going on a strike over bonus. The company is willing to pay Rs.33000; they want Rs.40000.

     But it actually is a surprise. RIL has the reputation of being an understanding employer. Sure, you are expected to kowtow to the owners and its a monarch-vassal relationship. But thats the way it is in most family-owned Indian businesses, and nobodys really complaining.

     RIL has been known to be a company that cares for its people. When the petroleum retail business had to be downsized (because rivals sold cheaper fuel, thanks to government subsidies), many of the surplus staff was absorbed in the general retail business. When there was no place even there, the company started an informal outplacement service to find jobs for those they could not accommodate internally. The caring – founder Dhirubhai Ambani used to treat his employees like his family – extends to several areas. So are the folks at Reliance really going on strike?

     Look closer and you will find the reason. The people threatening a strike are employees of the former public sector unit Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd (IPCL) that was taken over and merged with RIL. You can take a man out of the public sector, but you cannot take the public sector mentality out of a man.

     Dont think this is a purely Indian phenomenon. India is the last bastion of the comrades, so one might be tempted to assume so. Look at some current international headlines – Thousands of public sector workers in UK to strike,” “Greeks strike over economic reforms,” Romanian public sector union threatens pay strike,” “Colombia in crisis as trade unions call general strike”…

     What is it about the public sector that encourages a spirit of confrontation and strikes? My view is very controversial,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant Shashi Rao. “But the fact is that there is no HR in the public sector”.   

     The early history of capitalism, she points out, was one of exploitation. But the private sector soon realized that you could get the best results only if you treated your employees as stakeholders. But they had their place in the hierarchy of importance. And it wasnt right on top.   

     The public sector, on the other hand, was started in many places with the assumption that the employees were the most important stakeholders. The objective of the enterprise is to make money for them (in the form of wages and benefits). Very often, these companies are monopolies. Quality is not important. The customer can take it or leave it. And work is merely an irritant; you do as little of it as possible. 

     In this environment, the HR function in a public sector unit is merely to sign pay cheques, sanction leave, edit the house magazine and organize an annual sports day. Negotiations are either external (the government talks to the unions) or involve the top management. 

     Are things changing? “Perhaps,” says Rao. “In a market economy, the government sector and bureaucracy cannot remain the biggest dole system in the world, as it is today”. But she warns that things could be changing the other way around too. Ask RIL. Is it in danger of becoming a public sector company?   


How public sector managers see themselves.

1.        Only half of the respondents view themselves as providing strategic value to the organization. Given that people are generally more positive about their performance than those they serve, this is a disturbing find.

2.        Barely half the respondents are satisfied with the technology they are using to support the HR function.

3.        Over 70% of public sector respondents indicate that becoming a leader in total talent management would make HR more strategic to their organization.

4.        Learning management and benefits administration are the processes most frequently cited as being supported by shared services. Payroll was named the process most frequently outsourced.





Building and employer of choice brand entails drawing and retaining quality talent. Given the job opportunities in India, employees are not content being just passive participants in their own careers; they are choosing to drive it. Employees want to work for organizations that are visible, innovative, have well-defined values and showcase solid growth. Aquil Busrai, Executive Director – HR, IBM India/South Asia who points out the above ideology says that being alive to this change in the work–force of the 21st century by building HR policies to support this will help attract potential candidates and at the same time, create a highly motivated workforce. And this can only be possible if employees are empowered to contribute to their brands growth and potential candidates, too, feel that the employer truly believes in employee empowerment and is not just paying lip service. 

    Arnab Banerjee, VP – Sales & Marketing, CEAT which has an Advisory Management Council (AMC),’ an employee group consisting of high-caliber young professionals who ideate over critical strategic issues facing the companys future growth plans, says, “Involving employees in the process gets them to share with the company their views and ideas. The recent repositioning exercise that CEAT undertook was spearheaded by a young CEAT marketing team”. When CEAT embarked on the brand repositioning exercise, they realized that the proposition of Born Tough and the rhino as the identity, though salient had long lost their relevance. “While the non-commercial team and the younger employee were clearly for the new identity, there was strong opposition from the commercial marketing team/older employees who saw the rhino as still relevant in the truck segment. A very young team orchestrated this entire exercise of convincing the entire set of employee before launching the identity change campaign,” adds Banerjee.   

    At Steria, they conduct People Poll,’ an employee satisfaction survey which lays special emphasis on a section called, “branding”. This is a platform wherein people can express their views on how branding initiatives could be made more efficient. One can even post comments sharing their opinions on the existing logo. In the sidelines of Xansas transformation and re-branding into Steria, post the acquisition, one such suggestion (regarding recruitment) made by an employee was to execute a radio jingle, as part of the advertising strategy, and air it on a popular radio station. The jingle was a 20 second catchy testimonial by a young Steria employee that talk about the career opportunities offered at Steria to a technology fresher like himself and other prospective employees. The feedback filled in by this employee exactly stated what should go on air in this jingle,” adds Sachdev Ramakrishna, Director – Marketing, Steria India.


Anurag Jain, Regional Managing Director-Asia Pacific and President-Applications Solutions (AS) and Insurance & Business Process Solutions (IBPS), Perot Systems believes that new age companies can achieve success when the branding or management strategies of the company are derived through a strong foundational culture of employee participation.

    Employees and potential candidates are tuned in to the market dynamics and in this age of web 2.0 and pervasive social media; they are the main influencers of the companys brand in the marketplace. For the branding of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative, they called for nominations from associates and received several entries. The name that was finally short-listed was Deeksha,’ a Sanskrit word that stands for initiation of divine energy transfer. Even a suggestion as small as making the pronunciation right of the company name was taken into consideration. “The Perot in Perot Systems is pronounced with T being silent; our associates wanted to ensure that the name was pronounced correctly and hence we began a radio campaign to ensure that the correct pronunciation reached out to people,” adds Jain. All of Perots internal brands suggestions have come in from employees. 

    At IBM, recently, when one of the business units was redefining its vision and mission, they sought the creative talent of their employee base. They reached out to the employees through a contest, which enabled them to submit their creative ideas. The entire campaign turned out to be hugely successful.     




The worst is yet to come. Management students graduating from business schools in 2009 will face the real brunt of the current global economic crisis, warn experts. For starters, high paying industries like investment banking and financial services will not recruit next year, says Kris Lakshmikant, CEO and managing director of the Bangalore-based recruitment firm The Head Hunters. “Day one companies such as Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs that visit the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) campuses will not be recruiting next year. About 10 to 15 IIM graduates are recruited by these companies,” says Lakshmikant. He adds that consulting companies like McKinney will also go slow on recruitment.

      Many high paying jobs will disappear. The realty industry, for instance, was booming last year. Companies like DLF took away graduates at salaries of Rs.60.lakh to 70.lakh per annum last year. They wont go to campuses in 2009,” says Lakshmikant. He expects average salaries to dip by 10 to 15%.

      Till last year, the employee was king in the Indian job market. But now the tables have turned. Although jobs are still being created in India – as the economy continues to grow at seven percent – the sentiments is not as bullish as before. “Industries whose business is exposed to western economies – like the IT and finance sectors – have been impacted by the crisis,” says Karthik Ramamurthy, associate director and head, Synovate Business Consulting, Mumbai.  

      So companies are cutting flab. Today, firms are taking a serious look at their talent pool and are shedding all excess baggage in a bid to rationalize existing operations,” explains Ramamurthy.

      Retrenchment is happening across industries. In the aviation industry, Kingfisher has cut jobs. In the IT sector, Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro have cut jobs. “About 25000 to 35000 jobs in the IT sector will be lost,” says Lakshmikant. ICICI Bank, which was slated to hire 40000 employees this year, is just filling up vacancies. Realty companies are also postponing recruitment.

      The global economy will take about a year to recover from the crisis, predict experts. So in the meantime, hold tight. Heres how.

1. This is a cyclone, not a tsunami: Experts predict that the slump in the job market will pass in one years time. So stay put in your job, till the rough weather ends. Hold on for dear life and stay where you are, says Lakshmikant. “If you are in a good job, stick to it. Dont look around,” he says. Nirupama V.G., managing director, Ad Astral Consultants, Bangalore, agrees. “Dont be choosy while selecting jobs. Take what comes, for now,” she says.

2. Money isn’t everything: Look at the exposure and growth opportunities while picking a job, rather than compensation packages. “That way, when we are back in the Bull Run phase, the foundation that a person sets would help scale up his career well,” explains Ramamurthy. Reddy agrees. “Dont look at salaries. Take a job if there is an opportunity to learn. Use this period to enhance your skills,” he says.

3. Man needs roti, kapda, makaan and cell-phone: Look at industries that are not directly connect-ed with the slowdown. “There are a lot of job available in sector like infrastructure and healthcare. The telecom sector is also booming. Management graduate could explore opportunities in these industries,” says Lakshmikant.

      Charan Arora, principal consultant, E Source Global HR, Mumbai, adds, “The media and oil and gas are robust industries. But when job hunting, always look for big names to work for. That way, youll be certain that the company is not a fly-by-night operator”.

      Vardhan Srinivasan, company secretary, Shree Ram Associates, Chennai, recommends that management graduates look at mergers and acquisitions (M&A) as a work option. “M&A is of very recent origin in India. Sick companies are being taken over by healthy ones. Reverse mergers and de–mergers are happening,” he explains. Srinivasan adds that only lawyers work in the M&A domain in Indian today. “It can be a lucrative work option for management consultants and company secretaries as well,” he says.

4. Have employable skills: Even today, there is a shortage of talented people, says Lakshmikant. “So keep updating your skills,” he advises.

      Nirupama V.G. says that many industries are looking for the right talent with specific skill sets. The retail and infrastructure industries need specific skills. So people should hone themselves and use a skill-based approach,” she says.

5. Shoulder more responsibility: Arora advises management cadres to shoulder more responsibility. “Companies always downsize those they dont value. So widen your work horizons,” he says. But just working harder is not enough. The management needs to know this. “You dont just add value but also communicate this to the management, through memos, mails and so on,” adds Arora.

6. Target, focus, groom: Ramamurthy advises that the mantra for management students should be to target, focus and groom yourself right”. “Till the bull run lasted, companies fell over one another to hire and retain talent,” he says. But now, times have changed. With the shift in balance, graduates need to prioritize the industry they want to build a career in. Then, they should equip themselves with the right skill sets, in line with the hiring firms needs. “That way the choice is clear to the hiring manager,” explains Ramamurthy.

7. There is life beyond the metros: Experts point out that there are job opportunities galore in rural India. Dont just look at jobs in multinationals. Try other sectors like agro industries, where massive recruitment is happening,” says V.K. Lakshmi Narayanan, general manager, operations, Brenda Group of Companies, Chennai.

8. Try to be in a good company: The fall of Lehman Brothers has proved that there are no safe jobs anymore. But Lakshmikant says that when job hunting join a good company, even if the compensation is less. Stable companies act as better buffers against the ups and downs of the economy,” says Lakshmikant.

9. We can get through this: This is a shake down but not a recession, says Arora. “There still are foreign direct investments (FDI) coming in and consolidation will happen. If employees update themselves, they can move forward when the worst is over,” he explains.

10. Don’t invest – for now: Finally, Lakshmikant advises management-level employees to play safe while investing. Dont make any major personal capital investments for the moment. Its best to play safe,” he says.        

A Workspace Odyssey


What if you step into your office building, one fine day and find out that the entire appearance of the office has undergone a major makeover? You find that all the glass cubicles have been dismantled to create more open space and you now share your workstation with your CEO! Your canteen has a LAN connection and you are encouraged to work using your laptop, sipping cappuccino, while being seated cozily on a beanbag. Your boss encourages you to have your weekly brainstorming sessions at the office recreational center, while working out on the treadmill. You new office is swanky, contemporary and stylish!   

     Todays employers confirm that the physical workspace plays a vital role in encouraging collaboration, interdependency and sharing among people by creating a home-environment in a commercial setting. Since employee productivity, in a huge way is influenced by the physical environment of their workplace, employers are reaching out to their employees and soliciting their suggestion and feedback as it can shorten their journey to a leaner organization. 

     Employees spend eight to ten hour a day at the workplace and hence its imperative for employers to provide a workplace which is conducive, friendly and encourages efficiency. And involving employees in our quest to construct a modern yet productive workspace is the best solution,” says Rakesh Singh – VP products and MD, Citrix R&D India. Padmaja Korde, General Manager – HR, Philips Innovation Campus says, “Functioning in a workspace that is appealing, innovative and creative makes them feel energized and has a positive impact on the state of mind of the employees”. 

     Intel net makes continuous efforts to create an environment that makes employees feel excited to come to work every day. We constantly engage employees and gather feedback on how comfortable they are at the workplace in terms of facilities, through both formal and non-formal channels. Intel nets employee satisfaction survey focuses on capturing employee feedback on various topics through online surveys, focus group interactions and senior management interaction. These suggestion are then implemented to make the facility a better one, for the employees,” explains Manuel DSouza, Chief Human Resource Officer, and Intel net Global Services. Employee participation also evokes a sense of belonging and pride as they get to have a say in the organizations bigger agendas as well. It provides the ambience and also offers several opportunities for employees to be creative and responsive to change,” says Sanjay Kamlani, Co-CEO, and Pangea3. The flagship office of Pangea3 in Mumbai was developed after several town hall meetings, discussions and group meetings with the employees. Discussion were held about ideal layouts for manager staff seating arrangements, staff entertainment areas etc. In our meetings with the managers, we drew various designs on a flip chart on how managers and their teams could be seated considering various issues around how managers interact with their team, flexibility around seats and team movement, etc. We received considerable number of ideas and suggestions from our employees about ergonomic, size of work stations, lighting, air conditioning, discussion rooms, etc,” says Kamlani. Van Dana Gohain, Head – HR, 3D PLM Soft-ware Co Ltd, a joint venture company of Geometric Ltd points out, “The participation of employees not only helps in ensuring that you are providing infrastructure meeting their needs but also makes employees responsible and reduces misuse”. 

     New age offices are well maintained, sleek and neat with a minimalist look. Soon, along with the work and work culture, it is evident that office interiors might also become a deterrent, for a candidate while choosing his/her place of work! 


Citrix Indias new R&D office in Ban-galore is completely designed by its employees. Employees spent over a day and half with the architects and had several discussions and shared feedback openly with them on the kind of workspace these foresee. The architects, minutely, observed a day in the life of the employees and designed the center. “Since employees spend considerable time on their chairs, a lot of employee input was sought on getting the most ergonomic chair. The management brought in 50-60 chairs from various vendors and the employees voted on which chair they liked the best,” says Singh. Softer lighting, wi-fi technology and private telephone booths for two-person conferences were insightful suggestion provided by their employees. “One of our employees suggested we have glass cubes instead of cabins for our bosses, in an endeavour to promote transparency,” explains Ratnesh Sharma, director for product management and marketing, Citrix R&D India. 


When Philips Innovation Campus planned to move to a new campus, a mock set up of the new campus was created at the old campus for a week and employees were invited to view it and give their feedback. Later, the feedback was collated and based on the honest feedback generated from a cross section of employees; the layout of the new campus was designed. When we moved to our current campus, the layout was completely changed to foster a culture of collaboration and openness without impacting the privacy of individuals, based on the feedback accumulated,” inform Korde. We have an innovation room which was completely conceived by a team of employees, popularly referred to as catalysts”. The catalyst team’s agenda was to encourage and drive new ideas and thoughts in the organization and for the same, they needed a space that would enable and foster unstructured and free-flowing thought of ideas. To enable this, the idea of an innovation room was conceptualized and executed which is devoid of any tables or chairs and instead has a couple of bean bags, randomly dispersed,” adds Korde.      


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