Compassionate Leadership Nurtures Innovation

Simran Oberoi is a having over 18 years of experience in HR Advisory, Compensation & Rewards, Diversity & Inclusion, Leadership Development, Job Mapping, and Organization Design in the APAC region with organizations such as Aon (Hewitt Associates), PwC, Hay Group/Korn Ferry and SHRM India. She has also worked on several independent projects in leadership training content development with well-known Learning & Development, Consulting and Diversity & Inclusion organizations like Noble House Consulting, Aon Hewitt, LeadNOW, EdCast Inc., Smartplay Technologies, KelpHR, Interweave Consulting, Reboot (Working with women returnees), Mohana HR Futuristics and also on projects in knowledge areas of Compensation Communication, Change Management, Executive Presence, Emotional Intelligence.

Simran is also a Visiting Faculty for the HR Elective Course - Diversity and Inclusion at the Workplace, for Goa Institute of Management and School of Business, Mody University of Science and Technology (rated the Best Women’s University in the Asia Pacific, 2019) and Guest Faculty for Salary Fitment and Job Analysis at Christ University, Bangalore.

She has published over 50 articles, 12-article series on Rewards and similar series in Diversity & Inclusion, for Business Manager magazine and shared perspectives in leading journals such as PeopleMatters, Human Capital, Business Manager, Wall Street Journal Blog, Oil Asia and the SHRM website. Simran has accreditation in Hay methodology and Job Mapping.

Thank you, Simran, for agreeing to do this interview with us. Kindly be as candid as you can.
Let’s Start!!!
How does the pandemic year affect you? What changes, professional and personal, does it bring into your life?

The pandemic year has been one of introspection and learning for me. It has also been a time of sweeping changes. Balance and positivity have been the keys in trying to survive one of the worst years I have experienced. Professionally, it has been a phase of rapid upskilling since I spent a large amount of my time reading and studying trends as well as HR happenings across the world. In addition to that, I have focused on being more tuned in with the way our organizations will work in the post-pandemic era. I wrote analytical pieces using HR events from across the world and discovered deeper insights into the magical world of HR and Tech. I teach a course on Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace in 2-3 business schools, and I had to do those virtually – not the best way to teach young minds, but the only option currently.

Personally, I did not see a lot of challenges because I have been working remotely for close to 10 years now. I know a whole lot of professionals who were suddenly working from home, all days, for almost a year, were getting burnt out and also worried about how work tends to spill into family life. But due to my past experience of remote work, I was able to balance this better.

In the new normal, some employees will be mandatorily working from the company premises, some will be allowed to permanently work-from-home, and others will be following a hybrid schedule. How do you foresee the future workplace? In this setup, how will companies ensure employee engagement? What will be the prominent elements of NEW work culture?

Yes, companies will have to adopt a hybrid model at best or a 100% remote working model if possible. The future workplace will become heavily reliant on technology that ensures that the touchpoints at which employee experience should be excellent, are not compromised. Engagement is no longer going to be important – we are now moving towards experience. Employees want to experience what I believe are the 3Cs from their organizations -collaboration, care, and concern.

Each of these is inter-linked. Collaboration between teams, peers, managers, leaders, and every stakeholder, will be absolutely essential for a culture to be created in a workplace like this. Some people will be remote workers, some will be partly remote and partly working from the office. Ensuring that all of them are able to seamlessly connect and deliver their business goals, is a daunting task.

Secondly, employee care is part of the overall culture now more than ever before. Talent is watching out for signs from their employers – to show that they care for their health and safety. This could be through concrete steps or policy-driven change or intangible interactions that impart a sense of comfort.

Thirdly, the pandemic has opened up the doors for employers to become trusted partners to their employees by demonstrating concern for their families.By ensuring that the families of the employees have the support they need too, organizations are now moving in the right direction.

When companies start applying these elements in every step, they take towards creating a better experience for employees, the NEW work culture will start evolving.

In your role, do you think work-from-home is a boon or a bane? What challenges, if any, did you face in maintaining a work-life balance? What will be the new definition of “work-life balance”?

Work-from-home has always been a boon in my opinion. Even in leadership roles, and even before the pandemic I have worked from home for around a decade now. It has significant positives particularly for parents of young children, who live in nuclear families. I did not face any challenges in maintaining the balance, but I do believe what has helped is, one, being able to compartmentalize the mind but integrate time slots. Let me explain that a bit more. We tend to think of life when we work and work when we live. By compartmentalizing the mind, we can segregate the two in a way that we give a 100% of our energy and concentration to what we are doing at that moment. The second part of the statement is also the new definition of work-life balance.It is now work-life integration. We need to integrate the two into each other with respect to time. We might think that defining time slots within which we do work, or we spend time with family works well.

Perhaps it works well for some people.

But overall, given that all our colleagues work remotely now, being able to remain fluid about how to map our time to work or to things at home, every day, is an important quality. Become comfortable with having a different schedule daily. When we embrace the uncertainties that come with working with a geographically dispersed team that is also working from home, we become better at balancing it.

As an HR Leader, how will you prepare future leaders to manage crises of the magnitude of COVID-19 (more so, when the next generation of leaders will be working in a more remote world)? What NEW LEADERSHIP COMPETENCIES will become necessary for the success of a leader?

Remote working can be isolating for many people and especially since more people thrive on human interactions. But we need our leaders for the future to move beyond viewing these interactions as a way to remain engaged or motivated. Here are some new leadership competencies that I believe will help leaders to succeed.

  1. Connection – Interaction with the leaders, as I shared earlier, needs to do much more for the employees beyond just sharing information or motivating them. It needs to become a connection. It sounds difficult especially in a remote setup, but leaders need to strive to find their strengths in how to use technology and their own personality traits too, to connect with their employees and teams through conversations.
  2. Compassion – COVID-19 has shown us that no business can operate if it lacks compassion. So, this is the biggest quality that a leader would need. He or she needs to be able to place this and humaneness above all else when they make decisions – people-related or business-related.
  3. Inclusive – Apart from the pandemic, we saw some eruptions concerning racial issues in the corporate space. We are also seeing how the pandemic has pushed gender diversity to work back to where it was some decades ago. The way forward is to have inclusive leaders who can use this opportunity of remote working, to build more diverse workplaces and bring in talent from multiple quarters.
  4. Authentic – Finally new-age leaders need to be authentic and transparent. The crisis has been unprecedented but only the companies that have had leaders who were honest with the information, to their employees, are going to remain sustainable in the future.
Lastly, what is your message for those students who will be graduating during this difficult time? How should they keep their morale high and stay motivated?

My message to them would be to know that the world has had challenging times in the past as well. Nothing matched the current situation’s severity or the kind of disruptive changes it has led to, in our corporate world. But that is where the strength of the students graduating during this time lies.

So far VUCA has been a buzzword. But these students entering a truly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world – it is terrifying to see how decades of established working styles and organizational structures have been dismantled in a span of a year. But it is also a time for the new world order to come in.

Changes that companies have been dragging their feet on have had to be made overnight – remote working for all employees, deeply inclusive cultures, embedded HR tech systems, employee wellness, and health. These were aspects that were good-to-do and in the last year, they have become a MUST-HAVE. So, it is an exciting new phase, and the students are lucky to see it shaping up before their eyes. They should see the positive changes that the pandemic has led to and that is what will enable them to stay motivated. In addition to that, they read more about how organizations have rediscovered their compassion and put employee safety over and above all else. That is a big statement in a world where business and profits are the cornerstones of operations.

Thank you, Simran, for your insights.
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