Article: Leaders ought to accept they don't have all the answers, but are willing to listen, learn to drive meaningful change: Microsoft’s Ira Gupta

Strategic HR

Leaders ought to accept they don't have all the answers, but are willing to listen, learn to drive meaningful change: Microsoft’s Ira Gupta

While every organisation will have to define its unique approach to hybrid work, it will need to be grounded in flexibility, wellbeing and inclusion, in order to empower employees to do their best in a way that works best for them, while balancing business needs and ensuring organisational culture is preserved, says Ira Gupta, Head of Human Resources, Microsoft India.
Leaders ought to accept they don't have all the answers, but are willing to listen, learn to drive meaningful change: Microsoft’s Ira Gupta

Hybrid work represents one of the biggest changes in how we work, and comes as the employer-employee relationship is undergoing a radical shift. Employees around the globe are re-evaluating opportunities with a new mindset and renewed expectations from their employers.

Ira Gupta, Head of Human Resources, Microsoft India, says there is no single standard or blueprint for the future of work, and every organisation and every individual will need to create their own unique roadmap as they move forward.

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Gupta shares major challenges that leaders face when leading a hybrid team, ways to overcome them and what strategies work to effectively lead a hybrid workforce in the post-Covid world.

Here are some excerpts.

What are the major challenges for leaders of a hybrid team?

The diversity of experiences and perspectives is best summed up by what we call the ‘hybrid work paradox’ which is one of the biggest challenges that come with a hybrid environment.

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey found that nearly 74% of employees in India want more flexible, remote work options, while at the same time, 73% of them are also craving more in-person time with their teams.

Secondly, one of the most felt aspects of remote work is the impact it’s had on our relationships. Our Work Trend Index finds that 32% of leaders in India say relationship-building is the greatest challenge of having employees work hybrid or remote.

The other challenges are what I call the 3Cs - Culture, Communication, and Collaboration. How do organisations create a culture that is inclusive and empathetic to the different needs of their workforce in a hybrid environment? How do you ensure communication channels between the organisation and its employees are always open?

And lastly how do you ensure effective collaboration when half of the people are in office and the other half is not? For instance, it is becoming important for employees to understand and appreciate when and why they need to come to the office for it to complement their experience and the business outcome.

The employer employee relationship is undergoing a radical shift. Employees around the globe are re-evaluating opportunities with a new mindset and renewed expectations from their employers.

Data from Microsoft’s Work Trend Index finds that two out of three employees in India are more likely to prioritise their health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic.

A staggering 63% of workers in India who are currently hybrid are considering a shift to being fully remote in the year ahead and 41% of Indian employees (versus 18% global average) say they left their jobs during the past year because their current job did not meet expectations. Suffice to say that in the last two years, what people want out of work and what they’re willing to sacrifice for a job has evolved considerably.

These are some of the many scenarios that every organisation will need to prepare for to empower their employees for the hybrid workplace.

What works for successfully leading a hybrid team in the post-Covid world?

When it comes to preparing our employees for hybrid work, we are prioritising three things: social capital, knowledge capital, and human capital. Our culture pivoted on empathy and our core values of respect, integrity and accountability has been the north star as we navigate the new world of work.

On social capital, we are focusing deeply on enhancing employee experience and maintaining the everyday connections between our employees, the company, and our mission. As employee experience becomes even more important in a hybrid world, last year we launched Microsoft Viva, the first employee experience platform built for the digital era. Microsoft Viva brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights into an integrated experience that empowers individuals and teams.

The second dimension is continuous learning. We are investing deeply in employee learning, providing resources and personalised training content for employees to continuously learn, grow and skill themselves. Our culture is grounded in the concept of what we call ‘growth mindset’, which is essentially the belief that potential is not predetermined. Everyone can learn and grow. This culture of learning is deeply ingrained in every part of our company and is reflected in everything that we do.

The last aspect is Human Capital. We stay razor focused on ensuring employee wellbeing and supporting employees with their unique needs. The role of the managers and leaders is critical here and more important today than ever before.

Despite the undeniable desire for flexibility, 62% of business leaders in India fear productivity has been negatively impacted since the shift to remote or hybrid work, while 85% of workers say they are as productive or even more productive compared to a year ago.  

Managers need to play a significant role to enable an inclusive, effective, and consistent employee experience while balancing individual and business needs. Managers also need to be more intentional about role modelling company culture and values, more thoughtful about understanding individual capabilities and unique circumstances and proactively coach team members for success across boundaries and help teams respond to the changing environment, opportunities, and challenges.

How do you keep hybrid teams engaged?

We offer flexibility to support individual workstyles, while balancing business needs. Our Hybrid Workplace guidelines allow for flexibility in work site, work location and work hours. Working from home up to 50% of work time is considered standard for most roles.

We are focusing equally on building manager readiness to understand and support individual employee flexibility preferences through training, office hours, and HR consultation. Managers are encouraged to develop Team Agreements – shared commitments among members of a team on ways of working that allow the team to understand each other’s work preferences and develop shared agreements that balance individual with team needs and set clear expectations for how the team would work together.

We have also adapted our policies to ensure every Microsoft employee has the resources to be as productive, creative, and secure as possible. We’ve been on a journey over the last five years to ensure that our benefits not only focus on physical health, but also cover emotional and mental wellbeing.

We renamed our sick leave to Sick and Mental Health Leave, enabling employees to take time for mental wellbeing as they would for physical wellbeing.  We’ve also introduced Caregiver leave for employees in a caregiving role at home.  

We are always looking for ways to improve the employee experience at Microsoft and feedback from employees has been essential to helping us learn and grow. This has become even more important in a hybrid environment.  We’ve therefore also evolved our Employee Listening systems to capture more actionable insights at an increased frequency.

As a tools and platforms company, our focus has been on designing technology experiences that help individuals and organisations prioritise well-being, improve accessibility, and support flexible workstyles. We are reimagining every aspect of the meeting experience in Microsoft Teams to make virtual interactions more natural, engaging, and human.

Can hybrid modes of work fill the chasm between expectations of corporations and aspirations of their people? 

The last two years have resulted in significant changes in how employees think of work, their engagement with each other, and their expectations from the workplace. What we're experiencing is possibly the biggest workforce transition of our lifetime.

An earlier such transition in the 1990s was enabled by technology and the internet to achieve greater speed, efficiency, and collaboration. This one, also enabled by technology, is rooted in the idea of Empowerment, Flexibility, and Inclusion.

There is a need for employers to actively listen to and meet employee expectations, while also balancing organisation’s needs. This will need companies to build a hybrid workplace that embraces flexibility, promotes inclusion, creates lasting connections, and drives innovation.

While there is no single blueprint or design for successfully navigating hybrid work, focusing on flexibility, inclusion and wellbeing will be a step in the right direction to navigate the complexities and the nuances of a hybrid workplace.

Our hybrid workplace at Microsoft is based on a commitment to flexibility that welcomes and enables diverse ways of working, relies on new learning and mindset shifts, considers business and individual needs, and is built on trust and technology.

Our hybrid workplace guidelines allow for flexibility in work site (physical space where we work), work location (geographic location where we work) and work hours to support individual workstyles, while balancing business needs, and ensuring we live our culture.

As employees plan the transition for themselves, we are encouraging them to understand and leverage the Flexible Work Options available at Microsoft, based on their unique requirements, in consultation with their manager, to establish the work arrangement that works for them. We are also empowering employees and managers with tools and resources to enable decision making and operationalise this flexibility as part of Our Hybrid Workplace.

What's your advice to HR leaders to come out stronger post-Covid?

The single biggest piece of advice that I heavily rely on myself is to always operate with a ‘Growth Mindset’. Part of this is accepting that we don’t yet know or have all the answers but still being willing to listen, learn, and take action to drive meaningful change.

It is important to recognise there is no single way of working that applies to everyone and we need to embrace flexibility as part of the new Hybrid Workplace.

While every organisation will define its unique approach to hybrid, what is clear is that it will need to be grounded in flexibility, wellbeing, and inclusion, in order to empower employees to do their best work in a way that works best for them, while balancing business needs and ensuring organisations live their culture.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, #FutureOfWork, #HybridLeadership

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