The composition of the workforce is changing. It is among the lasting shifts that employers are dealing with. The new expectations around flexibility are transforming how companies rethink their talent strategies. Oracle’s Deepa Param calls this shift, 'the rise of the hybrid employee'. In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, she spoke about the implications for the workplace, technology priorities and new engagement strategies,
Deepa Param Singhal is the Vice President, HCM, Oracle Asia Pacific. She is a growth-oriented leader with an excellent track record of starting up, growing multi-million-dollar businesses, inspiring large teams to win, setting charters/metrics & goals, budget planning, Strengthening CXO relationships, collaborating with stakeholders, and exceeding organizational expectations.
Could you briefly elaborate on the concept of ‘Hybrid employee’; including how the idea came to be in existence, its significance, what factors contributed to the emergence of hybrid work, and possible future tendencies?
The notion of the hybrid employee originated in the era of the hybrid workplace, a phenomenon that has gained enormous popularity in the post-covid scenario. Employees who prefer to work in both physical and remote working environments are the ones considered under this category. This set of the workforce works from home on certain days of the week and from the office on others depending on company policies. The concept was hardly common prior to the pandemic; however, it has now practically become a norm in the new normal.
There are numerous reasons why the workforce globally and in India is more inclined to work in this model and the most prominent reason is safety protocols that came into existence with the pandemic. Second, during the virtual work mode, employees and employers have realized that work does not necessarily require physical attendance. Indeed, over the last two years, there have been numerous conversations about increasing productivity in the hybrid model. Employees were able to save commute time, work with greater flexibility and autonomy, and increase productivity, among other positives.
In terms of expectations for future tendencies, based on existing trends, attractive studies and concepts among employees and organizations, this trend is projected to continue. Our AI@work survey too revealed how workforce priorities have changed dramatically in the past year.
96% of the Indian respondents said the meaning of “success” has changed for them since the pandemic and explained that success is now more aligned with achieving work-life balance, prioritizing mental health, and having flexibility over when and where they work.
If one would look closely, all these aspects are essentially pros of the hybrid work environment. Hence, one can safely say that the ‘hybrid employee’ is here to stay for long and is flexible in nature. The dimensions and characteristics of this category of the workforce are way ahead of the normal employee and they are highly dependent on advanced age technology to support their work as well as work culture.
The state of HR technology is in flux. As businesses navigate priorities, they also need to think of new priorities - including flexi working, talent retention, automation of managerial tasks, and redesigning learning in the new flow of work. What are some HR tech opportunities and challenge areas that you are seeing?
In the last few years, the HR division has undergone a wide range of transformations. HR tech was traditionally more focused on executing attendance management, payroll management, leave tracking, and so on. However, the pandemic has brought new challenges to the plate of HR leaders where there is a great focus on retention. HR teams have experienced unprecedented retention challenges, and it’s going to take some significant change and effort to overcome them.
With retention, there are other obstacles for many organizations on the operational & productivity side i.e. delivering a personalized, seamless employee experience for their workforce, streamlining communication, and collaboration and ultimately advancing their careers, despite their location on the people management side.
In this regard, sophisticated technologies such AI/ML, Data Analytics, etc. plays an important role in orchestrating people processes from a scalability point of view using simple, personalized experiences and localized HR workflows to bring complete efficiency and productivity. Functions such as learning & development, performance mapping, employee-manager communication, personalized employee support, and many more have been integrated into the newly innovated platforms.
In terms of opportunities, this is just the beginning; with the advent of smart technology, HR tech is only anticipated to expand to more advanced stages of personalization, taking employee management and engagement to a new level of data-driven management. Most importantly, make them more advanced to compete in today’s talent marketplace.
The challenge that we see here is about creating awareness for the use of smart technology platforms; hence the onus is primarily on organizations and CHROs to invest in smart and scalable solutions to advance and modernize their processes.
Addressing experience gaps is a key priority for businesses as they shift away from a mostly remote working environment. What are the new experience challenges that are emerging at the moment?
In the midst of the remote working model, the top priorities and difficulties for CHROs remain the experience gap, lack of necessary skill sets, employee communication, and team engagement and collaboration. As much as remote working and hybrid work models are promoted as employee-friendly and preferred modes of operation due to their flexibility and autonomy. At the same time, one cannot dispute the importance of the physical aspect of the workplace and interpersonal relationships.
HR leaders are gunning for delivering personalized employee communications and supporting the entire workforce with a self-service virtual help desk and digital assistant. This is a challenge that has emerged recently from the hybrid work norm.
Similarly, as the world underwent an emotional crisis in the past couple of years, conversations around emotional and mental support for employees have gained traction. Hence, in case of challenges, mental health support remains a key challenge that CHROs are always looking to address, and it is part of their agenda for the last two years. Our same study called out that 62% of respondents worldwide believe 2021 to be the most stressful year at work ever. Further, more than half (52%) of respondents reported having more problems with their mental health at work in 2021 than in 2020. In India, specifically, 68% of respondents said they were more concerned about their mental health at work in 2021 than in 2020. Hence, it is imperative for CHROs to ensure that their employees feel supported not only financially but also emotionally. Against this backdrop, personalized and employee-centric experiences remain a critical area to address and need the attention of HR leaders across organizations.
What is the role of technology in enabling the HR function to succeed in the emerging hybrid environment? What innovations is Oracle exploring at the moment?
Technology is no longer an advocate but an enabler and is a MUST have, especially in the case of hybrid or remote working environments as it works as a driver of a mechanism ensuring productivity.
Technology that is running the whole hybrid work paradigm is refocusing energy and resources on delivering an exceptional employee experience that makes workers feel valued, appreciated, supported, and encouraged to remain with your organization for years to come.
To tackle this challenge, organizations are realizing the need to invest in new-age solutions to create better employee experiences.
Oracle has been at the forefront of enabling organisations to its core with smart, efficient, and innovative HR tech solutions. We provide tools to help companies invest in and support their employees by improving employee experience, learning new skills, and accessing new career opportunities. In the last year, we have expanded our offerings with new solutions like Journeys and Dynamic Skills specifically aimed at helping companies better engage with their employees.
Our Oracle Fusion Cloud Human Capital Management (HCM) solution, for instance, assists both employers and employees by providing the technology to support evolving employee expectations and help HR navigate continuously changing demands. One of our most recent innovations within Oracle Cloud HCM is Oracle ME, a complete employee experience platform that has been launched this week. A cloud-enabled solution that brings all employee engagement and employee success activities onto a single-multidimensional platform that gives step-by-step instructions and information to help employees navigate HR processes such as onboarding, career development, and transferring to a new function.
Furthermore, because employee experience is indeed a top priority, the platform includes an interactive directory that allows them to easily identify and connect with co-workers based on appropriate abilities and interests. Overall, the rationale behind this solution is to create an employee-centric platform that caters to all the needs of the ‘Hybrid employee’ needs like communication, career development, team collaboration, and digital assistance under one umbrella, making it an ideal supporter.
When you look at the next year, what are the HR trends that CHROs should pay close attention to?
The HR landscape has been rapidly evolving, and there are several trends that are likely to outperform in this and coming year.
Employees in India and around the world desire to improve and their priorities are not just limited to financial aspirations, but rather overall growth and development side that includes interpersonal growth and skill & career enhancement.
The goals have also evolved from the employer’s side.
When it comes to attracting new talent and experiences there’s a whole other set of practices for employers that have emerged. Special tools like Oracle ME will help them collaborate and enhance employee experience. Advanced technologies driven by the hybrid workplace will continue to remain significant in the coming year as well, and CHROs will play a greater role in tying the organization and employees together despite working from different locations. Thus, HR leaders must ensure that they are prepared to support their employees in these emerging working models.