How is this Crisis Reshaping Work? An Inside-Out View with Mona Amin - PART I

In this Episode of the WoW I talk with Mona Amin, a Senior International HR Head with 20 years experience in multiple HR roles in India and across Europe. We talk about how the current crisis is forcing companies to relook and rethink about their approach to work, what measures need to be put in place to guarantee a safe environment and what are the longer term workforce needs. In her HR capacities Mona has led numerous change and transformation initiatives linked to post integration business development programs across geographies including Middle East and Emerging Markets. She is driven by family and friends, loves travelling and exploring the wonders this world offers, and is passionate about Yoga and healthy living.

00:00 Mona Amin: We know one thing for sure, it will not be the same as what it was before. So it's important for us to kind of understand what are the skills, what are the things that are needed to make sure that we step into the new reality with a lot of confidence.
00:18 Paola Granati: Welcome everyone, this is going to be the last episode of this season of The World of Work, the Wild Podcast. And as Mona was alluding to Mona is the guest speaker of this episode, we do need to start equipping ourselves with different skill sets as we start embracing a different reality and a new future. But that's going to be for the next season, because today it's all about having an internal perspective, how companies have been adapting, how they've been changing in this new world, how are they looking at staffing? Are they hiring? Yes, no. And I did want to have that internal point of view before closing. And who better than Mona Amin to give us that internal perspective. Mona was born and brought up in India, she has over 20 years of international HR experience across India and Europe, as well as the Middle East and emerging markets. She is a change leader, when you see Mona walking down a corridor, you know there's going to be change happening and you know she's going to be successful at it.
01:24 PG: 'Cause she combines strong work ethics, strong people ethics, and she tells it like it is. And by the way, one small other detail, before we start, Mona has a degree in applied physics. So if any of you, ever want to have a conversation about the relativity theory about quantum physics, about the universe and about Einstein you know who to call. But for now, we're going to land back on this planet and talk about the world of work together with Mona Amin. Very privileged to have you because you'll be able to provide us with a little bit more of an internal perspective perhaps of how from your point of view, you've been seeing and witnessing the impact of this particular crisis, how it's been impacting the way people work, what you've been noticing, how are companies considering or perhaps reconsidering the ways of working as well also due to this crisis, not... People are saying it's just accelerated some of the changes, but love to hear your perspective from an internal point of view.
02:33 MA: Absolutely, this lockdown has given us a very good understanding of essential work, I never have come across this term and the meaning of this term to the extent that we have the... During the lockdown period, I think. We have stripped down essential, non-essential and come to the acceptance that a lot of us, including myself, our work is non-essential. Right? When it came to the real lockdown, those who were on the front line, those who had to go to work, no matter what, was a very different group, and it gives us a... The opportunity to be grateful and thankful that they were out there supporting during those difficult times, and it's still ongoing in many, many parts of the world. So it's interesting to first acknowledge the essential, non-essential work. Also for non-essential workers, like me, typical office-based work jobs even those like sales and marketing has completely redefined the setup.
03:48 MA: We are more and more getting inclined towards remote working, we are more and more getting the sense of work can happen from anywhere. I think this crisis has somehow helped us understand our adaptability, the nature of human beings to adapt into whatever circumstances they are into, and find ways to get things still done. A few months ago, if we would have thought of a world where we all would be working from home all the time, this was completely unbelievable, but now it's the new reality, and a lot of people have accepted it, and it seems like this trend will continue as we move into the new future as well.
04:37 PG: So that's very interesting because in moments of crisis, extraordinary moments bring about extraordinary actions and reactions and ways of figuring out ways of adapting so that we can be operational. What do you think are those things that we will not go back to? That anyway, there's a saying of, "We'll go back to a new normal." This new normal, what kind of things do you think we're going to keep from the past that we're still going to cherish, of course, from the past, and what are those things that you believe are really not... We're not going to replicate from the past that are really going to be a new way of working or even a new way of looking at work? 
05:30 MA: Personally, I feel the importance of health and safety, and what health and safety means in times of such crisis has been... Has just come out in reality for all of us. This importance and compliance to it, compliance to all the health and safety measures is probably then the thing which we will see a lot more of. The consciousness of...
06:02 MA: Staying home and how many times have we seen this where people with flu still come to work? I doubt if that would again happen in the months and years that we move forward. I think people will be very cautious of their own health, but also how little things that they do might affect others, so it's a two-way thing. But again, a lot of consciousness around what it means for employee health and safety, your own personal health and safety, I think that part will become a little bit more prominent in our workplaces, but also what it means for us when we are visiting people even personally. I also don't see that we would be going back to the same office setup, whether it is closed offices or open office spaces, it's very, very likely that there will be an adoption or acceptance for remote working, allowing people the flexibility to get work done no matter where they're based and how the setup would look like.
07:12 MA: A lot of companies have very quickly adapted the policies to make that happen for the crisis, and it's very difficult to see that we will reverse it 100%. There will be some degree of reversal to start seeing social interactions because that's been a big missing element in the current setup, we need that. But on the other hand, it would be very important for us to also see that we're not going back to the same setup and we are using the new learning that we've had of work can happen remote as well. I also personally feel that business travels in some of the industries which was used for every meeting, quite a lot of meetings that were happening I would doubt if business travel will go back to the same limits as it was before. So it's very much likely that we will trail back and go choose where we travel and the reasons why, where travel will be critical, and I do feel that there will be quite a few filters on this.
08:19 PG: Which of course triggers so many other questions in my head, but perhaps we will not cover it here, but a little bit the long term consequences from an economic perspective on some industries or some areas that it could be hospitality, airlines, and even office rental space, and talking with some colleagues, they really are reconsidering some of their lease agreements regarding the office rents, etcetera. So it's still unknown what's gonna happen and how these industries may be shaped, that would be my first consideration. And also going back to your initial point on the essential work, workers, I felt exactly the same way, which how paradoxical it is or how humbling I would rather say it is to realize what is really, really essential besides toilet paper.
09:25 PG: We've learned that seems to have been an essential part of our products which [chuckle] it has kind of changed the Maslow's need which to me is still mind-boggling, but putting toilet paper aside, the essential workers are also at times the one that are paid less or recognized even less in the work that they actually do, and so I do realize that opens up another topic in terms of perhaps how the remuneration system at some stage may also adapt to a different way of looking at work, and also a different way of rewarding and recognizing work financially. So the industrial and the economic impact on certain industries is one area, I think that's a big, big question mark, and also the other one, reconsidering what essential work really is like and are we rewarding them and recognizing this essential work in the most appropriate way? 
10:28 MA: That's a very, very interesting topic, and I think it's not just you and me, but a lot of people have been thinking about it, and I would be very surprised if the policy makers would not give it a further deep down thought and new policies wouldn't come out from it, whether it is the number of hours they put in, how the shifts are designed, their safety in terms of when they're called on duty during these difficult times, when there is exposure to things that the rest of the world considers risky, and the pay for getting work done in times like this, if not, all the time.
11:11 PG: Yeah, and going back to what you were saying about the working from anywhere and this sense of awareness that, yeah, technically some jobs you can really do them from anywhere, and then the fact that employees will probably be a little bit more concerned, cautious regarding their own health safety, not only for themselves, but also for the colleagues. Have you also checked in with your people, let's say, with your employees in terms of how they feel about coming back to work in a more traditional way, let's say, and how they feel about the post-COVID reopening has not also shifted a little bit their own thinking of saying the majority want to continue working from home, for example, or what's a little bit the sentiment? 
12:08 MA: So we've been connected as HR professionals, and this topic has been discussed very widely within the HR community. A lot of the organizations are going through surveys to make sure we get the pulse of the organization, understand, what it feels like as a reaction.
12:31 MA: Bigger cities have different realities, the groups are different, the fact that the schools have not opened up in many places creates a different situation for parents with children who do not necessarily have the right setup to take care of children, so until the schools open to even consider bringing them back to work just doesn't feel right. So there are a lot of underlying factors that are critical for getting people back to work. Use of public transportation versus use of your own vehicle, and in big cities where a lot more people are dependent on public transportation, the risk of the transportation usage carries on transmitting the virus etcetera, has allowed the organizations to look into what is necessary and can we still continue using the setups we had to heavily rely on during the crisis? So there are... It's not just people's mindset of coming back to work. A lot do want to come back to work to have some sense of normalcy, but at the same time, there are a lot of underlying factors which until are completely resolved, we will... It's impossible to see going back.
14:03 MA: And the fact that people have acknowledged that this works. If work from home works, then why do we need to force people? We need to provide office spaces, we're not saying that everybody will work from home all the time, we need to provide office spaces. There are real benefits of having these places where we can come together, manage our meetings, the social interactions which we have been missing, it's important to get back to them as well. There will be office spaces, we're not saying that we will completely get off it, but there will be some level of, let's say calibration between how work can be done and create new work spaces. And new work spaces may not necessarily look the same which we were used to in the past.
14:56 PG: I was talking to a colleague the other day, and it was an interesting survey to your point, that's being done at the moment. Where asking employees, "How do you feel about coming back?" And what's the percentage a little bit about wanting to work from home versus coming back, etcetera. So it's pretty interesting because 40%, roughly, a bit less than half would say they're fine to continue working from anywhere... Or have that flexibility, another 40% kind of saying, "Let's have flexible working arrangements." So maybe a couple of days working from home, or at least the flexibility to decide how many days you can work from home or work from the office. And a smaller percentage, a minority, but still most of the time, due to either because of their home situation where it makes it difficult for people to concentrate and to stay home and actually work effectively, and also the ones who really miss a bit, that office space. So let's say that that 20% kind of saying, "I do want to go back and have a place that I can call my "office space." Quote, unquote. But I do think it will depend a lot on how things develop as well in the future, because we're such adaptable species aren't we? That we pick up very quickly new patterns, new behaviors that, that may also change, right? 
16:27 MA: Absolutely, and again, it's not just working from home, but as you said, working from anywhere, and that's... Again a discussion that's coming along is like, why do we have to restrict ourselves to home, we can really work from anywhere. I think there is some cautiousness as well to this because companies do want to make sure that work gets done. And the reservations around the safety that employees could have when they are not necessarily in a setup or in an environment which is considered safe. So there will be a lot of policy discussions even at the organizational level to see what is really fit for purpose, fit for what is needed in these times. And yes, there are groups of people who absolutely need to be at work, even during the crisis. We realize that there are groups who are either because of systems, because of specific equipment need to be at the office spaces, and we need to understand that, that group does exist and we need to make the possible arrangement for this group as well.
17:45 PG: And I do think the big challenge too is as much as employees want measures of safety, security and all of that, which is perfectly understandable, there's a moment where you need to get to work, to your point, so you are exposed to many other situations that may not be so much under control, so whether it's the public transportation or whether you may have to travel nonetheless for business, etcetera, but there are end touch points you may have with the external world and that the employer... Is really difficult for the employer even to take... To guarantee, let's put it this way full immunity, if I may use that word. There's only so much, I guess, you guys can do to maintain safety within the premises, within the corporate environment, but there's a lot of variables you cannot control.
18:46 MA: Absolutely, absolutely. As we are understanding more and more from the surveys, a lot of dependency on the public transportation, and the fact that at this stage, offices are opening up 10% to 20% only. So we are refraining people who have to use public transportation because they do not have other alternatives, we are asking them to stay back and should have the option of working from home or working through a remote, whereas this option...
19:20 MA: Those who have their own transportation then can come to work, but again, the office opening is also slow. We're also looking at, if we do have any other cases, how are we going to track back tracing? Track and trace is very prominent in some countries, but not in all because of the GDPR issue. And as an organization or as organization, it's a difficult one to take a decision whether you want to sign up for it or not because of the data privacy issues that are attached with it. So then how do we contain or keep bubbles which we are also able to track and isolate if we do see cases happening amongst them? So it's not an easy one, but again, this is a transition phase until we get to the new norm, new reality. But what we are seeing with what's happening right now as we speak, of second waves coming in to countries that faced the situation early on, and the reality that this virus is here to stay. It's not that as soon as the lockdown is ended or we are moving to phase two, phase three in some countries and opening up because of economic reasons. It does not necessarily mean that we are going back to the pre-COVID era. It's not that. This virus is still here to stay with us and we're going to be living with it for a long time.
21:00 PG: Yeah, so it's a turning point, isn't it? It's a bit like one of those markers most probably in history that there's a before and there's an after. And that's one of the other reasons behind this type of initiatives or projects regarding the World of Work, which is how to also be proactive about it meaning now we find ourselves with an acceleration towards change because of an external situation that's demanded it. But how do we take this opportunity to also do the changes that we think are the right changes to do, and they were long overdue in some cases, and regardless of a virus or a non-virus, it's a... And I'm wondering if, besides the ways of working, whether this has also triggered different ways of designing work. So whether this has also triggered a reflection, again from an internal company perspective, business perspective on how to design differently. Certain jobs may... The task, the activities that may have been linked to certain roles, that there's a greater maybe flexibility across that as opposed to typical, let's say job description. Well, these are the activities, these are the tasks you're confined to that role. Have you seen or are you considering any further reflections on really designing work in such a way that you may even have different professions popping up at some stage or different... Yeah, different roles? 
22:45 MA: Well, as job professionals, we have... Even before the pandemic, we have seen the shift of work roles. A lot of the contract assignments, gig economy, as we would say it or interim assignments have... Consultant assignments have taken off. This portion, this proportion was becoming bigger and bigger because of different reasons in different countries. And we do see that there is a high probability that due to this crisis, there will be a bit of an acceleration to really looking at what's needed here and now? How can we get it done through this group which is... Or this school which is readily available at times in many of the countries? Solve for the problem and then come along to see whether there is a real need for a permanent position if that's the term you're looking for. So it is different... It's not something that is created because of the crisis, it was already there. I think it has just got accelerated and we're moving a little bit faster now to see ourselves face that as the reality. Recruitment, even industries where there is a lot of resilience and I do consider some of the industries like the pharma sector, the healthcare sector, quite resilient to this crisis compared to some other sectors like travel and hospitality... And even the resilient sectors are cautious with recruitment.
24:32 MA: They are going ahead with... Wherever it's absolutely needed. But there are questions being asked, "Do you really need it now, is it now? Can we not consider it in a few months from now?" But where we have a real reason or justification, they're moving forward. So it's not that there is a hold on recruitments, but there is a bit of this fear of saying, "Let's kind of re-look what the new future would look like." And it's a little crystal ball, I don't think we have the ability to read it right now based on what the new age would look like. But we know one thing for sure, it will not be the same as what it was before. So it's important for us to understand what are the skills, what are the things that are needed to make sure that we step into the new reality with a lot of confidence. And the one word, which I don't think anyone has missed in this crisis is the need for digitization, the need to learn the new skills, whether it is the use of IT equipment, apps, whatever. And I do feel as organizations, we have been extremely grateful to the IT infrastructure which has allowed us to sustain through this crisis without feeling a glitch or a hitch. We have just very smoothly transitioned into this new reality all because of the infrastructure that we have somehow, for some reason, invested it, in the past.
26:20 PG: Yeah. For some people it’s probably been a smooth transition for others it may have been a bit bumpier, but ultimately the conversation with Mona was also about the amazing adaptability that we as humans have. And as we look into the future of work we'll need to be even more adaptable and look into different skill sets, and I would dare say different mindsets too. But that's the end of part one of this last episode of The World of Work together with Mona. Do make sure you join us for part two. Subscribe, send us your email address, and we will make sure you have access to part two of this episode and the other episodes as well of the World of Work podcast. So until the next time, thanks for listening and as always do take good care.

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