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Role of HR post Covid crisis

Work from anywhere

What could be the role of HR in the post Covid scenario ? This is a question, which may be lurking in the minds of many people. I would state that HR could evolve their “Ten Commandments” post the Covid crisis is over and employees gradually trickle back to the workplace.

1. Job Security : In the post Covid scenario, most employees would be worried about their jobs. This would mean a lurking fear that their organisations would have lost revenue for more than a few months and this could result in job losses for many. So, the first duty of HR could be to make the CEO communicate to all employees how they plan to get over this crisis and assure employees at all levels that they would not lose their jobs.

2. New Workplace : The new workplace will have a new normal. It will not be the same place of work like in the past. Apart from physical sanitisation of everything, there would be silence and loneliness at the workplace. There is need to make people adapt to this new work environment through effective communication and counselling by the managers and leaders at all levels.

3. Cost optimisation : While HR leaders should try their best to save jobs, they could be the champions of cost reduction efforts in the organisation. They could engage with employees at all levels and enable formation of teams so that cost reduction is in everybody’s radar and the organisations are able to make up for the losses incurred by this pandemic.

4. Employee engagement : In the post Covid scenario, employee engagement actions become all the more critical. It is important to make employees adapt to the new workplace and at the same time realise that we need to continue to serve our customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and all other stakeholders as we did before.

5. Work from anywhere : While the Covid crisis forced organisations and employees to adapt to the work from home option, it may be an opportunity for HR in organisations to enable employees to work from anywhere. This means no fixed workstations, laptops for everyone and they could work from any office or any place of their choice in the future.

6. Re-engineering processes : This is a great opportunity for HR to facilitate all the functions in the organisation to challenge all their existing processes and eliminate unwanted ones, simplify those needed and automate wherever possible. The shop-floor could also be digitised and automated so as to minimise human interface in routine operations and use employees for human value addition, which robots or machines cannot do like listening to and attending to customer grievances.

7. Rewrite the HR manual : Just like the Constitution of a nation gets amended from time to time based on the needs of the nation, this is a great opportunity in the history of the organisation to re-write its HR manual. It may be helpful to keep it simple, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and all paper work if possible.

8. Productivity : While many of us may not realise that India still has one of the lowest labour costs in the world but our productivity is not on par with the best in the world. This reset post Covid gives us an opportunity to rejig our productivity levels at the shop floor, in our offices and also in all our processes with suppliers and customers. For eg. is it possible for all employees to deal with all HR processes through their mobile phones and eliminate all paper work in the future.

9. Digitalisation : The ability to go digital in all aspects of work is a real possibility in the new workplace. Sales can happen online and service can be remotely handled. This means manufacturing can be digitilalised and automated and so can be all other processes. If banks can provide all their services through digital means so can all other organisations and this is the best time to transition and go digital, wherever feasible.

10. Employee Health & Safety : This crisis provides the best opportunity for organisations to rewrite its health and safety standards. It is not only physical health but mental and emotional health and wellness, which will get tested post this crisis. So , it is the best time for organisations to prepare for similar unknown crises in the future.

While I may not have listed down all possible things, which HR leaders could do post this crisis, I have focussed on the most important and called them the “Ten commandments for HR”.

Do let me know if I have missed out anything ? You can make your own “Ten commandments for HR” based on the needs of your own organisation.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th May 2020

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Relearning from childhood…

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Learning is a life long journey. I was sitting with my grandson, who is 7 years old. He asked me if I knew how to use Instagram on my phone. I said yes. He asked me if I could take a photo of his with the whiskers of a rabbit. I told him that I did know how to do it. He readily agreed to teach me.

He advised me to open the app on my phone. He then showed me as to how change the setting on the phone and then take a selfie as in the photo above. I was quite stunned. It was great learning to use a mobile app from a 7 year old.

As children, we are inquisitive and curious. We learn continually by observing others and things around us. When I asked him as to how did he learn it – he said that he saw my son doing the same on his phone. As we grow up in life, we possibly forget to be curious. Our inquisitiveness is buried within us. We feel shy to ask questions and thereby our learning retards.

It is time to look back and learn from childhood. If we cannot turn the clock back, we can observe young kids around us and learn from them. Another incident made me realise how simple observation can be of great learning value. My grand son was at home for his school vacation. We were playing with each other. Then he wanted to download a few games on my iPad.

I gave him my iPad and enquired which games he would like download. He glanced through the app and shortlisted a few. When I was about to download, he told not to do so. He informed me that every app has a preview. We should preview the game and only if it is interesting, we should download the app. It would otherwise be waste of money. I could not believe that a young kid of 7 years could be so knowledgable on how to carefully download game apps from the internet without wasting money.

To be honest I was not aware of it. This helps learn an important lesson in life. We all are good learners as kids. We observer everything around us and learn. We do not hesitate to ask questions when in doubt. As we grow up our observations skills fades away and hence may be our learning ability also diminishes. We are scared of asking questions when we do not know so as to hide our ignorance rather than learn from others who know.

It is time to reflect. It is time rekindle the child in us. It is time ask questions of curiosity from everyone around us including kids. It is never too late to change. It is also never too late to unlearn, learn and relearn.

Time to restart is today ?

S Ramesh Shankar

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Joy of giving…

I have always be in awe of our festivals in India. Diwali is no exception. Apart from lights and crackers, one recalls Diwali with fond memories because the entire family got together once in a year and celebrated together. We got up early at dawn and had an oil bath before sunrise and enjoyed all the sweets and savouries all day.

Today I got a new insight on Diwali. It is celebrated in India with two different beliefs in the northern and southern part of the country. In the north, people believe that Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after his 14 years in the forests and hence is welcomed back with lights and crackers. In the South, it is believed that Lord Krishna killed a ghost by name Narakaasura on this day in Dwaraka Yuga.

The new insight I got today is from a forward about the story of Narakaasura and the lessons for all of us. It is believed that Narakaasura is the “I” or ego residing in all of us as humans. When Lord Krishna killed Narakaasura, he eliminated our ego and released more than 16000 evils in us. So the next day on amavasya we pray to Godess Lakshmi to lead us to the right path.

Every ritual in Hindu religion and so in other religions has a deep insight for all of us. We generally get swayed by the rituals and start believing that they are of no use and most of us including me give up rituals because they serve no human purpose. I have been no exception. Now that I have all the time in the world, I am able to reflect and get new insights into these rituals.

Another interesting belief that we should clean our home and get rid of all the unwanted things. This is also symbolic that God wants us to give up all that is not necessary and take up the good things in life.

It is also enshrined in our religions that the best way to serve God is to serve the human kind. If we give more, we get more. If we are content with what we have, God always gives us more than what we need. This is the challenge for all of us. How much is enough – is a question difficult to ask and answer for oneself ?

I have admired people who give away without expecting anything in return. Recently another friend forwarded a message with a great insight. It was a couplet from Rahim. When Tulsidas looked at Rahim donating, he found his eyes looked at the ground and so asked him ” O great person, where have you learnt this amazing way of giving ? “. As your hands rise ( to give), your eyes look down. “. Rahim replies – “. The Giver is someone else ( God Almighty), giving day and night. The world has a misconception that I am the giver. So, I lower my eyes in embarrassment. ”

The best people I have met in life are those who give unconditionally. They are anonymous most of the times and recipient does not know that they are the donors. They give because they have a surplus and they are grateful to the Almighty for it and want to thank him for the generosity bestowed on them.

It is like the exotic orchid in the photo above, given my colleagues at work, which are blooming because of their unconditional love.

This blog a salute from my side to all the wonderful people who have made me what I am today. They have given me support, advice, money and love unconditionally. I can never ever return their favour in any form. I promise to give back without expecting anything in return as I bow in gratitude to them.

S Ramesh Shankar

27th October 2019

The Appraiser & the Appraisee

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It is performance review time in most organisations.  The year is over and the appraiser has to review the performance of the appraisee. In most organisations, the appraiser is expected to have a pre-appraisal dialogue before she appraises her reportee to understand how the year has gone and what went well and what could have been done better.  Many appraisers do not take this step seriously and even give it a slip. In this step, the employee is expected to speak and the manager listen.

The appraisee fills in the form and based on the understanding of the same, the appraiser assesses the employee.  This then becomes a one sided appraisal as the manager has not been able to return to the other side of the story.  It may be said that principle of natural justice, wherein you give a chance to defend yourself before being judged has not been followed.

In the next step, the manager assesses the performance of the employee and fills in her comments and feedback to the employee.  This could possible be discussed in an appraisal group and then it is time for the manager to give feedback to her employee.  The manager is expected to fix a date and time and preferably do a face to face feedback session.  Most managers do it casually and in an informal setting like a canteen over a cup of tea.  I recently met a manager, who stated that his boss met him for breakfast and gave him feedback in exactly five minutes.  This negates the very purpose of a feedback session. In this step, the manager is expected to speak and the employee listen.  The manager is expected to give feedback with real life examples of what went right and what could have been done better.

The appraisal is expected to be complete, when the manager sits with the employee and agrees on the targets for the next year and also the development actions.  This enables the employee to focus on key areas during the next year and also helps the employee to take ownership of his development.  This could be reviewed periodically with at least one review every six months.

The real conflict arises when the appraiser and the appraisee have opposing view points on the performance of the appraisee.  This conflict could be resolved by asking for clear examples of high and low performance.  It can also be substantiated by feedback from peers and internal or external customers.  This may help the employee to get a realistic feedback and also take necessary steps for the next year to improve.

In most organisations, performance appraisal becomes a ritual and not so liked phenomenon.  This is mainly because managers are not trained and do not possess the necessary skills to listen, appraise and give feedback.  Both the appraiser and the appraisee dread this process and want to get over it more to tick a box then to celebrate the process.

As in the photo above, two way communication is critical for a successful appraisal dialogue. Listening more than speaking by the manager may facilitate a rich conversation.

One can make a performance management process rich in content and delivery by honing the skills of the employee and the manager.  Each has a distinct role and has to play it effectively to ensure overall development of the employee.  The real test of a good performance dialogue could be if it is inspirational or perspirational. The day the performance dialogue becomes inspirational, we have achieved the end as much as the means to the end.

S Ramesh Shankar
December 2016

Back to our roots ?

I sometimes wonder whether the time is ripe for us to get back to basics. We need to rediscover our roots and live again like our forefathers did. The current pandemic has made many of us reflective. It has helped us realise that health and happiness, money cannot buy. The richest of nations and the most advanced have suffered the most in this pandemic.

I would like to share my life journey and learning through time. In my childhood, we had limited resources but unlimited happiness. None of us generally fell sick amongst family and friends and we were content with what we had in life. I recall our home with no fridge, TV, washing machine, dishwasher, refrigerator or air conditioners but none of us complained. We had the joy of living together as a family, having dinner together and playing together.

Then as we grew up and went to college, we experienced the benefit of travelling by bus and train and saving money for our parents by whatever means we could. There was only one earning member in the family and all of us contributed our bit to conserve and contribute to everything happening around us.

While our first job gave us financial independence, it also taught us how to stand on our own feet. We considered it our duty to send back money to our parents and also take care of them. Expressing our gratitude to everyone who helped us stand up in life was a way of life. Today the pandemic reminded us about the value of family and friends. It has brought us back to ground zero.

In our career, we almost took our job for granted. Most of us did not believe that we will ever lose our job in our career. Life long careers in organisations was almost a given. Today, it is quite different. People neither want to work for an organisation for life nor organisations are willing to guarantee life long jobs. Jobs are changing and so are careers. This again is making us realise that life is beyond a job and a career.

If we look at our life in general, a lot has changed too. We were enamoured by the social media and the number of friends we have. However in a crisis like the current pandemic, we realise that the true caring people are your close family and a few reliable friends only. We need to realise that we have to save for the future and lay the foundation for the future of our family as well.

Conserving for the present and saving for the future was taught to us as we started our careers. Today we live for the present. We had started to believe that life is today. We need not worry about the tomorrow. Today the pandemic has suddenly woken us up again. We may not be sure of our job security and the future looms in front of us. So, we realise that we need to go back to saving today for a better tomorrow.

In every aspect of life, we are realising today that we need to get back to our roots. Our food, our living styles, conserving nature, being grateful or even our career or vocation. We need to learn to be self dependant and respect nature in every way.

As in the photo above, we need to reflect if we have the ability to admire the beauty of this flower and connect with nature as we did in the past.

Our life events are cyclic and it is possibly the time to reinvent ourselves and rediscover the fundamentals of life and living.

S Ramesh Shankar

23rd July 2020

Educated Illiterate !

The heading may look like an oxymoron. How can an educated person be an illiterate ? However, in real life we see this all around us. Educated people may assimilate educational qualifications by passing exams and obtaining degrees and diplomas. However, they fail to behave like an educated person is expected to do in their day to day life.

Let me share a few examples from every day life for us to believe that this is not an oxymoron but a reality in our lives today. Let us start with the driving on the roads. Of late, there is a lot of road rage in most metropolises and it is the so called educated elite, who are involved in most of them. They neither follow the road rules nor are willing to accept their mistakes if they do commit a violation. On the other contrary, they would like to muscle their way through or use their clout to get away.

Even if we take a basic etiquette like standing in queues in public places like bus stands, train stations or other public offices, it is the so called educated class who tend to violate the queues more than others. We the educated class do not have the courtesy to give our seats to senior citizens or women when we travel in public places.

The current pandemic is a good illustration of the illiteracy of the educated in public life. Most violations in terms not wearing masks, not maintaining physical distance or not sanitising hands are mostly done by people who are well aware and are educated and not the real illiterate.

The case study of Dharavi is a good example to illustrate this. Dharavi is probably Asia’s largest slum. I have personally visited this place. On an average, at least 8 members in a family stay within an area of 10 sq feet. Even in this densely populated space, when the local government worked with the volunteers to prevent the spread of Covid, the people living in this slum have cooperated and made it a successful eradication strategy. The average resident of Dharavi may not be the educated class in the classical sense of the word.

On the other hand, the so called elite of South Mumbai have violated all public health advisories and it spread like wildfire in many posh residential societies. So, the conclusion one could draw is that education may give a degree but may not necessarily make you literate unless you have the right attitude to life and living.

Interestingly many so called educated elite are in the false belief that the Covid virus is spread from our servants and workers. They want to wear the masks only when they are in the presence of them. This is another hypocritical belief of the educated. The virus does not discriminate based on social class or literacy and we have to wear masks whenever we are meeting anyone anywhere in the public space.

I would like to clarify that I am neither against the educated nor do I profess that all educated people are illiterate. I am only stating that the so called educated majority are violating laws more than the uneducated. It is our attitude which makes all the difference. Higher Education may be the privilege of the middle and upper class of society who can afford it. But public behaviour is the prerogative of each one of us and has no correlation to education.

We need to learn to be self disciplined. The best of efforts by the government and medical and health workers will not bear any fruit if people like us do not wear masks, maintain the physical distance or wash our hands regularly.

The lesson to be learnt from the current pandemic is that law breakers cannot build a nation. Education aids our growth and success in life only if we are willing to be disciplined. The distinction between the law abiding citizen and others is discipline and not education.

It is like my house help Sudha in the photo above, who wears her mask without fail voluntarily although she has not even a school pass out.

Let us lead by example from today at least to set the right precedent for our future generations.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th July 2020

How much is good enough ?

The results of the class X and class XII were declared by the central and state boards recently in India. The overall pass percentage was more than 90 % in most states and most children have excelled in their exams irrespective of tense moments due to the onset of the pandemic during the last phase of their exams.

One of my close relatives obtained 90% in her class X exams and I came to know that she was not very happy as she was expecting more. I was not surprised. Apart from academic excellence, she is a a natural artist and a devoted dancer. I was not surprised at her disappointment because the world is making children compete in every sphere of life. Luckily for her, her family is very supportive.

However the reality of today is that we live in a very competitive world. Everyday we want to compete with everyone around us. This child in spite of being so talented felt disappointed because some of her classmates had scored more than 90%. Imagine someone scoring 90% and feeling bad. If not for a supportive family, imagine the plight of this child or similar children in society today.

In my view, this is a wake up call for us. Do we live to live or do we live to die ? The current scenario amongst children and adults tell me that we are living to die early. We do not want live life every day and enjoy every moment. There is nothing wrong to be competitive. But competing for the sake of competing may be disastrous. We need to realise that life is multi-faceted. Every child is a talent and may have potential to do things which other children may not be able to.

As parents and elders we need to enable the child to realise her or his full potential in what they are capable of doing. Today most parents want their children to be successful professionals. The ability of parents and teachers to harness the hidden talent of a child is less seen. The day teachers and parents realise that every child is a gift of God and is talented, human potential will be fully harnessed. We need to enable every child to compete with themselves and make them realise that this is the path to excellence and not otherwise.

The situation is no different in colleges or even in organisations. Every leader has to realise that every employee is a talent. We need to assess what they their capabilities are and harness their full potential. If we put a square peg in a round hole, we may not get the best out of anyone. We tend to put creative people in analytical jobs and vice versa and then beat them up to realise their potential. This will only lead to fatigue and loss of talent in organisations.

As a society, we need to focus back on our children. It is not good enough to state that children are the future of a country and society. We need to enable them to succeed. The day every child is able to realise their strength and choose their field of interest to study will be the beginning of a new world. Then when they are able to work in a field of their own passion on their own volition without any societal pressures, we may have turned the corner

Families and societies have to learn to be tolerant and flexible. They need to challenge their own mindset and believe that potential is unlimited in every human being. This will lead us to a new world order where happiness will be the ultimate goal for everyone. Joy in what we learn or do and gratitude to everyone around us for enabling us to do the same will be our motto.

As in the photo above, we need to enable every child to realise their full potential and experience what they enjoy learning and doing.

Let us start today and create a brighter tomorrow.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th July 2020

Life need not be a “win or lose” always…

Many of us think of life as a race where one has to win and another lose . Is it necessary ? I am not sure. It may be a good idea to look at life as a game to play and enjoy the game. You may win some time, lose some time and even end up in a draw some time. We may also be prepared for a game to abandoned sometimes and you may have to share points with your opponent.

Life is a zero sum game. The day we realise it, the better for us. We need not live life as if we have to win a game always. We need to learn to play the game in a fair way and give it our best shot. If we win, we deserve it and if we lose, our opponent deserves to win. If there is a draw, both of us deserve to share the credit.

This phenomenon of win-lose spirit is seeped in societal values. We urge our children to be competitive always and look at winning at all levels. A child who does not learn to accept defeat cannot face life in its full fury. We need to learn to accept victory with humility and defeat with grace. This is best lesson for life.

Our education system is entrenched with systems to identify winners and losers only. It may be time to revamp this system so that we encourage students to learn and play the game in a fair manner. While winning or losing may be an outcome, it should not be our focus. We need to learn to play the game to the best of our ability and let victory or defeat go to the person who deserves it on that day at that time.

This attitude to life has been promoted within families too. We make our own children compete with each other. We promote competitiveness amongst our own children at home by saying that you are not as good as your sister or brother. This way we not only kill the spirit of learning but also promote rivalry and lack of mutual respect between siblings.

The work place is no different. Having spent almost four decades in the corporate world, one can understand that the workplace is a competitive world. But this does not mean that we create systems and processes where employees almost kill each other to be a winner. We need to enable employees to continually learn and give their best. Winning or losing has to be realised as an outcome of their efforts and not an end in itself.

The sports arena is also not different. We see players and teams competing with each other to win at any cost. Sometimes they are willing to violate rules, behave unacceptably as long as they win. This is not the spirit in which any game is to be played. The spirit of the game is not valued anymore. Victory by any means is recognised and promoted. This kills the spirit of the game and thereby gives birth to players who are like conspirators to enable victory at any cost.

We need to learn that life need not be a win-lose game. I would prefer life to be an enjoyable journey of learning, where wining and losing is part of the game. Playing the game in the true spirit has to be encouraged and rewarded. This will ensure that people learn to play in a fair way. We will realise that this leads to better behaviour of people, more happiness and better results as well.

As in the photo above, we need to make players learn to play the game fairly rather than only focus on winning all the time.

Let us learn to play the game of life.

S Ramesh Shankar

24th June 2020

If we can, we should…

I have always wondered as to why we don’t do what we should. It could be a simple routine of a morning walk or a more a bit more complex as completing a project on time at work. Either way, we always spend more time in finding excuses for our non performance than putting in efforts to ensure our performance.

Interestingly I have noted that this trait in us continues with us from childhood to old age. As a kid, we invent excuses for not doing our home work or for skipping school or college. We become more innovative as we grow into adolescence and take our parents and friends for a ride. We enjoy discovering excuses at this stage of our lives.

Then we we grow as adults and we start working and this trait is not left behind. We always have the traffic congestion for our late coming to office or even the internet breakdown for delay in execution of any work related project. On the other hand, we never miss a flight because of traffic when we go on a holiday or miss a movie online because the net breaks down.

So life gives us all the opportunities to excel in whatever we want to do. We find the silliest of reasons to give up on chances, which come our way without our even asking for it. So, what does this do to us and to others. We miss steps in our career growth and lose our personal credibility. Others lose their respect for us as individuals in the family and colleagues at work.

Now, let us look at what happens if we do what we can. This may appear simple but may be one of the most difficult things to accomplish in life. I find people not keeping their word to their kids to take them for a movie. Imagine you meet people who will always keep their word. I have met many of them in my life – both at work and in my personal life.

First, you have high respect for such people because once they commit, they deliver. Secondly, they infuse this positive energy in others. If you work for a leader who is always on time and always delivers on all her commitments, you tend to become like them. This is natural. If my parents were courteous to everyone around, I learn to be that way. Similarly if my manager does what he can, then I do whatever I can too.

Even in our personal lives we love people who keep their word and deliver. When our parents always get us what they have promised, we respect them. On the other hand, we have scant regard for friends or relatives who always forget what they can do and find reasons for their non delivery.

Interestingly this phenomenon is universal. It is not linked to state, country, religion, ethnicity, culture or language. Having worked in multinational organisations, I have experienced it across the globe. So the choice is simple. If we are determined to do we what should, we can.

Even in the current Covid times, they are asking us to do 3 simple things. Wearing a mask , keeping a metre distance and washing our hands. We can and we should if we want to prevent the virus attacking us.

As in the photo above, if we can relax, we should. Gautam Buddha teaches us relaxation is possible at all times.

Life could be different from today if we make this small change.

Lets give it a try.

S Ramesh Shankar

14th June 2020

Listening to the unsaid …

We are living in a world where nobody has time for anybody. We live, eat and sleep as if we have to catch a train or flight all the time. We behave almost as if we are about to miss our train or flight and hence do not have time for anyone around us.

I remember my childhood days when all of us in the family waited for each other to have dinner together and then listening to the evening news together on radio. Nowadays every member of the family is busy onto to themselves and do not even have the time to talk to each other. In many cases spouses are not even staying in the same home in the same city. Children also are studying in boarding schools far away from their homes and hence family get togethers every day is a rarity.

Let us look at neighbourhood and friends. Having lived in large metropolises like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore, I can say confidently that most of us do not even know our immediate neighbours. We are so busy with our own career and lives that we do not have time for anyone else in our lives leave alone our neighbours. This makes our homes as houses with just a shelter to spend the night for most of us.

Over and above all this, the workplace is increasingly becoming virtual. Relationships in social media are virtual and there is no emotion attached to it. This makes the world a lonely place to live in. Children do not know whom to share their concerns with. Apart from busy parents, even neighbourhood aunts and uncles are not around to listen to them. At the workplace, the competitive world has made us more self centred and we care more for ourselves than others.

Under these circumstances where does the child go ? How can children express their anguish and to whom ? Even adolescents and young adults find it difficult to express themselves. Friends in social media are measured by the likes they post on them rather than their genuine love and concern for you. The best test is when you are not well – physically or mentally – how many of your friends show concern and lend a listening ear.

It is here I would say that it is increasingly important to listen to what is being said and more to what is NOT. We generally are not sensitive to children, adolescents or adults expressing their feelings to anyone. Anyone who shares their emotions are laughed at. This makes them introverts and they say more in actions and deeds than words.

Like an artist may express emotions through their art or a singer through his music. A writer may express through their literature. We need to worry about how common men and women can express themselves. We need to learn the art of listening to the unsaid. It may be easy to comprehend what is being said but many a time a lot remains unsaid and this is where we miss their emotions.

I remember parents asking why you are sad today. Or a friend sitting along with you in silence to comfort you. A teacher enquiring about a child from their expressed emotions rather than words. A neighbour visiting you for no reasons but just to make a statement that they are around for you all the time.

As in the photo above, we need to sense what is being expressed through her expression even if she does not say anything. In these days of the pandemic and the consequent lockdown, people are feeling more lonely than ever before. A listening ear will be of great support.

We need to rekindle our conscience. We need to learn to laugh and cry. We need to listen to what is not being said in words but expressed otherwise.

Let us learn to talk less and listen more.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th June 2020

This too shall pass…

This too shall pass

I found a lot people around me amongst family and friends who were restless during the recent lockdown in most countries. They were uncomfortable to sit at home and refrain from their normal activities of the day. This brought in a feeling of anxiety and insecurity amongst them.

I do agree that this period of the pandemic is a challenge to everyone of us. It is impacting individuals, families, societies and nations at large. While individuals are feeling lonely, families and societies are getting disenchanted. Of course, nations are facing the economic challenges as a fallout of the pandemic and the consequent lockout.

The question before everyone is – “When will this be over ? When will life normalise for everyone ? Nobody knows the answer – not even the public health specialist as this virus is new to everyone. Everyone is trying their best to cope with it. The individuals, families and societies are putting up a brave face and dealing with this unknown challenge.

One thing I am sure of. This too shall pass. Having lived in the coastal part of a state, which faced cyclones every year during the monsoon, I can say with experience that nobody could predict a cyclone accurately. Although I must admit that the predictions of cyclones and storms have improved over the years, it is still an act of God. Nature’s fury is still unpredictable.

Today the forecast of natural disasters are much better and so is the preparedness of the state. A good example is the state of Orissa, which faces atleast one cyclone every year. It affects the coastal belt, where the poorest sections of society have to face the brunt. However, in the last few years, we have seen that the government of Orissa has prepared very well, evacuated the target populations and prevented many human disasters. So, even though it is God sent, human beings have been able to plan and prevent catastrophes consistently.

We need to believe that this too shall pass. After all, all of us as individuals and collectively as a society have misused Nature and may be it is just a gentle reminder to us from Nature to mend our ways. God realises that the citizens of the world have suffered enough due to this pandemic and hence will find ways and means to end it soon either through a vaccine or through herd immunity.

We need to believe in ourselves and commit to ourself both as individuals and communities that we will respect nature much better than we did in the past. We need to believe that this too shall pass and life will be normal again.

Life is a cycle and the good days will follow soon.

S Ramesh Shankar

30th May 2020

Work from home ?

“Work from home” ( WFH) has become a good option for organisations to combat the Covid crisis.  I am aware of many senior leaders, who always believed that work from home meant no work and no control over their teams.  They were not only sceptical of this concept but generally discouraged their team members opting for WFH.  Now with the Covid crisis, these leaders have not only accepted this concept whole heartedly but are willing to accept it as the new normal.

While  WFH is being lauded as the the way to go into the future, it has its own limitations.  We need to be fully aware of the pros and cons of working from home. Let us first look at the positives of this concept :

a. Flexibility :  It provides flexibility to the individual and the organisation in terms of time and place of work and also enables individuals to manage their day accordingly.

b. Time-saving : It saves a lot of time especially for employees working in the big metropolises of the world.  The commute time is generally waste of time and energy to say the least.  This option ensures that people do not waste their time in commute.

c. Family time :  Employees tend to spend more time with the family in this option as they are physically at home even during working hours and thereby can lend a helping hand to their spouses and family members

d. Cost saving :  It could be a potential cost saving measure for organisations in terms of infrastructure and real estate costs.  A part of this could be passed on to employees in terms of their salary and benefits.

e. Work-life balance :  It can promote better work life balance if we are able to manage it optimally at our end and managers are supportive of the same.

Now let us look at the negatives of this concept :

a. Over-working& Under-working :  Employees tend to work more and thereby get more exhausted mentally due to calls and video conferences.  With time zone differences, it could end up eating into personal time of employees. On the other hand, some employees may misuse this option and work less too.

b. Impact on relationships :  The WFH option could result in impacting workplace relationships as conflicts cannot be easily resolved through web chats, phone calls or video calls.  Face to face interactions help in resolving conflicts at the workplace.

c. Family relationships :  Over-working and mixed priorities of work and home could end up in avoidable family conflicts between spouses and other family members as well.  This could result in misunderstandings, which otherwise may not occur in reality.

d. Work life balance :  While most people would think that work life balance could be better, in reality it could be the other way around.  Family members may start believing that they were better off when you were going to the work place rather than working from home.

e. Team work :  Team work at the workplace could be unplanned causality of the WFH option.  When team members do not meet face to face or talk to each other, their productivity is likely to dip and conflicts may increase.

Having looked at the pros and cons of the WFH option, it may be prudent for organisations to take a balanced view of the same post the Covid crisis.  It is neither desirable to swing from one end of the pendulum to the other and make all employees work from home nor stop this as an option when we get back to our old ways of working.  It could be provided as a flexible option and gainfully utilised by employees and organisations to strike the right balance between employees’ needs and organisational priorities.

It may be useful to remember that “Work from Home”(WFH) should be a means to an end and not an end in itself.

S Ramesh Shankar

26th May 2020

How big is our heart ?

Spot your heart

I have always wondered as to how big is our heart ? Is it linked to the wealth we accumulate in life or is it the other way around. The current Covid crisis has proved to me that in most cases generosity of our heart is inversely proportional to the wealth we have in life.

I would like to share a few stories to validate my hypothesis. First the heart breaking story of an expat staying in a gated community who asked as to why we should pay salaries for housekeeping staff when they could not turn up during the lockout ? I was stunned. An expat who may be paying almost a lakh of rupees even as rent every month to stay in a villa is questioning a few thousands as monthly salary for a house keeping staff in a gated community.

Interestingly, he is not alone in this attitude to life. I have heard that a lot of residents staying in posh localities in Mumbai and Bangalore have not paid their domestic maids not only for the period of the lockout but even for March when would have worked for most of the month. My wife and me called all the staff who worked with us in Mumbai and this is what they shared. The best thing was they did not ask for any help and on the contrary enquired about our well being and were reluctant to take any voluntary support from our side for their sustenance.

Another senior consultant who works for a top consulting firm and possibly earns in crores a year did not pay Rs. 1000 collected for staff recognition from each villa to reward them for their yeoman and selfless service during the lockdown. This gentleman ( although I am reluctant to call him a gentleman) is a religious fanatic and invites Godmen and God women to his residence once in a year to show to the community how religious he is. Is this what all our religions teach us ? A true question to ponder !

On the other end of the spectrum, I hear and read of countless inspiring men and women from ordinary walks of life who are willing to give their life earnings to serve others during this crisis. The story of an auto driver in Pune who used his life long savings of Rs. 2 lacs ( saved for his marriage) to feed migrant workers in his city and even postponed his marriage and equally supported by his fiancé for this noble cause.

You hear of the farmer in Kerala who donates all his produce of vegetables and fruits every day to the needy as he feels he can do his little bit for the under privileged.

A temple pujari in Chennai is making masks and distributing free to the common people since he does not have any work as temples are closed and he feels he can contribute a bit to serve others.

You hear the children in a society in Mumbai cleaning all the cars every day and contributing their earnings to the well being of those who need that money. Every such story teaches me a simple lesson in life. You do not need money to be generous and caring to others in life. What you need is a big heart ? Our heart size is not determined by the wealth we accumulate in life but but the love and care we get and we give others.

A small deed to even one person around you without expecting anything in return will do a world of good to us. We need not share photos or selfies in social media for the little things we do in life. It is like the famous quote of Oscar Wild who said – ” We are not born in this world to keep account of the small things we do.”

Time and day to start is today and now. A small gesture to even one person around you will change their world. Try it.

S Ramesh Shankar

21st May 2020