How Digital Workplace Technologies Will Be Essential for Enabling Innovation in a Hybrid Workforce

Jaishankar Balan, Head HR, Bharti AXA Life Insurance is here to talk to BW People Journalist and throw light on howin the post pandemic era of the world, there will be a remarkable change in the organisational structures. And, how technology will play a pivotal role in enabling innovation and productivity within a hybrid workforce.


1. How has the pandemic affected workplace technologies? What functions have been specifically impacted?

Yes, the pandemic has had a definite impact on workplace technologies. In their research on workplace trends, Microsoft Work Index Study clearly states that the notions of work as they stand today are changing permanently. The typical workplace as we defined it has been disrupted, and this disruption is here to stay; not just for erstwhile offshore or junior positions, but also for the highly educated, well paid minority of the workforce. 

As per a recent study by McKinsey, employees with job functions that can be performed offsite are expecting to spend anywhere between 1-4 days onsite per week. Workforces have begun transitioning to a more robust structure of this nature with policies and procedures being crafted around this approach. This has and will continue to propel changes in recruitment practices, IT, employee engagement, stakeholder management, and communications more significantly in comparison to other functions as companies evolve into a people-centric culture. 

Like all companies, at Bharti AXA too, we have relooked at daily staff operations and moved to a new way of working. We reviewed it more from a role perspective instead of letting levels determine what functions should work from home. Nearly 30% of our roles have been looked at as permanent work from home in functions like actuary, underwriting, and non-customer facing roles. We increased our digital way of working with all frontline staff with the feature of “office in a box” on our app called M-Smart. This empowered our frontline employees to work and service customers from their location rather than coming to the branch office.

2. When did Bharti AXA start gearing up for a hybrid model for employees?

One would say that for Insurance, it was a call to move and rethink how we defined ‘Workplace’. The industry woke up to the way our stakeholders, including customers, agents, distributors, and employees could function. At Bharti AXA, we responded with agility, with employee wellbeing at the core of the transition. Our leadership and IT teams reached out to employees for support that could be provided, reassuring them of the new ways of working. We adopted a role-based model for those who needed to work offsite, and hence 30% of roles moved to work from home in the interim. Depending on functional and role-based needs, we began a roster system allowing employees to come into work while adhering to safety guidelines. Our leadership team led by example, by following roster working schedules while continuing to always remain available regardless of their location of work. At this point, we also realized that hybrid is the way forward. Hence, we launched branchless or office-less working with the introduction of the Mobile office – M-Smart - to provide ease of business for employees and customers.

3.  Are there any specific measures the company has taken to ensure employee productivity through technological innovations? 

Our core values are defined by the principle of doing the smart thing. And given the times we are living in, the smartest thing to do is to simplify work for our employees so they can deliver joyful experiences to the end customer. Driven by this ethos, we ramped up our digital capabilities almost immediately after the onset of the pandemic. 7 digital assets have been introduced in the past 3 quarters catering to business needs. We launched M-Smart which hosts 3 digital assets, M-Sell, M-Customer, and M-Life, to streamline the pace of business as usual. It is an industry-first realization of a 3-App strategy for distribution under the digital transformation agenda of Bharti AXA Life Insurance. 

This suite of mobile and web apps for the workforce enables agents to digitally perform critical business functions right from pre-sales to customer on-boarding and servicing, along with complete seller lifecycle management with digital recruitment, learning management, and performance management.  

4. How have interventions introduced during the pandemic impacted employee outcomes? 

98% of our employees have been administered at least one dose of vaccine through company organized camps (in-office and offsite) which makes us confident about their health and safety. This was further supplemented to a great extent by our WECare initiative that focuses on the holistic wellness of our workforce. We understand the blurred personal and professional boundaries that people are managing and as part of WECare, we have designated no call and no meeting hours. 

Digital Detox is one such example wherein the 21st of every month is observed as a day with no online meetings. Instead we encourage teams to engage, reflect and connect with others over casual calls, or meet in person wherever possible with all safety measures. Everyday as a rule, we don’t schedule meetings or deliverables before 9.30 AM or post 6.30 PM so that people can spend time with their families. A dedicated lunch hour break also nudges employees to eat together with their loved ones without being disturbed by calls. Not only does this help our employees rejuvenate, but it also encourages them to detox from work in a healthy manner. All this has led to sustained productivity and sensitization of communication channels. 

5. Is the company foreseeing any further disruptions to the work trends in the coming months?

We are living in uncertain times so it’s safe to infer that work trends will continue to fluctuate for a while. We are prepared and keeping an agile mindset. However, what can be predicted for sure is that we will need to focus sharply on upskilling workforces to be in tune with digital disruptions. Moreover, the micro-credentialing of employees’ custom-fit to their pre-dispositions will see an uptick as hybrid culture settles in. 

With the warning of a 3rd wave, we have cautioned our employees and encouraged them to use M-Smart, a set of digital tools to continue with daily work without any disruption.  

Another work trend to keep an eye out for is how candidates choose a favourable employer. Employees will no longer make career choices solely based on compensation, location, role and opportunities to learn & grow. Factors such as the organization’s focus on well-being (both mental & physical), flexibility in choice of workplace and timings and support extended in the event of long illnesses of self or dependents, will become determinants when prospective employees are evaluating alternate employers. 

6. How has technology enabled inclusiveness at the workplace? Is there any difference from pre-COVID times?

We introduced M-Life, hosted under M-Smart, as a mobile app that brings together digital recruitment, learning, performance management along with rewards & recognition programs. It also brings a holistic view to the seller about their book of business allowing timely actions. This has not only centralized information but also enabled employees to feel connected with a sense of belonging to the company through the pandemic. 

We have also been sensitive towards life at work through initiatives like Shukriya – our platform for recognition, which also includes families to share in our happiness and celebrations. Additionally, WeCare has programs for parenting, anxiety management, diet regulation and sleep and overall wellness, everything that leads to ensuring one’s healthy mental wellbeing. 

7. Has the digitalization of the workplace led to breaking communication barriers between leaders and employees? How?

Digitalization has democratization embedded as a virtue. This ensures that technology levels the field across verticals and hierarchies. At Bharti AXA Life Insurance, for instance, our M-Sell app enables sellers to engage with prospective customers with lead management, need-based product recommendations, calculators and quotations, engagement opportunities of sharing of marketing collaterals, announcements, etc. and acts as a gateway to customer on-boarding – with similar practices across the domain. Every employee is connected and informed. 

Likewise, on the other end of the spectrum, M-Customer allows a customer to be on-boarded in less than 15 minutes by leveraging smarts like e-KYC, PAN, or use of existing policy details for an existing customer. With its smart features, M-Customer supports comprehensive management for the sales team. All these disruptions counter the challenges posed by the pandemic while ensuring that employees and leaders remain on the same page.

8. How did Bharti AXA leverage technology to ensure employee engagement during lockdowns?

We have been using AI-based BOT for connecting with employees at different touchpoints of their lifecycle, checking on their wellbeing, enhancing the employee experience, and listening to them.  Listening and being available is one focus area that we have been increasingly paying attention to during these times simply because we want our teams to feel supported completely. Besides using the AI-based methodology, monthly CEO townhalls, Leadership Connect - a forum for business leaders to engage, and platforms for employees to speak or write directly to the leadership team have seen an upswing to ensure engagement. This direct interaction across levels make each employee feel heard and valued.  

9. How is the role of HR professionals going to evolve with digital technology expanding into every vertical?

In my experience, what we saw as future trends of digitization influencing HR operations, has now been expedited. We need to recalibrate processes to incorporate this digital thinking. I see massive transformation like reimagining organization structures with different working conditions- gig, hybrid, full time and so on. This in turn leads to rethinking how one looks at rewards, employee development and retention of different workforces. Positioning people and business efficiency first is most crucial.  The need for certain skills has increased with every diverse working situation. Companies are looking at agile candidates who can adapt to rapid market changes and for managers who are empathetic and practical in their approach to handle disruption. 

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