Ajmal Varikkodan

Is the COVID-19 situation really a black swan event? Black swan events are episodes that happen unexpectedly and prove to be life-changing. In the past, we had similar black swan events like the 19/11 incident. In the tech space, the invention of the steam engine, and more recently, the advent of the internet.

The COVID-19 situation has changed our life and way of working almost overnight and it is likely to stay on for the foreseeable future. Therefore, what are the means to continue to acquire and build talent? How are you going to acquire talent remotely? How are you going to build talent at a distance?

Entering remote workspaces

One of the biggest challenges before every organization is: how do you maintain a physical and social distance but keep psychological proximity? Psychologically we cannot distance ourselves from our team, our customers, vendors, and the rest of the ecosystem. Today, we are connected with employees, engaging with them and we are doing wellness initiatives virtually. The new mantra is ‘Physical distancing and Psychological proximity’.

A new perspective expected from HR folks – managing talent and getting new talent. Suddenly we have been forced to move to a survival mode – how do we handle the situation and manage the talent we currently have in the system? The strategy and plan were set. And then, we moved to continuity mode – getting people from the markets. Recruiting talent at a distance and getting them to come and join the company is a little difficult. In this case, you need to drive with a purpose, identify the sources and most importantly, you need to identify the right process, which will fit in the current scheme of things.

Both acceptability and adaptability will come handy in this situation. We know these are the limitations as well as the available options. Most of the companies have already started moving to that level. The lockdown has compelled all the companies to explore these measures. Adaptability and acceptance will drive the entire organization to quickly move to survival to continuity to productivity to sustainability mode.

Most of the companies have now adopted an ‘anytime anywhere’ learning strategy. We started a journey of ‘training-to-learning’ quite a few years back. Almost 80% of the content is now available in the self-learning mode. A defined career path and career journeys are available. People are empowered with the learning path as it offers learning experience from anywhere with their mobile.

As far as regular talent development is concerned, there is not much change in pre-COVID, during COVID, and post-COVID. First of all, it was imperative to connect with employees for their physical and mental wellbeing. While the complete work from home began, people needed to connect with others to exchange certain ideas and other things, especially in team working. They are missing social bonding in the workplace.

Remote hiring

Many disruptions are set to happen in hiring but we cannot eliminate the human angle because the kind of exchanging the ideas across the table has a great impact on hiring decisions. At the same time, people are adopting the changes and are ready to move on with new ideas. One way or another, it is an advantage. For example, freshers need not travel to the company, instead, they can conduct the hiring procedure remotely in the comfort of their home. The ease of operation at the end of the candidates as well as the organizations is far better when we can do the entire process remotely without compromising the quality. This transformation is going to happen across sectors.

Additionally, the hiring managers undergo a behavioral change – from compulsory meeting to remote onboarding. Tools like Microsoft Teams and advanced software like HireView help recruiters make better decisions.

Inclusive workplace

Organizations have to focus on building an inclusive workforce. They need to adopt a strategy to induct the cognitively disabled individuals as well. Although individual-level support for women with family responsibilities is essential in remote working, they can easily be inducted to the workforce after a break. The onus is completely on the organizational culture, leadership style, and relevance and need of the organization.

Mass campus recruitment

Campus recruitment is on hold for now due to the lockdown situation. Educational institutions are yet to open. Meanwhile, the companies should strategize their campus placement. The best way is engaging college students in the organization program through a micro-service architecture. The internship has to be availed to them in the early semester onwards, this can be aligned with the curriculum and delivered remotely. When they complete the course, they would have industry-ready skills and knowledge. 

Another model is the AI-based crowdsourcing platform, in which students can join as freelancers. It will have real-time monitoring and outcome-based pay-outs. Instead of mass recruitment, companies will be using online tools. As long as the college shutdown continues, remote hiring is going to stay.

More than being a company employee, many students want to be gig workers and work at their own convenience. Hence, the demand for freelancing may see an increase. However, there would have elements of both old and new. It depends on individuals and organizations.

Migrant-centered operations

This issue is most relevant for companies with supply chain systems and contract employees. In this difficult time, they continue to connect with their staff through different channels and trying to support families. Companies are working towards creating a comprehensive procedure to resume the works after lifting the lockdown. 

Several government regulations are now focusing on daily wage people and migrants. Every sector is not able to abide by the regulations such as continuing the pre-COVID pay-outs. The government is working with NGOs to deliver the necessary assistance like adopting villages to give work to the daily wage or migrant workers and ensuring income to them.

Workplaces are being reimagined in order to reduce human interference in the manufacturing units.  In a nutshell, the employers need to connect with the people, engage with them, and show humanitarian consideration by not cutting wages, do the right things for employees, etc. For the post-COVID operation, global and national industry bodies have documented the best practices.

Motivating employees despite uncertainty

We can take the example of a household. Once the earning member comes to know the reduction in salary or income, they cut their expenses in the house. The companies have to take the same approach. They must be transparent in communication and need to give a reason for taking such a step. 

Being relevant in the coming age is critical for each employee. The companies need to urge them to invest in upskilling and learn and update their knowledge and skill in this tiring time because it will have huge value going forward. People have understood the urgency, need for being agile and adaptable.

Learning program completion and outcome

Defining the economics of learning is the biggest question before every organization. Time and money are precious. Learning has to convert into individual growth.

It is up to the individual to ensure completion as well as applying the learning outcome in their work. They should thoroughly evaluate the content prior to joining the course and check whether it is useful for individual growth. In the IT sector, people complain about the lack of practice. Now there are many free and paid platforms to practice. E-learning has gone a long way and will evolve further.

Materials and resources are available online and if there is no course or program, people can engage with subject matter experts directly to acquire new skills or knowledge. The online platform has a solution for everything but there is still an issue with the mindset. This underlines the significance of education-based strategy, experience-based strategy, and relationship-based strategy. 

Companies are successfully conducting virtual workshops for employees and customers. Thanks to COVID, the mind shift is steadily happening. 

Senior staff vs. Digital natives

Technology adaptation is not restricted to generation or age, it is a very individual approach. The adaptation of technology amongst senior professionals is quite impressive. People from all generations are aggressively using new technology for various needs.

Though technology has evolved over the years, there was apprehension among stakeholders in the organizations about the effectiveness and outcome of remote interactions, for instance, client meetings. But since the lockdown, we are finding that such virtual meetings are fruitful. Now meetings have become more inclusive, people from other geographies are also participating in such meetings.


In this time of uncertainty and ambiguity, the employees undergo stress and mental distress. Therefore, employees should be given first priority and the role of leadership is to motivate them by giving confidence. Business continuity solely depends on effective talent management. Engaging with each stakeholder to ensure the physical and mental wellness is of high importance now, though executing it at distance has a lot of limitations.

This was collated from a panel discussion organized by Jigsaw Academy on April 29, 2020, in which Dr. Ankita Singh, Senior VP & Global Head-HR at CIGNEX Datamatics; Vaishali Phatak, Global Head – Technical Learning, Diversity and Inclusion at Tech Mahindra; and Sreekanth K. Arimanithya, Global Talent and Enablement Service Leader at EY Global Delivery Services talked about ‘Talent Building at a Distance’. The discussion was moderated by Bhaskaran Srinivasan, Director-Academics at Manipal Global Education Services.

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