Shaping the future of the workplace

Chaitanya Peddi, Co-founder Darwinbox, on how the company has been enabling enterprises to engage and empower their digital and distributed workforce

By Rhonita Patnaik

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Chaitanya Peddi, Co-founder, Daewinbox
Chaitanya Peddi, Co-founder, Daewinbox

Published: Thu 31 Mar 2022, 2:22 PM

As a Co-founder, tell us what was the spark that led to the creation of Darwinbox?

All three of us, co-founders, Jayant, Rohit, and I have prior experience of working with reputed global organisations. Jayant and Rohit are IIT/IIM alumni, and I am from XLRI, and all three of us are first-generation entrepreneurs. Prior to Darwinbox, Jayant and Rohit were part of McKinsey and EY – Investment Banking, and I was with EY – People Advisory, we advised large enterprises on business transformation, digitisation, and M&A.

A common observation we shared across clientele was that despite increasing efforts to streamline HR processes, organisations struggled to acquire critical information about their human capital. The gap was most evident in a large-scale merger conversation in the life sciences sector led by me in November 2014, where to my surprise, neither of the stakeholders were aware of the key indicators of their talent attrition.

As we went a step deeper to solve the problem, they realised the real trouble was with multiple disintegrated systems (every organisation had an average of three HR systems) across the employee lifecycle that made it difficult to sync and analyse data. And in cases where there were integrated ERP options, the solutions were rigid and clunky for the HR and employee alike, resulting in poor adoption. To deal with these challenges and to make HR technology more intuitive, integrated and insightful, Darwinbox was conceived in 2015.

Businesses are undergoing massive transformations. Collaborations between CIOs and their functional leaders such as CHROs has only strengthened during these critical times. How would this impact the technology investments in the long run?

A Gartner report suggests that the IT spending in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is going to increase to $1.7billion in 2022, surging 2.6 per cent from last year. Organisations have fast-tracked their digital transformation goals and HR is front and centre of this evolving business landscape. HR leaders are prioritising employee engagement, empowerment, and experience for their distributed workforce with the help of technology. CHROs and CIOs are collaborating to draw up a roadmap for technology adoption. They are now working together to fulfil the same mandate of digital transformation for their organisations, keeping employees at the heart of everything.

As the world of work continues to go through this transformation from physical to remote to hybrid, investments in HR tech are likely to surge. And it is no longer an option but a necessity for organisations to manage their workforce and workflows.

To drive greater organisational performance and efficiency, employers must focus on employee experience. Do you agree?

Yes, I absolutely agree. What we are witnessing is a transformation in the mindset of employees. ‘The Great Resignation’ is a testimony to the fact that, today's employees are seeking much more than a transactional relationship with their work and workplace. Given this context, purpose and value alignment are becoming extremely critical to employee experience. And added to this, a hybrid style of work blurs the boundaries between work and life, so it is not just employee experience, a holistic life experience is what the workforce is expecting. Organisations are prioritising employee well-being and experience is at the core of everything. From building interactive candidate engagement, org-wide social network, AI for frictionless inputs and convert interaction through voice bots, real-time integration with collaboration tools like Teams and Slack, tech is the cornerstone of every employee experience strategy. So, for employers to manage, attract and retain talent, experience is critical.

What according to you are the four trends that will shape the future of the workplace and workforce?

Some of the emerging trends that we are witnessing in the MENA region are not too different than its international counterparts. While the global pandemic has been an accelerator, the evolving technologies, changing user expectations and behaviors etc., will continue to influence some of these trends for times to come.

Specifically, there are four new trends in HR and workforce planning in MENA:

1. Hybrid workforce

With 80 per cent employees wanting to be remote or hybrid in the future, HR technology will be key to driving productivity, ensuring engagement, and enabling efficiency no matter where your employees are.

One of the key must-haves in a hybrid setup is the employee’s need for multiple tools and tech to perform day-to-day tasks — be it communication, collaboration, reporting, planning, marking attendance etc. Given the changing user expectations on ‘seamless experience’, the deep embeddedness of technology in the flow of work will become mainstream. From a technical standpoint, the interaction between HR core with smart service delivery layer (workflows, tasks, forms and surveys, helpdesk, notifications, etc.) will solve day-to-day business use cases.

2. Mobile-first work tech

Given the high percentage of mobile penetration in the regions, organisations are adapting to mobile-first HR tech solutions to make work accessible and flexible for their workforce in the region. They are looking at apps that are light, agile and provide an end-to-end suit for their employees. Integrated features like virtual ID cards, touchless attendance, face recognition, voice bots, chatbots, performance management, rewards and recognitions are some of the highly desirable in a HRMS mobile app.

3. Employee experience

Employee expectations are changing, movements like ‘The Great Resignation’, are a testimony to this. Today’s employees are seeking much more than just a transactional relationship with their work and workplace.

Experience is at the core of everything, and organisations need to embed experience in the flow of work. This means identifying moments of truth for an employee along the entire lifecycle and creating meaningful experiences that speak to them on a holistic level. Another trend that will continue to gain steam in the coming months is self-service delivery as the democratisation of HR becomes a must-have for businesses. Not only managers, but employee empowerment through ESS tools will find adoption at scale as employees start appreciating the sense of agency and control.

4. Personalisation

Organisations are also leaning heavily on AI and ML to create personalised experiences and get predictive insights and data at the click of a button. These insights help to tailor personalised experiences for different employees at every stage of the interface, be it personalised onboarding, contextual and integrated content delivery, person-based data/ analytics dashboards or role-based access.

Do you see organisations can evolve into perimeter-less digital workspaces?

The last two years have taught us that perimeter-less work is not a concept of the future, it is here and now. The determining factor for organisations to evolve into the perimeter-less digital workspace will depend on their preparedness. Organisations will need to embrace technology that enables them to manage a hybrid workforce., Be it for onboarding, for communication and collaboration, for feedback, and recognition, or to embed maintain the cultural fabric of the organisation. While digital workplaces will be a reality for some sectors, other sectors like manufacturing, pharma, logistics, hospitality will witness a mix of physical, remote and hybrid workforces.

As a people-focused platform, tell us more about what the customers in the region could expect from Darwinbox?

Markets across the Middle East, have some of the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates and a growing young population that’s digital-savvy. The vast majority of the workforce in the region are employed by sectors like retail, real estate, infrastructure, healthcare, and others that involve a distributed work setup demanding agile and on-the-go technology —an area that Darwinbox solves supremely well compared to global solutions and we are ever-evolving. In addition, the pandemic was a significant inflection point for Middle Eastern enterprises, with a majority adopting remote and hybrid work practices. While the use cases differ from organisation to organisation, based on the industry, objectives/ pain points, company size, geographical presence amongst other parameters, at a broad level — our easily configurable platform will help organisations incorporate any policy levels changes, like the recent changes in labour laws in the UAE. We can enable enterprises to engage and empower their digital and distributed workforce, and for their HR teams specifically, bring in increased efficiency and productivity through automation, streamlined operations, and more. Organisations here can expect to get a future-ready tech stack that scales to their growing talent needs, provides security and compliance for anytime-anywhere access, and is flexible to their requirements. Our product is ever-evolving and we are focussed on technology innovation, so our customers don’t run the risk of being stuck with an old or clunky platform. Additionally, customers can lean on our on-ground team for support and quick resolution of matters.

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