AMCHAM’s HR Committee organized the Future of Work conference that provided a platform for industry leaders to connect, discuss and promote advocacy for critical areas in HR. The two-day virtual event was held on March 4th and 5th. The conference began on March 4th with Ms. Ranjana Khanna, Director General CEO, AMCHAM welcoming speakers and participants. She gave an overview of the two-day conference and spoke about global humanitarian and business challenges caused by the pandemic. She also mentioned the new terms and processes like work from home becoming an expected norm, workforce wellbeing, use of technology in every activity and emergence of new skill sets.

Mr. Salil Gupte, Chairman, AMCHAM and President, Boeing India, in his opening remarks said that this is an opportune time to hold discussions around the future of work. He presented examples and scenarios depicting two different worlds, where some things are just like before while the others have completely transformed. He highlighted that probably the truth lies in the middle where all will converge to a new reality and a new future of work would be that uncertain middle space. He also talked about the pandemic accelerating trends that were already coming like the shift to e-commerce, consolidation of tech power and network effects amongst technology companies, flexible working, etc.

Mr. Xavier Estupinan, Wage Specialist, International Labour Organization set the context of the conference by giving a comprehensive presentation on the role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work. In his presentation he spoke about having a sustainable future of work which has a human-centred approach, investments in jobs, skills and social protection, supports gender equality, investments in the institutions of the labour market so that wages are adequate and safety and health as well as fundamental rights at work are ensured. He also explained how COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in remote working arrangements, further reinforcing the growth and impact of the digital economy. He explained the working and growth of digital labour platforms as classified in two broad categories: online web-based platforms and location-based platforms. Platforms rely on two distinct types of workers – workers directly employed by the platform and workers mediated by the platform. Digital labour platforms have developed a distinct business model to establish a market base, leverage network effects and expand rapidly. He also spoke about the opportunities and challenges for business, the workers’ profile, experience and the key motivators for working on these platforms.

Mr. Brian Heath, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister Counselor for Management Affairs, U.S. Embassy, in his inaugural address gave an overview of the economic relationship between the U.S. and India and how it has elevated from approximately $20 billion to $150 billion in the last 20 years. He said that the new government is committed to further economic ties. He shared how the Embassy adapted to the COVID environment. Though it has been a year since the pandemic came, with the arrival of vaccinations things look optimistic in the near future. He bifurcated the entire approach to COVID into three phases – the reaction phase, the settling in phase and the post pandemic phase. He stressed on the fact that though the objectives remain the same, the pandemic has changed the form and speed of delivery. He also talked about the importance of critical people in our lives which in a pre-COVID era was seldom noticed. Mr. Heath talked about how the pandemic forced everyone to think creatively and be more adaptive in terms of use of technology. He also spoke about the importance of compassion in these dynamic times. The vote of thanks was given by Mr. Chaitanya N. Sreenivas, Chairman – HR Committee, AMCHAM and VP HR & HR Head India South Asia, IBM.

Session 1: New Way of Working: Post COVID was moderated by Mr. Chaitanya N. Sreenivas, Chairman – HR Committee, AMCHAM and VP HR & HR Head India South Asia, IBM. The panelists were Mr. Andrew Newmark, Vice President Human Resources – Asia Pacific (excluding Greater China) – APEC, Marriott International, Inc., Dr. Kiranmai Dutt Pendyala, Head of HR, Western Digital India and Board Member, United Way, Hyderabad (‘For Impact’ Organization) and Mr. Titus Arnold, Director – Human Resources, Medtronic India. The session started with all panellists sharing their views on what is changing, how has the pandemic impacted this change and what does the next 12 to 18 months hold for their respective company and industry. Mr. Newmark shared that their sector was the most severely hit and it has been much of a crisis management and contingency management for them though there is optimism and positivity on the horizon. He also talked about cultural leadership, resilience, talent management and the new normal w.r.t to hotel stays. Dr. Pendyala while mentioning that their sector was not hit badly and saw less productivity loss they experienced greater panic and anxiety amongst employees. At first work appeared to be therapeutic which at the later stages resulted in burnouts and created digital fatigue. She spoke about the adverse impact on mental wellbeing and how HR as a function is more focussed towards employee wellbeing and greater employee engagements. Mr. Arnold while giving an overview about the critical healthcare sector and how it was important to keep the operations going shared that employees were kept in the centre of operations and it was made sure that their experience was not compromised. The organization helped employees to create infrastructure in their homes and promoted a hybrid and flexible work arrangement. Various initiatives like training programs, employee engagements, virtual yoga, communications, sharing best practices, etc. were launched. Mr. Sreenivas talked about sustainability, employee centricity and engagement. The panelists further talked about the impact of technology in their industry and HR as a whole. Some pertinent points included building business around technology, more time for value-based activities like culture and talent development, creating uniformity across locations, effective delivery, use of AI and predictive analysis, upskilling, increasing importance of wellness and upskilling amongst others.

Session 2: Emotional Wellness featured Dr. Akshay Kumar, Consultant Psychologist and Head of Dept. of Mental Health at Artemis Hospital; Director and Co-Founder of Ask Insights; Senior Fellow at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). In his talk on emotional wellness, Dr. Kumar touched upon the positive fallouts of the pandemic that made it possible for topics like empathy and psychological safety to come in the spotlight and their sudden inclusions in key leadership competencies. Burnout and mental stress have become the buzz words in psychological counselling. He shared that since the pandemic erupted, 75% of employees reported that they felt more socially isolated, 67% reported higher levels of stress, 57% reported greater anxiety and 53% felt more emotionally exhausted. Quoting a study, he mentioned that in 2020 there was a looming second order mental health crisis and the world lost about 1.3 trillion dollars to workplace stress. The business hours being lost due to organizational anxiety and workplace distress causes massive losses in global business. He also attributed this to the lack of courage amongst employees to speak and express. With the world becoming more global and diverse teams coming together on common platforms, it becomes critical to understand how psychological safety and emotional wellbeing helps diversity. He also illustrated the dynamics between the dominant and non-dominant groups at the workplace. He advocated implementing positive psychology. It was followed by a fireside chat between Dr. Akshay Kumar and Ms. Achal Khanna, Co-Chair – HR Committee, AMCHAM and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Business Head, Asia Pacific and MENA. They discussed the rigorous approach by organizations and individuals evaluating emotional wellness post COVID, improving the mental health component of our workplace wellness initiatives, lack of proper and adequate data around mental wellness, training and awareness to improve emotional wellness in organizations, stigma associated with mental stress and steps to identify emotional disorders.

On March 5th, the conference opened with Session 3: Decoding Labor Laws. The session was bifurcated into two sub sessions – Session 3A: Labor Law Reforms: An Overview and Session 3B: Labor Law Reforms – What Does it Mean? Mr. Rajan Verma, Ex Chief Labour Commissioner, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India and Ex Advisor, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India and Dr. Anoop K Satpathy, Senior Faculty, V. V. Giri National Labour Institute, were the guest speakers for the first part of the session. The speakers gave an overview on the merger of 29 existing labour legislations into 4 codes – The Code on Wages, 2019; The Industrial Relations Code, 2020; The Code on Social Security, 2020 and The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020. They highlighted the common ground between the four codes which includes uniformity in wages, with specified exclusions that shouldn’t exceed 50% of gross pay, complete web-based platform for all aspects related to registrations, filing, inspection, calling on information etc., compounding of offences i.e., the intent of the law is not to punish, but to give all possible opportunities to the eligible establishments for making all non-compliance good and deemed certification i.e., if the authority is not undertaking its duty within notified number of days, then automatically the application shall be deemed to be certified. Mr. Verma and Dr. Satpathy explained the key changes of each code and their applicability.

It was followed by a fireside chat with Mr. Sumeet Doshi, Sr. Director and Country Manager – India, UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group) and Mr. Ashissh Kaul, Associate Director – Knowledge and Advisory, SHRM India. They discussed the employer and employee perspective of the codes, reservations around hire and fire technique and higher possibility of layoffs, elements of migrant workers, GIG workers and extension of benefits like ESIC, EPFO, annual medical checks, etc, gender equality and safety norms for female workforce especially in night shifts.

Session 4: Artificial Intelligence Technologies in Human Resource Management opened with remarks by Mr. Chaitanya N. Sreenivas, Chairman – HR Committee, AMCHAM and VP HR & HR Head India South Asia, IBM. Ms. Anna Roy, Adviser, NITI Aayog, Government of India, in her special address explained the creation of the specialized team on AI at NITI Aayog which is relatively young and views from industry and academia were taken into consideration. She mentioned that the most challenging aspect was how to give a human face to technology and keeping it inclusive. Speaking about AI, she mentioned that it is highly immersive and all pervasive and helps in improving governance. AI as a technology is not limited to a particular segment or sector and directly affects workforce and future of work. She mentioned that one must be cognizant about scaling of workforce and the type of activities being taken over by machines. Every AI user needs to be conscious about its overall impact on the society on the economy and in global space.

It was followed by a panel discussion on artificial intelligence technologies in human resource management which was moderated by Ms. Mandeep Kaur, HR Leader, IBM with panelists Mr. Aditya Priyadarshan, Managing Director, Strategy & Consulting – Talent & Organization, Accenture in India and Ms. Sabina Dewan, President & Executive Director, JustJobs Network and Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research. Ms. Kaur set the context by illustrating different tools available in the AI space like – machine learning, predictive analysis, natural language processing tools, computational linguistics and data mining tools. She shared the results of a study on what is the status of adoption of artificial intelligence. The target audience was HR professionals across all levels and all industries in India. It showed that only 7% of HR professionals are using AI in their deployment of functions and it is most used for talent acquisition and onboarding. The panel deliberated upon AI fitting in current technological landscape and in shaping the future of work and HR, concerns related to AI in HR, how can HR help organisations adopt a more responsible AI, how can AI be leveraged to enhance HR performance and employee experience and emergence of new roles in HR. The panelists spoke about jobs being impacted by robotics in the future and future of work being defined as how humans and machines are going to collaborate. To achieve more, organizations need to develop interactive and sustainable AI models. Some concerns around technology include it not being ethics neutral, biases of the creator and it’s not a fool proof solution to all problems, thus human interface cannot be completely eradicated. They also discussed about improving the overall employee experience through careful adoption of AI. The panel agreed that humans and machines are in a mutualistic symbiotic relationship.

Ms. Achal Khanna, Co-Chair – HR Committee, AMCHAM and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Business Head, Asia Pacific and MENA summarized the two-day conference in her concluding remarks. The event was well attended and supported by Intuit and Western Digital.

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