S01 E07: Influence of the New-normal in Employee Engagement

Kailash Ganesh
19 min read

It is a well-known truth that social media plays a tremendous role in shaping our opinions. Most social media users tend to use #TheNewNormal to indicate any kind of change, be it big or small.

This is the same case for the pandemic. Although it is a time of great transition and changes, people have gone slightly overboard with this term. Most of us have started using the term more as a trending hashtag rather than have a real understanding of the situation. For example, #TheNewNormal is used with images posted of people washing their hands and wearing masks.

This sentiment is explored in this episode of CultureClub by Vinay Trivedi, Head of Human Resources at ToneTag, a disruptive fintech startup in Bangalore that transfers data over sound waves through encrypted technology.

Vinay, a post-graduate from XLRI Jamshedpur, has worked with prestigious brands like HP, Accenture, Axis Bank, Future Generali India Life Insurance before joining ToneTag in 2018. He is also a part of the Corporate Advisory Board of Poornima University, as well as a student mentor for the Pune Institute of Business Management (PIBM).

This conversation between Vinay, Ketan (Head of People Functions, Rentomojo) and Senthil (Founder and CEO, CultureMonkey) covers everything from #TheNewNormal, predicting future trends in employee engagement, to social learning and its effect on remote working.

Dive into the details of their conversation by listening to their conversation here.


Ketan [00:00:27] We have Vinay Trivedi with us and I met Vinay at one of the conferences. I think this was Feb or March somewhere and we were a part of a panel discussion and interestingly, that was around the HR and digital something around that. And I, of course, Vinay was probably the youngest out there sitting in terms of the experience. I'm not even getting into the age. But I was impressed with his thought processes, ability to put across his point of trust, and asking questions which were very, very fundamental in nature.

Ketan [00:01:03] On a lighter note, I don't know Vinay if you remember this, but he had a question in that conference saying that, will we as an HR, I am talking about HR getting digital, why are we having this conference live in physical? He said, why is this conference not happening over a digital platform. Lest that, one knew that this would become a reality. But I remember that question Vinay, I don't know if you recall that. But it raised a question. You know, in those conferences, there are people who there's a fundamental question that really. Wow, this just makes sense.

Ketan [00:01:37] I think I've been following him on his LinkedIn for some time. He posts certain videos, starting with talks and he's shared stories about organization, about people and Vinay is exhilarating. He did his Post Graduation P.M. in 2008. And he's been TA Pai young leader HR, a young HR leader which is run by times. He is also a speaker, he is a guest faculty, he is also a university board advisor and the most interesting thing that you would see on his LinkedIn description is, He's somebody who is trying to be human. I think that's something that's getting at a personal level.

Ketan [00:02:24] He has worked with brands like Accenture, ITC , Future Generali before joining Tone Tag and I think he's also if I understand correctly, he is a student mentor for Pune Institute of Business Management and he's also one of the Corporate advisory board of Poornima University. So, Vinay, thank you so much for joining us and we can begin with more about you that the audience can know and also watch your organization if that's okay with you.

Vinay [00:02:58] Sure. First of all, it is very kind of you to give such a nice introduction to me Ketan. Thank you for having me here, Senthil and Ketan. I could add some value to people who are listening to this conversation. I must say, I was certainly thrilled to know that if somebody was to listen to whatever I say, others had thought, I only talk on LinkedIn and you know, I just keep, you know, shipping news. But much appreciate it.

Vinay [00:03:34] Tone Tag, the organization that I work for, we are a fintech startup if I have to, you know, in a very simple way, explain what we do as an organization, we're essentially an organization that does the transfer of data from point A to point B or soundwave through encrypted technology. Now, this transfer of data could mean multiple used cases as far as technology deployment is concerned. It could mean payments from one device to another device, it could mean shopping that, you know, if I'm picking up something, the device talks to my device and adds to the cart automatically. So we have multiple use cases. It's fascinating to see how sound can be used through technology to transfer data. So that's what we do, as an organization. So we are a disruptive fintech product company originated out of India and that's who we are.

Senthil [00:04:39] If I can add one point here. I mean, Vinay, it's nice to listen to your company, what it does, it's actually very interesting. And for us in culture monkey, though we have a very high-tech solution for employee engagement. We always had this, see HR in the end, engagement is the end is psychology first, it's human first and that's the primary job. It's more than crunching numbers, more than making decisions, it's a very psychological and methodology implemented. So that's why we have this culture club by CultureMonkey. So glad to have you here and very excited to hear all the points that we're going to get from you and it's gonna be a great value for our audience. So yeah, without any further delay, Ketan let's get started with the questions.

Ketan [00:06:06] Looking at what COVID has done, what challenges do you think in your experience is CXOs have been dealing with post-COVID, especially when it comes to matters around culture and the world going remote, what are the things that you have seen, Vinay?

Vinay [00:06:25] I am an optimist and I see all of these crises as huge opportunities, what we as HR folks could not drive doing for so many years very successfully, a pandemic has done. So for CXOs, I think it was a huge unlearning and relearning exercise of getting work done remotely because they were not used to it, they were not very agile to get used to a lot of industry segments like your BFSI, manufacturing. A lot of these segments were not open to such changes. So there's a huge wave of unlearning that has happened where people have at CXO level, people have adapted to newer ways of managing a workforce, newer ways of working themselves and also getting their teams productive.

Vinay [00:07:19] So I think one of the biggest advantages is the change management that has happened in terms of appreciating that you could do a lot of things remotely and that has been the biggest shift in the way CXOs have scaled up to manage their teams. Obviously, any change is not very simple, so everybody goes through a share. Change or a transition is like your flight taking off, so when you have to gain that thrust, you have to put all your energy to actually get to that thrust of cruising level, and then when you're cruising, it's pretty stable where you happily sort of fly in. So that's what has happened.

Vinay [00:08:00] First one month, there was a lot of disbelief, there was a lot of excitement, there was a lot of anxiety, there were a lot of rules that people were setting up, that you have to log in at this time, you have to be in a noiseless place, you have to do this, you have to do that. Because everybody was discovering themselves, every day as it comes and how they can work. Slowly that has settled down. Now people are saying it's okay if there's background noise at your house., no problem. It's okay if you have to switch off, no problem, keep your routine.

Vinay [00:08:30] So a lot of things, we at sort of CXO levels also have learned as we practice because we were also facing the same issues as our teams were facing. First time, we were all on an equal platform as far as infrastructure is concerned. So, a lot of those things eventually settled down. I think it's now pretty much a smooth sail in a lot of sectors and I think everybody's getting or have gotten used to the new ways of working.

Ketan [00:08:59] Nice and just to take this question ahead, because you already spoke about what are the positives that had happened. As per you, what has been that silver lining in this entire change. What is it one thing as an HR professional, you have always wanted to happen and COVID, made it happen for you?

Vinay [00:09:25] One biggest silver lining that has happened is the word 'trust' has actually got life. People are more trusting today than they were ever before. While a lot of large companies, a lot of companies have trust as a core value, but somebody is taken a day off, people want to believe he or she is rather giving interviews or there is something that somebody is up to. We've always had this trust deficit as a psychological behavior. This pandemic, because we were not left with any choice. I think trust as a factor, people have just begun trusting their teams. So tomorrow, once everything goes back to normal and we will go back to normal, we will go back to normal lifestyles.

Vinay [00:10:16] It's not going to be a permanent change. At least that's my strong opinion. But if somebody wants to have a flexi working arrangement, people will trust you which otherwise was a huge challenge. So that's one-word 'trust', which I think is a huge silver lining.

Ketan [00:10:33] I'm glad you called it out and I am also with a similar belief that the world will come back to a large part of normalcy. That's how we are going to evolve. It's important because a lot of things that became regular - things like going to the office. A lot of people hated the office for a very, very long time. I think now we know how important it is to be socially present there, chitchatting, talking to people, and other things. I shared a similar opinion as you do.

Ketan [00:11:12] What do you think this means? How is it redefining HR? What should it mean for the HR fraternity in your view?

Vinay [00:11:22] I think it redefines HR in two or three aspects, really. The first aspect, It allows HR to have logical conversations as far as role flexibility is concerned. Earlier, there was rigidity, in the sense that you got to come to the office because that's how the world works, etcetera. Even if HR had to go back and say that, we can have flexi working arrangements, there were really, you know, hogwash or eyewash policies in most of the organization and a Herculean task in a lot of traditional setups truly will get that flexibility as well. So that is totally redefined. Now HR has a great opportunity to sit down with business teams and say, hey, can we make a list of all the roles that logically can be performed remotely or flexibly, which opens up our doors to get talent from across the country, including tier 3, tier 4 towns and still get them to be productive. So that definitely is a great opportunity.

Vinay [00:12:24] The second opportunity is from an interview and a recruitment cycle perspective as well. I think a lot of us used to struggle to get candidates in person, to get candidates to come to our offices, so on and so forth. Thankfully, a lot of that will be much smoother and acceptable. So now the focus is going to be on how we can improve the quality of candidates and how we can get candidates' inputs and how we can ensure that we have a face to face. A lot of those things will sort of just vanish. So I think these two are really critical changing points while it may seem very simple but critical changing points to the way workplaces are going to be set up in the way forward.

Ketan [00:13:14] Do you think this is somewhere going to also add or work as a catalyst in the adoption of technology and digital and data by this?

Vinay [00:13:34] I think that the catalyst role is already done Ketan, we've already adapted to the way technology is, we have already adapted to newer ways of working. Nobody trained us. Nobody told us what new ways we can work on how we can work. So that job has happened in the last three or four months. Now, how we encash that is gonna be more critical as we go forward.

Ketan [00:14:05] What's your view on this obsession with the term, the new normal?

Vinay [00:14:26] I really think social media has played a very negative role in the way a lot of things are actually shaping up and our obsession to be on social media platforms has further fathered the resolve to make sure that these things keep coming up. New normal, as a term or our obsession to talk about whatever new things are happening in a very different manner, is fine when you do that initially. But our obsession unfortunately is that, if anything that happens, we want to keep using the same terms. Oh, this is new normal, this is new normal. I am combing my hair, it's new normal. I am wearing a mask, it's the new normal. I am taking a selfie, it's new normal. You just want to go overboard, to get some attention because we have an attention deficit.

Vinay [00:15:19] We're not socially meeting people. So to continue to get our attention, as human beings. Psychologically speaking, we keep seeking attention or reaffirmation as well. That's what these terms help us get because they're trending.

Ketan [00:15:44] Another one and Vinay especially with you, I'm asking this question because I know you have a very straight and direct point of view. Now what happened with me is, when this work from home started, suddenly I was getting at least 10 webinar invites a day. What actually has been driving that and what's your point of view on the sudden surge in the number of webinars and 99.99% were free and joined this free webinar. So, for me personally, it was overwhelming, and not being able to attend some of them was very bad for me. So what do you think was happening and what's your thought around this one?

Vinay [00:16:28] You know, in the 1980s and 90s, the term that was used more often was 'insecurity', you're insecure and that's why you're doing all of these things. In the current scenario, it is the fear of missing out, with the genze and millennials and fear of missing out is a bigger pandemic than the actual pandemic itself, because either you want to be a part of a webinar to present because you've seen somebody else's post on LinkedIn or any other social media platform that you're speaking at a certain forum. And likewise, when you are seeing that, I'm able to get to talk to people so easily, I want to jump onto that bandwagon.

Vinay [00:17:15] Initially, when this world sort of suddenly changed upside down, I would say it was really a boon. It was a boon because suddenly it gave access to so many conversations that in a normal scenario, people may not have had the opportunity to actually do those conversations through these webinars. A lot of seniors in the industry, a lot of celebrities, a lot of famous people that you could only imagine seeing them without having a personal conversation, they were available to have conversations. So it was definitely a boon where your learning zoomed out.

Vinay [00:17:51] But what happens with anything is like, I'll give you an example. During last week's event in Ayodhya, I was reading some statistics, over 200 channels have written to DoorDarshan to telecast that event live. Now, you can imagine there are 200 news channels that are running. How do you sensationalize the whole thing? and sensationalization is a bigger problem that we have, like FOMO, where everything is just larger than life. So these too have now gotten into a stage where webinars have become a sensation and a fad.

Vinay [00:18:27] But it's like Maslow's Hierarchy theory. So you will eventually start seeing diminishing returns of these webinars. Like, for example, I started choosing which ones I want to be on, which ones I don't want to be on. I know a lot of people who started choosing those things as well. So we are seeing diminishing returns already. Over a period of time, it will calm down and settle down. So there's nothing to worry about.

Ketan [00:19:04] Another dimension that's more from a mix between what the HR profession needs to focus on and also with the individual learner. Now, what is your view? What happens to be the social learning concept in this virtual world? So a lot for me. I've learned a lot, from the person who was sitting on the next desk, that a conversation that I would have in my office, and pick calls in a small office, but I think every movement had something that it intruded me to learn. Now that's gone virtual. What's your point of view on this entire social learning in the new digital era or at least in the new normal as we say?

Vinay [00:19:48] I would be honest that when somebody reached out to me to do a video on social learning and its effect as well. So I've been sort of reading and learning and talking about it to understand. There has been a slight hit in our social learning pattern. Now, that hit really is, till we readjust our ways. I'll give you an example. Technology today has been so solid in availability that what I could learn from somebody who's sitting right next to me, I could do the same learning by watching a video today. Because technology has made it possible for me to record a video, in 30 seconds I can put it up on every platform possible and get people to interact with that video and understand what I am trying to do.

Vinay [00:20:43] So I think, we're resetting our parameters of how social learning is done, as we speak. Slowly but surely in the phygital world - physical cum digital world that we are going to live in. We will start getting used to learning through virtual platforms. So right now, that take-off phase, as I told you in an aircraft, that's what is happening. So it's a transition that we are going through. We are not fully there.

Ketan [00:21:18] Interesting, very interesting. I never thought from that lens, but it's that the pattern is changing and digital is actually going to enable that.

Vinay [00:21:28] So people want to have a war right, that the whole world is gonna change and how their learning is going to change. You know, I find it quite hilarious when people want to predict when nobody could even think beyond every day as it comes when the pandemic hit us. So I find it amazing when people still want to predict the future of the workforce and future skills and future this and future that.

Ketan [00:21:57] I read a very interesting statement which is made in this book called "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Dale Carnegie says at one point in time that, even if we're 45 percent right about predicting what's going to happen next, we should go to Wall Street, he adds, we will make billions and billions of money that nobody has ever imagined. His prediction is that even the best of the best people are not more than 40 percent right and that's okay.

Ketan [00:22:30] I think it was a very important learning for me. I was holding on by asking, am I right? Is it correct? Is it going to give the result? But he said, if you would be right more than 45%, then go to Wall Street and you will make billions, you don't even need to do anything about that. I think he is right. It made me understand that it's important to make choices, take action, move ahead. Glad you brought that up.

Ketan [00:23:12] Now, to the individuals Vinay, as an individual what are the new things we need to be open to as we embrace this far more digitally connected world? What changes do you think will be necessary for people to be open to, as you see how things are coming?

Vinay [00:23:41] I think, there are two or three key things that have possibly helped me and I'm only sharing my experience. One is the ability to be flexible in changing your approaches multiple times to do certain things. It's far more real and it is required for us to be flexible because we have not left with any choices. So flexibility is critical and we need to continue to be agile and flexible in our approach.

Vinay [00:24:18] The second thing that definitely has a quality which has helped me is the ability to unlearn and relearn quickly. In a lot of ways, we are suddenly adapting to the new normal. But the new normal will certainly change to half physical, half virtual, then again it will move back to physical. So you have to keep yourself aware that you need to unlearn and relearn quickly. Because that's when you will not get stuck. Ketan, when you were mentioning that, you're putting so much pressure on, how this changes and predicts, and am I right and all of that.

Vinay [00:24:56] That limits your ability to unlearn and quickly relearn something else. So that is another quality that is going to be very critical for intuitions and the third quality is, please take every day as it comes, because we don't know what's going to happen. So instead of really looking at it from the long term and the longest-term perspective, I think right now the world is pretty myopic. So you should look at it from every day as it comes perspective, that'll only help you be at peace and less anxious about how this world is changed.

Ketan [00:25:34] Yeah, so powerful and so important, because things are like, new theories, new views, everybody is writing something about something that's coming and you start listening to everything. You're right and very powerful that your inner peace may get disturbed. I love the word myopic and accepting, what is there rather than fighting it. That's absolutely amazing.

Ketan [00:26:09] Now the whole thing is, we start about culture and how it is evolving. Now what we think or what I think at least is that the culture now has an element 'e' added to it. Because the physical fabric or the sense and the smell of the place that we used to get in one of my previous companies are different now. What's your point of view on this, Is the culture going to be evolving in the form of e-culture or is it already there?

Vinay [00:26:51] We are called as social beings, to think of it. Amongst all the animals, we are the most social animals that exist on this planet. So our urge and our need to have social requirements are not gonna change. It is only going to be a pause before anybody comes up with a vaccine before things settle down. But we will move back to our social ways. What would change possibly is, professionally we will do a lot of e-working because that's convenient and that's more logical and that also is the way forward.

Vinay [00:27:34] But personally, we will continue with our social engagements the way we would want it to be. So it's possibly going to be the best of both worlds that I get to work from home, but I get to meet my friends in the evening. I don't necessarily have to go to work, get tired, and then go and catch up with my friends, that change may happen. But even that will come back to normal as soon as we can because our requirement is being social.

Senthil [00:28:04] Now, before we start the rapid-fire, I want to give some of my thoughts, listening to Vinay and all the things I seek. I think I've really admired many points. Clearly, you and I will connect so well, that's what I realized from all the points that you've made. And one of the main points is the predictability is, how stupid are people trying to predict the future, that's like, not having the flexibility to change. That's like competing with the universe.

Senthil [00:28:36] Universe has its own course and you're going to say that, okay, five months from now, this is going to be the new normal and this is my strategy to face the future, that's not going to, that's not a good idea. I really admire that. That's very important. Consistency is, of course, important, but being inconsistent and playing with the new rules of the game, as and when the next game is getting started, that's very important. So I really love that point and the point where you said that this pandemic has given life to trust and that is for the people, for the ones who are running the organizations and the pandemic has also made the way we work differently. Your interviews or the technical round adoption.

Senthil [00:29:33] All of these on both sides even for people and for organizations, there has been a lot of change and reminds me of this great quote, " No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he is not the same man". So we have stepped on this river, the pandemic, and if we're going to step again, we are not going to be the same people again and organizations are not going to be the same thing again. Both would have changed.

Senthil [00:30:07] Vinay, you have clearly given out a lot of points that corroborate this goal. I just wanted to highly appreciate this and of course, there's this there's so much synergy that I already see that you and I can have. So thanks a lot for all of these points.

Ketan [00:30:33] Glad you called it out Senthil. I got to know Senthil more, very intense and one can have very interesting conversations. So guys, whoever is watching this video if you want some interesting conversations about mythology, beliefs, life skills, and life system, I think, he carries a lot of thoughts around that. So do catch up with him when you get the time and just to come back to the four-point one. I see it differently, what I believe is that the mistake that we do is, we start fighting about things that are outside our circle of influence. That's where stress happens, that's where we create pain for ourselves.

Ketan [00:31:28] So Vinay, are you ready for five rapid-fire questions from me?

Vinay [00:31:33] I'm not sure, my problem is that I'm too frank in a lot of answers.

Ketan [00:31:48] So Vinay, the first one for you. If not HR as a profession, what would you have chosen?

Vinay [00:31:53] Sales

Ketan [00:32:00] Cooking, cleaning, or mopping during COVID, which was easier?

Vinay [00:32:04] Mopping, obviously.

Ketan [00:32:25] Your next personal goal, if it's not too personal to share your next personal growth goal that you have set for yourself?

Vinay [00:32:35] I want to go back to traveling across the world. I think that has taken a complete stop. I used to take about 2 or 3 flights every week and I've done that for five, six years in a row to be grounded for six months in the house.

Ketan [00:32:59] One book that has maximum impact on you?

Vinay [00:33:06] 'Who moved my cheese', it's the simplest of the books that you can read. But it prepares you to be flexible, it prepares you to move on, it prepares you to keep changing and keep adapting to changes. So learning, unlearning, a lot of those theories that I've read that many months back. But that's one book that definitely has left a huge impact. The second is, 'Suppandi in Tinkle'.

Ketan [00:33:45] One thing that you personally thank COVID for?

Vinay [00:33:56] So one thing that COVID made us realize is that as a family we can peacefully coexist in the same house without having to go out and that's an amazing discovery. We never thought that we could live under the same roof without fighting for so many years together. So I think that's a great thing that COVID has done.

Ketan [00:34:21] All right. That was phenomenal, Vinay. Thank you so much for your support. Thank you, Senthil for organizing this and we are right on time. It was amazing to listen to you Vinay. Thank you so much.

Vinay [00:34:38] Thank you.

Senthil [00:34:39] Thanks a lot, Vinay, thanks a lot Ketan.