Though three-quarters of U.S. employers now offer hybrid work, some retailers have been slow to embrace emerging hybrid work models, even for corporate employees. We spoke with Ashok Krish, Global Head of Digital Workplace at TCS, about how hybrid work will impact employers – and their employees – in the retail industry.
Do you believe hybrid work is here to stay?
Hybrid work is absolutely here to stay. While retail has always had a sizeable frontline workforce, there has always been an asymmetry in technology investments. Knowledge workers in a traditional office setting have historically been more invested in technology than frontline workers. But the pandemic has forced a rethink. Digital enabled frontline workers are more crucial to the organization’s long-term success than ever before.
How will hybrid work change the employee experience in the retail industry?
In the context of retail, where one might argue that a hybrid model of work has always existed (frontline workers vs. knowledge workers), the transition required now is more subtle. The focus now is on technology investments that allow more fluidity between frontline and knowledge work and slowly blur the distinction between these roles. Retailers that invest in workplace technologies that allow anyone in any role to work effectively in both a frontline as well as a traditional office/home capacity will succeed.
Empowering frontline workers with better real-time analytics, decision support, and devices that help them spend less time doing boring, repetitive work is a crucial investment for retailers to make.
What are some of the challenges hybrid work poses for employers in the retail sector?
One of the biggest challenges hybrid work poses for retail is churn. Retailers employ a large number of transient/temporary workers who need to be onboarded and offboarded rapidly, while enabling others’ contextual knowledge to be delivered to them and simultaneously capturing their tacit knowledge while they are working. This means that traditional ways of managing knowledge and enabling collaboration simply do not scale for this workforce. The investment in AI-backed continuous skilling and just-in-time training experiences for frontline workers will be crucial in overcoming this particular challenge.
Microsoft’s Work Trend Index found that 48% of employees and 53% of managers say they are burned out at work. What can employers do to improve employee engagement and reduce stress in the hybrid workplace?
Employers need to rethink the rituals of work. Retail organizations need to rethink how their frontline workers collaborate in real time with the rest of the organization. Employees waste time finding information, finding people, setting up meetings, and cleaning data. Everyone spends more time looking for information than acting on information. It’s a discouraging, stressful environment. To change it, managers must transform their processes and their culture. They must embrace new technology stack metaphors (such as Microsoft Teams vs. email) to become more efficient. They must learn to become effective facilitators of digital processes and distributed teams.
How can retail organizations use technology to improve communication, collaboration, and productivity, while maintaining security and preventing fraud?
Companies can no longer expect employees to attend town hall meetings and read company newsletters. Technology can help them target the right messages to the right demographic in the right form factors. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to reduce a 900-word report to a 50-word summary or generate a video, which you can send on a mobile phone.
Tools like Microsoft Teams break down silos and enable collaboration across the organization. Once managers set access controls, the platform worries about security, freeing people to exchange ideas without constraint. But at the same time, the design and configuration of these collaboration systems will make the difference between creating a noisy, unproductive culture of collaboration and a personable, productive one.
Automation, AI, and the cloud can save employees tremendous amounts of time. Instead of attending two-week training sessions, employees can receive nudges from a virtual assistant to acquire new skills as they work. In the near future, knowledge assistants powered by large language models, purpose-built for specific industry domains, will augment every employee’s productivity by providing contextual knowledge on demand.
Retail companies have historically been early adopters of technology and will need to continue to increase their momentum of change. The traditional dichotomy between build vs. buy has given way to a “no-code vs. pro-code” approach – employees will expect new capabilities to delivered quicker than ever before.
With cloud-based software, front-line employees can see back-end customer information in real time, increasing upselling, cross-selling, and client satisfaction. Bringing business tools into the flow of collaboration will create more frictionless experiences and enable more agile collective decision-making.
These capabilities can help to eliminate workplace pain points, greatly improving the employee experience. Without a great employee experience, you cannot create a great customer experience.
At the same time, companies must maintain secure environments and prevent fraud. Companies must invest in newer tools that give them wider and deeper visibility into their threat landscape and leverage built-in AI and machine learning to proactively manage threats and reduce alert fatigue. The future of security is to largely automate responses to standard threats while investing in education and change management to prevent social engineering and attacks on individuals.
How does TCS help organizations reimagine the future of work for their employees?
We provide a comprehensive solution combining infrastructure, applications, and human resources expertise into a single package that helps retail organizations deliver an outstanding hybrid work experience. My group includes people who do everything from designing applications to mapping workflows to managing the inner workings of a cloud framework, including reinventing productivity and the future of work with AI using Microsoft 365 Copilot.
TCS also invests in behavioral science research to help organizations prepare for the workplace of the future. How can retail companies accommodate gig work? How should AI collaborate with human beings? No one knows the answers to these questions yet, just as no one knew until recently how to manage hybrid work. By peering into cutting-edge technology, we can pass along insights that keep our clients ahead of the curve.
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Tata Consultancy Services
Ashok Krish Global Head of Digital Workplace, TCS
Ashok Krish is the Global Head of the Digital Workplace unit at TCS, which helps customers reimagine the future of work for their employees. His team works at the intersection of design, technology, and behavioral science, and helps conceptualize and implement modern, persuasive, and immersive employee experiences. Outside of work, he is a columnist, musician, and a food science enthusiast.
Employee Experience, Remote Work, Retail Industry