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The death of the micromanager

With work from home becoming the new normal, companies are evaluating candidates on the basis of their ability to work independently without supervision, critical thinking, focus and discipline


Since March, Prakash Munavalli has hired 51 people for Manthan, a Bengaluru-based cloud analytics company where he works as an associate vice-president (human resources)—all virtually. One of the main criteria for selection was the candidate’s ability to work from home, with distant teams.

In today’s uncertain world, it’s essential to screen candidates for their remote working skills, believes Munavalli. “To make it as a home-based worker, you need to be able to be independent as you don’t have the luxury of co-workers sitting next to you," he says. Munavalli screened candidates for their communication skills, emotional quotient, critical thinking, self-motivation and the ability to work at home without distractions.

Such requirements are a result of an uncertain future about office and workspaces. Those larger-than-life work campuses, which employed thousands of workers in a single company, are a thing of the past. With the virus showing no signs of slowing down, companies are now seriously considering making work from home permanent.

This shift has changed the hiring process as well, says Unmesh Pawar, partner, KPMG India. “For decades, companies have been hiring the most qualified candidates who happened to be available in a specific location and could come to a specific office. But now, this is all redundant. Organizations now have access to the brightest and the best available anywhere," he says. It has also opened doors for new talent pools like people who have family commitments and cannot come to office, or retired people.

This situation has also put skills like trust and communication to the forefront, adds Pawar. “Attributes like empathy, relearning collaboration, managing hybrid schedules and staying connected to your people has become important," he says.

Keeping this demand in mind, Sunstone Eduversity, an edtech startup, has started a four-week certification programme, Work from Home for a Millennial Manager. The idea behind the course, says Sunstone Eduversity’s chief executive and co-founder Ashish Munjal, was the growing demand in the industry for skills like good communication, top-notch discipline, schedule management and mental and emotional well-being.

“While we won’t see a full-scale shift to remote employment, teams will be spread out geographically more post the pandemic," he says.

For all the 11 people that Shekar Sivasubramanian, vice-president (engineering and operations) of Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence, hired during the lockdown, his questions were related to one theme: self-motivation.

“My questions to prospective employees relate to their style of functioning, relative independence in working style, comfort in working with ambiguity, defining goals independently for themselves and attitude and emphasis on self-learning," says Sivasubramanian.

The reason for the stress on self-motivation is that mangers don’t want to spend time micromanaging employees. It’s important that a potential employee has a process-oriented approach and can manage their time effectively when working from home, says Dinesh Sharma, chief executive of Volody Products, an enterprise software company based in Mumbai. “People need a lot of discipline to stick to a time schedule, have a space at home to work from, so prior working from home experience is definitely a preferred skill for us now," he says.

Some of questions he asks in interviews these days are: Have you worked from home earlier in your career? What channels of communication do you use for your peers, managers and customers? How will you manage work-life balance if you work at home?

Disciplined approach to tasks is important, especially if the candidates are young, adds Amrit Jaidka Arora, who heads human resources at Digit Insurance. Arora, who has hired 54 employees since March, looks for candidates who are enthusiastic but can work in a disciplined routine. “I ask them about their regular work day, about a recent initiative they completed at home on their own. This is to understand how they make their own schedule, how they manage work-life balance, and their technology capacity," says Arora.


Besides discipline and productivity, the other important traits companies are now looking at is how effectively you can communicate with the new team and take initiative and ownership to collaborate remotely.

This means, on one hand, you need to have a good knowledge of digital collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams and Trello, and on the other, an ability to learn new tools as needed.

After a candidate is vetted for technical skills, Munavalli asks questions about the communication tools they use for different situations, how they handle their schedule, how they prioritize tasks and how would they handle lack of face-to-face contact when working remotely.

“Communication is a key factor when it comes to managing and staying in touch with remote workers," says Munavalli.

The communication skills also aid in team building and helping each other deal with the uncertainty around.

As offices move from physical to virtual spaces, it’s imperative that co-workers can build mutual trust using online tools, says Kavita Kurup, global head (talent and organizational transformation), at UST Global, an international digital technology company. “It’s important for people to be able to connect, converse and collaborate in the virtual realm and create trust for each other. All of which needs high level of emotional skills. Suddenly, soft skills like empathy, patience, communication and mindfulness have moved to the core category," she says.

Someone who has the skill to over-communicate, engage and be part of the team is a definite plus, points out Pragya Joshi, senior human resource business partner at ClearTax, a tax filing startup. “Who doesn’t need a glue?"

Other than being able to communicate on availability, the person also needs to speak up on challenges they’re facing or support they need, especially from a new team. “Engagement is important. Anything that makes us feel that a candidate is going to be more involved with the team, is a definite plus," says Joshi. “It’s not like employees will work from home entirely and for the future, but distant working has brought skills like agility, resilience, motivation and communication to the forefront." Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com

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Updated: 27 Aug 2021, 02:38 AM IST
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