We’re at the start of an era of ‘hyper agility’: Varsha Chainani

As International Women’s Day is fast approaching, exchange4media PR & Corp Comm is hosting a ‘Women Achievers Series’. It will showcase the journey, success and accomplishments of some of the best female leaders in the public relations and corporate communications fraternity.

Today’s series features Varsha Chainani, Sr VP, Group Communications at Mahindra Group. Chainani, a senior corporate communications and marketing professional, has extensive experience working with large global conglomerates and various industries including IT, pharmaceutical, hospitality, automotive, agricultural equipment, hospitality and financial services.

Excerpts from the interview:

Now that the industry is opening workplaces and resuming operations from the office, what are the initiatives, measures and precautions to ensure a smooth transition?

Over the past two years and three waves of the Covid-19 pandemic that we have experienced, most workplaces have developed rather robust processes and protocols for their workplaces and employees. Not only are these processes compliant, but they often exceed national and local guidelines and restrictions for employees returning to work.

For most businesses, bringing the entire workforce back at once would be impossible. Beyond the sheer confusion of many people returning at once, employees will likely need time and space to reacclimate and readapt to a physical workplace. Psychologists say it’s normal for employees to be apprehensive about returning to work given that we’ve been safe in our little bubble for about two years. There would be concerns about safety and anxiety related to social interactions – something as simple as meeting people in person, looking them in the eye and engaging in daily conversation.

Four tips to follow when employees start working on-site

  1. Increased attention to the workplace, workforce and employee well-being is not a pandemic fad. Organizations will need to continue to be patient and kind.
  2. Level managers return to work with an initial period of on-site work flexibility. for example. two days a week.
  3. Working with HR, communications teams will need to help employees adjust to the new normal and manage on-site work.
  4. Employees should expect things to look or feel differently. They may need to take time to get comfortable. Focus on what they are struggling with. For example, if they feel safe or anxious to leave their children. It is important to logically understand what they want.

The past 20-24 months have been challenging for all professionals, especially with the hybrid work model. How did you find a balance between office work and household chores?

From pandemic to endemic (hopefully), the past two years have been unprecedented. What began as challenges and turmoil to simply survive and deal with, has also opened up opportunities to get back to basics and being human, and rethinking life in general.

As a single mom to a covid-warrior (doctor), work has become a potentially 24/7 activity, leaving little time for personal needs in the first year. However, sanity prevailed thereafter and balanced work focusing on mental, spiritual and physical health became important. Patience, focus, perseverance to deal with a continuous state of dynamic flow, and kindness have taken up residence in me. After all, life is a continuous spectrum of all the things you choose to bring into it; work is joy if you let it be joy.

What are the key fundamentals that can help communications professionals navigate the changing world of business communications? How has the past two years elevated the role of communications and do you think that will last?

We are at the beginning of an era of “hyper agility”. This sense of urgency is likely to continue even after the virus has become less of a threat.

We know that the post-pandemic world will demand very different skills from those we have practiced in the profession thus far. Old ideas and approaches to business communication simply won’t help.

Here are some trends and tips of the “new normal” from a communicator’s perspective that will be very useful to us:

  1. The role of communications is central to the organization and important to CEOs and the C-Suite: brand reputation and trust are central to every organization. The “organizations of the future” are being created and communicators are increasingly acting as agents of change, enabling continuous transformation.
  2. Technology, data and digital were key enablers as we all worked remotely. ESOP [Earned, social, owned and social media] are our supports to exploit.
  3. Craft a clear, compelling and bold narrative that conveys an authentic picture of the company’s purpose, values, culture and ideals. Digital acceleration, business purpose, ESG and how companies are changing their processes, becoming more agile and responding are now part of the narrative.
  4. The collaboration/integration of public relations and digital marketing can develop opportunities to convert high-value content assets into lead-generating machines.
  5. Leverage the voice of hyper-locals and micro-influencers to maximize credibility and reach.
  6. Effectively leverage organizational leaders as spokespersons to inspire stakeholders, foster engagement, and generate enthusiasm for your company, its products and services, and build pride.
  7. Focus on financial communication – investors and analysts.
  8. Agility in managing uncertainty [crisis/issues management] is a major trend. The pandemic has taught us to be resilient, to be “always ready” for any situation and has shown us the power of positivity. Be very clear about what needs to be done once you anticipate a problem.
  9. This approach is as critical in communicating with customers as it is in communicating with employees, as the war for talent continues to grow in importance for the business.

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