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Using Tech to Adapt and Thrive in a Changing Workplace

Gautam Sukumar

Gautam Sukumar

SVP of Product Management at ADP

Gautam Sukumar, ADP

Through extensive research, ADP has identified five trends transforming the workforce since the onset of the pandemic. These include flexibility, agility, resilience, diversity and compliance.

Quartz Network Executive Correspondent Britt Erler sat down with Gautam Sukumar, SVP of Product Management at ADP to discuss the changing landscape as surging remote work has employers and workers looking to digital solutions to help them adapt.

Guatam shares insight into:

  • Trends and key variables transforming the workforce
  • Technology that helps HR leaders support employees from a diversity perspective
  • Technology that helps businesses navigate a complex regulatory environment

Quartz Network: How has your role within ADP’s Global Product and Technology team changed given the new workplace dynamics?

Gautam Sukumar: I still remember very vividly in early March 2020, we were preparing for executive briefings and our strategy and what we’re going to do in the following year. Before the end of the week, 55,000 people were working remotely at ADP.

It’s a testament to our associates, our employees who really stepped up and didn’t miss a beat servicing our clients. We went from working in the office to working from home overnight. But the services that we rendered are so mission critical at ADP. We do a lot of payroll services, in addition to HR. If you miss somebody’s date of birth, it’s one thing, but if you miss a paycheck, it’s a big deal.

My role also changed significantly. You can imagine, we were using all the regular collaboration tools that you might think of Slack, Confluence, JIRA, etc. We just rolled out WebEx teams to all of our global associates, and that turned out to be a blessing because we were able to do video communication, chat, share files and share our desktops for people to collaborate.

I’m a big fan of a tool called Standout, which came to ADP through an acquisition that we made. It’s a tool for managers to check in and stay connected with their direct reports. I use it religiously. My team members check in, they talk about what they’re working on what their priorities are, if they need help from me. The use of that tool skyrocketed during the pandemic and was a really good way for me to keep in touch.

Quartz Network: What are some of the key trends APD identified as transforming the workplace right now?

Gautam Sukumar: ADP is a very research focused company. We do research at multiple levels. There is macro research, including the release of the National Employment Report, which comes out a few days before the BLS releases their report, and it actually informs the stock market in terms of what to expect.

We also do a lot of research at the macro level, or country level, on engagement, productivity, employee health, wellness and things like that. We also do client level research, where we engage with our clients and our associates to figure out what is most important, how do we make them more productive, how do we simplify their life in the workplace as they go about their day-to-day business, and a combination of all of those research endeavors throughout the year.

We landed on to the five key trends: flexibility, agility, resilience, compliance, and diversity. I don’t think any of these should come as a surprise. These have been topics that people have been talking about for a while, but given the nature of 2020 and the activity and the changes that happened in 2020, these rose to the top.

Will things go back to being the same? Probably not. So, flexibility becomes important. Will teams work the way they were before? Probably not. So, agility becomes important. Resilience is a testament to how folks respond to crisis.

Quartz Network: How do you see technology helping HR leaders support their employees from this diversity perspective?

Gautam Sukumar: Technology is such a great enabler of better decisions for HR leaders. There’s a lot of discussion about what role technology can play in ethics, AI, and things like that. ADP is super focused on doing what is ethically right. We have an ethics board that looks at how we make decisions, what kind of algorithms we develop, and if there is inherent bias in those algorithms. Ultimately, what we want to build or deliver to our clients, our data points help to make better decisions, especially as it relates to diversity.

A few years ago, we released what we call the Pay Equity Explorer, which basically said, “Is a woman being paid as much as a man for the same job?” We could clearly tell if there was a discrepancy and what is the percentage difference by location or by function, for example.

We’ve taken that to the next level now, just given the volume of data that we have. Let’s say we’re hiring Britt to do communications at ADP, we can say “Okay, Britt is coming in, she used to be paid x at a control,” typically then would say, “Okay, x plus y percent would be your salary or your compensation because you’re moving companies,” but now we can say, “Somebody else, let’s say me, in the same department is earning 2x more than you were in a previous company.” We can nudge the manager to say, “Well, this is not right.” Britt’s compensation is disproportionate, in a bad way, to my compensation for the same role, so you should consider being equitable.

We’re doing that in the workflow. In addition, we have dashboards that basically say, for an executive, what percent of people are in what race, what ethnicity, by level. If you’re a leader or leader of leaders, by function. If you’re in IT, if you’re in Manufacturing, if you’re in Procurement, we have these cuts of data that we can readily serve up to our clients so that they can make better decisions.

Ultimately, I think diversity is a choice that every company has to make for themselves. We’re just enabling that through robust data that only a company like ADP with our scale and reach can provide globally.

Quartz Network: With these trends, how do you help companies align across all of their different departments and functions, especially if they’re global?

Gautam Sukumar: Our solutions are global. One of the things companies struggle with is they may have 500 employees in the US, 1000 employees in India, 2000 employees in the UK, but they use different systems to manage those employees. So, it’s very hard for a company to have a global perspective on the headcount. But given our global systems, we’re able to clearly aggregate all the data for a company and say, “Okay, here is your total headcount by division, by function, by location.” I think that aggregation and global reach across one system is what makes ADP so different, and really enables better decisions, better outcomes for our clients.

Quartz Network: How do you see businesses adapting to this new demand for more flexible work tools?

Gautam Sukumar: Flexibility is something that we think is a long-term trend. Flexible work arrangements are going to be the norm well into the future. There’s also flexibility in terms of how you work. What kind of tools you would use, how you collaborate, how you work on teams, how those teams are managed. For us, where we empower flexibility starts at the team level.

When we look at our clients and their employees, 84% of our employees that we surveyed said they’re at least on two or more teams. But when you look at something like an org chart, there’s only one hierarchy. So, you report to a manager who reports to a manager, but you’re on multiple teams. Nobody knows where work is actually happening.

I’m probably on five or six teams at any given point in time. My time is split across those teams. It’s hard for me to say I’m very productive in this team, or less productive in that team. How do I manage productivity at the team level? That’s where I think true flexibility comes up. We call it dynamic teams, and where you work and how you work happens in teams.

We’re building solutions that actually measure activity at the team level. You could have people that report directly into you, but you could also have people that don’t report directly into you. You could have a contractor, you could have a gig worker, you could have a part time worker. All of these people together form a team. Then, you have objectives and goals for that team, and then you manage to it. That’s one form of flexibility is how you build these teams, how these teams are constructed, how you go to market, and how you actually build productive teams that deliver value for our clients.

The second flexibility is, obviously, the notion of working from home. How do you make sure that people are aware where they are? Can they return to work safely? For all of these things there are tools embedded in our HCM system that enable our clients to manage how and when they want to bring people back, and how and when they bring them back safety. The return to work tool is a good example, where you can pick and choose which site you want to open, how many people you want to bring back. You can survey them before they come back to ensure you’re enabling safety in their return.

More importantly, you’re giving them the flexibility. You want to come back? Great. Just make sure that you’re doing it safely, and you’re not affecting or impacting others that might be in the office at the same time.

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