Panel discussions

Dialogue on “The Future of Work”

Read Time:4 Minute

The panel: Prashanth Vasu, Head of Strategy, Ramco Group moderated the discussions. The panelists were B Ashok, Former Chairman, IOCL; Muthukumar Thanu, Group Chief HR Officer, TAFE and Sathya Narayanan Mehta, Sr GM – HR and Global Head Policies & Talent Transformation, TCS.

Prashant Vasu:

What has the last two years been for your company?


At IOCL, we found there was a huge demand destruction. Petrol and diesel consumption came to near zero. But LPG consumption increased 120% as people were locked indoors and domestic demand increased. But all our products come out at the same time. From a manufacturing perspective, it created a huge shock. As an energy industry, we cannot stop production. Even if a few aircrafts operate, we have to provide the fuel. We had to deliver the LPG cylinders at home even during the pandemic.

People took personal risk to reach their household, though they were equally fearful as the rest of the people. The petrol pumps could not close down. People were there at the operations side too. Enormous credit should be given to the oil and gas industry for keeping the supply chain of petroleum products alive during the pandemic. We never thought hybrid working would be possible in an oil industry. We innovated and found ways and means to connect with each other.

The attrition in our company is less than 1%. We call our oil and gas industry a cradle-to-grave company. If a person joins us, he/she stays till retirement. ~ B Ashok, Former Chairman, IOCL


I can summarise our response at TCS in four points. First, there was large scale adoption of remote working. Second, there was mindset change in where all people can do remote working. We came out with something called as SBWS—Secure and Borderless Work Spaces. It was not easy to shift 1500 people who were in the office to work and deliver from their homes in less than two weeks. From our industry standpoint, it was an opportunity. Three, there was participative management. People could be heard even when they worked remote. If you don’t have the high touch, hybrid will turn out to be just another model. Fourth, we saw increased focus on the mental well-being of our employees. We had higher productivity with hybrid model of working. The number of innovative thought patterns that came up increased during the pandemic.


I come from the farming industry. Our sales and service personnel had to go closer to the customer during the pandemic. They could not operate from the regional or branch offices. The retail outlets in various states opened at 5 am and closed at 8 am to comply with the regulations. The entire sales, marketing and service team had to integrate with the reality of the work place. Please remember, the human organisation is quite amoebic and fungible. We can’t assemble our tractors remotely. At one point, we blocked marriage halls and rooms in hotels to accommodate our entire workforce. We provided whatever was needed to be provided, following all Covid norms. In spite of all these, our productivity was good. As trucks were not available, we coordinated with the ministry of railways and used the rail wagons for delivery of tractors.

95% of our components are bought from our vendors. So they became very critical during the pandemic. We closely worked with them. A woman representing one of the vendors, cycled 6 kilometres to our factory to deliver a component. This is just an example of the cooperation we got from vendors and how a system can adapt to a challenge. We supported thousands of farmers in five states by providing them with free tractors for use for certain hours.

Prashant Vasu:

Did you experience attrition in your companies?
Ashok: The attrition in our company is less than 1%. We call our oil and gas industry a cradle-to-grave company. If a person joins us, he/she stays till retirement. During the pandemic, our employees also went through problems. But we took care of them. We produced oxygen and supplied it to hospitals.

Many of our plants got converted to Covid centres. We accommodated even our extended family members like a petrol pump boy or a LPG delivery boy. During the pandemic, we did not have any attrition.


Ours is an industry which led to great resignation trends worldwide. In India, resignations did spike. We looked at the ‘why?’ and the reasons went beyond the clichéd reasons. We always ensure that the organisational purpose and the individual employees are aligned. That is why TCS has the best employee retention rate in the industry. While ours is still high at 15%, the industry average is another 12 or 13% on top of that. We changed our mode of engagement. We moved away from employee experience to employee engagement with purpose.

We walked our talk. We were the first corporate in India to launch an employee vaccination program for our employees. We backed it up in spirit. We ran vaccination camps for our employees and their dependents and contractual employees. 1.2 million benefitted out of that. We put up camps even in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. We built a connect with employees by showing action on the ground.


Attrition is a lag indicator. Has the company made itself an attractive place to work? This is a lead indicator and we have to work on this. Once every year, we call the high performers—about 200 employees; and their family members to the company and I introduce them to the boss. This time, we also did a poll giving ten reasons on what makes them high performers. 55% of the people had chosen ‘organisational culture’ as the top most factor. The second was ‘inspirational leadership.’ In the last year, our retention was 90%.