How Organizations in India Are Staying Connected to Remote Employees

By Shefali Anand April 16, 2020
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​As workers have been getting used to a remote workplace, HR teams have been in overdrive to keep everyone connected with the organization and each other. They've been checking in on employees daily, coming up with fun virtual activities and talking about their organizations' emotional wellness programs.

"We're trying to make sure that employees know that they're not alone," said Ajay Chowdhury, Gurgaon-based president and CHRO at SRF Ltd., a manufacturer of specialty chemicals and packaging films with 7,000 employees.

India is on a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many companies have asked their employees to work from home wherever possible. In those cases, here's how HR teams are helping their organizations to be "seen" in the remote workplace:

Daily check-in. HR teams are making sure to check in, directly or indirectly, with all employees daily.

At SRF, Chowdhury said, all department heads start the day with a video meeting with their team managers, and then they call their reports or meet with them virtually. Employees who are not on formal teams receive a daily check-in call from HR.

SRF arranged for a few employees who thought they had COVID-19 symptoms to be tested. They all came out negative, Chowdhury said.

At entertainment and media firm Sony Pictures Networks India, all department heads must talk to their team members daily, "even [if just to say] hi, so you know that the person is fine," said Manu Wadhwa, CHRO of Sony Pictures in Mumbai.

In addition, Wadhwa's team members try to virtually replicate their impromptu office "floor walks" by calling employees randomly to check in and see how they are doing.

[SHRM Resource Spotlight: Coronavirus and COVID 19]

Work-from-home guidelines. Since before the lockdown, companies had started to get everyone logistically and mentally ready to work from home. They've been sending e-mail and posting links to webinars with work-from-home tips, such as the need to maintain a routine and conduct virtual team huddles.

Courier company DHL Express (India) created a work-from-home guide that was posted on the company's internal application and is available to all 3,200 employees, said Mumbai-based Sunjoy Dhaawan, DHL Express vice president of HR. One popular tip from the guide was the "pomodoro technique," in which you work on a task for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break, then focus for another 25 minutes and so on. "It got a lot of appreciation from people as a very good focusing technique," Dhaawan said.

Leadership connection. Companies are communicating more frequently with staff—via e-mail, webcasts and WhatsApp messages—to keep them connected with the company and its leaders.

At Sony Pictures, the CEO sent out a message in the first week of remote working, asking about all employees and their families' health. Every Monday morning, Wadhwa shares tips on working from home, which she posts on Workplace, an enterprise collaboration platform by Facebook.

At InMobi, a company that provides mobile advertising platforms, HR manages four channels on a collaboration platform of Microsoft. On one channel, it shares information about what's happening in different parts of the company, including in offices in the U.S. and China. Once a week, the co-founders share short videos about different topics and giving a peek into their home workspaces.

"We are over-optimizing, getting our founders, our executives and our senior leadership team in front of people even more," said Sahil Mathur, global head of human resources and culture at InMobi in Bengaluru.

Keeping the mood upbeat. Across companies, HR teams are launching contests, quizzes, challenges and other initiatives to keep employees animated.

At SRF, HR encourages employees to write in about their experiences and share their stories or pictures during the lockdown. "We got some funny, sad stories," said Chowdhury, who added that these would be shared with all staff by e-mail and other communication tools.

At InMobi, the HR team has dedicated staff to come up with quirky ideas to engage workers, Mathur said. In recent days, the company held a "sunglasses day," and entire teams showed up to video meetings wearing sunglasses. Another popular idea was asking people to share pictures of quirky home workspaces.

Sony Pictures recently hosted a #MajorMissing challenge, in which employees were asked to share what they missed about the office.

Emotional and physical health. Companies are worried about both the physical and emotional well-being of staff. The lockdown has made scheduling medical appointments for simple ailments difficult, so DHL has shared with all employees the phone numbers of several doctors.

"This has come as a huge relief to people," Dhaawan said, adding that many employees have already called these doctors to share their symptoms and receive guidance.

Meanwhile, companies are talking more about emotional wellness and highlighting their employee assistance programs. InMobi has made a network of counselors and psychoanalysts available to all employees for one-on-one conversations, Mathur said. The counselors also hold webinars, broadcast companywide, on topics like centering and how to deal with fear, and for managers, they've presented webinars on how to recognize signs of stress virtually.

In addition, Mathur's team has trained people from within the company, including HR staff, to be "confidants," whom employees can approach to talk without being judged. These confidants bring "a mash of business plus emotional intelligence we are hoping will really help," Mathur said.

Nudge to learn. Many companies also have stepped up their learning offerings, encouraging staff to even take courses that may not have been part of the year's mandatory training calendar.

"Use this as a great learning opportunity when you may have a few extra hours when you're not traveling," suggested Sailesh Menezes, Bengaluru-based senior director and head of HR in India for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a technology products and services provider.

Sony Pictures recently launched a four-week LinkedIn Learning challenge, in which employees can take the lead with a friend to complete maximum learning in four weeks.

"Let's invest in ourselves; it's the best ROI out there," Wadhwa said.

Shefali Anand is a New Delhi-based journalist and former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. You can follow her on Twitter.

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