Making the Organization 'Seen' by Remote Employees

By Shefali Anand April 15, 2020
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​As workers get used to a remote workplace, HR teams have been on overdrive to keep them connected with the organization and with each other. They've been checking-in on employees daily, coming up with fun virtual activities, and talking about their 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 novel coronavirus. Many companies have asked their employees to work from home wherever possible. In those cases, here's how HR is helping the organization be 'seen' in the remote workplace:

Daily Check-In: Directly or indirectly, HR teams are making sure to check-in with all employees daily to see how they are doing.

At SRF, Chowdhury said all department heads start the day with a video meeting with their team managers, which then cascades to them virtually meeting or calling their reports, and so on. For employees who are not in formal teams, "we make sure that the HR guys are calling them up every day and asking about their well-being and their families," said Chowdhury.

For a few employees who thought they had COVID-19 symptoms, SRF organized tests, though they all came out negative, said Chowdhury.

At entertainment and media firm Sony Pictures Networks India, a protocol has been issued that all department heads talk to their team members daily. "Even a Hi, so you know that the person is fine," said Manu Wadhwa, CHRO, Sony Pictures.

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

Work-From-Home Guides: Companies had started before the lockdown to get everyone logistically and mentally ready to work from home. They've been sending emails 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 which was posted on the company's internal application and is available to all 3,200 employees, said Sunjoy Dhaawan, vice-president, human resources, DHL Express, based in Mumbai.

One popular tip from the guide was the 'pomodoro technique,'  in which you work on a task for 25 minutes, then take a 5-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," said Dhaawan.

Leadership Connect: Companies are communicating more frequently with staff - via emails, 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 each employee about themselves 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 which provides mobile advertising platforms, HR is managing 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, co-founders have been sharing short videos about different topics, including giving a peek into their home workspaces.

"We are over-optimizing for 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.

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

At SRF, HR encouraged employees to write in about their experiences, stories or pictures during the lockdown. "We got some funny, sad stories," said Chowdhury, adding that these would be shared with all staff by email and other communication tools.

At InMobi, the HR team has dedicated staff to come up with quirky ideas, said Mathur. In recent days, they've held a "Sunglasses Day," where entire teams showed up wearing sunglasses on the Teams video meeting. Another popular idea was asking people to share pictures of quirky home workspaces.

Sony Pictures recently hosted a #MajorMissing Challenge, where 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 it difficult for people to schedule doctor appointments for simple ailments, so DHL has shared with all employees the phone numbers of a panel of 12 doctors, said Dhaawan.

"This has come as a huge relief to people," he 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 available a network of counselors and psychoanalysts to all employees for one-on-one conversations, said Mathur. The counselors are also doing webinars that are broadcast across the company on topics like centering and how to deal with fear, and for managers on how to recognize signs of stress virtually.

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

Nudge to Learn: Many companies also have stepped up their learning offering,s 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," said 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, where employees can take the lead with a friend to complete maximum learning in four weeks.

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

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