The COVID-19 crisis has led to some drastic changes at the workplace and in these unprecedented times, the way people work, connect, and balance their lives, have all transformed. As organizations across the world transition to virtual work, it means a deep change in working patterns for their employees, taking into consideration many aspects. Organizations that will adapt to this new normal and reset their workplace at the earliest will be the ones who will survive these times and come out successful.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Ira Gupta, HR Head, Microsoft India shares some insights on how the world of work has gone through a major reset due to the pandemic, what this new normal looks like, and how Microsoft is relying on its inclusive culture and using technology to connect, collaborate and respond to the current reality.
Gupta leads HR for Microsoft across India. In this role, her priorities include aligning the organization's people strategy with business objectives, building a transformational and diverse organization, talent development and implementing effective HR systems and policies across multiple Microsoft entities in the country. She has led large scale change projects across countries and business units. She has worked across functions, including in Sales and Marketing leadership team roles. She serves as an Independent Director on company boards.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
How has the COVID-19 outbreak changed the way we work? What will the new world of work or post COVID-19 workplace look like?
COVID-19 has made remote working and learning the new normal and changed every aspect of our lives. I am inspired by how organizations and individuals are using technology to connect, collaborate, and respond to the current reality.
During this unprecedented time, it is clear that technology will play a key role in the continuity of every aspect of our lives.
Tech adoption has accelerated the pace of digital transformation across organizations and industries in India.
In fact, data trends and conversations highlight that the world is realizing that we can effectively connect across distances in a way we’ve perhaps never thought was possible before. As more people started to work virtually, we saw our customers turn to tools like Microsoft Teams to virtualize their operations. Through this crisis, we have been sharply focused on ensuring our customers stay productive and supported while we continue to innovate to bring them secure, world-class products.
The trends clearly suggest that remote work is here to stay as the world navigates this pandemic. Many industries and organizations which had traditionally not been open to remote work are now actively considering this model and many others are planning to limit the size of their workforce in physical spaces going forward. While remote work offers flexibility and balance, we also have to consider the long-term impact of remote work on mental and physical well-being.
To my mind, it’s not as simple as building for a work-from-home future. It's about building for a future where collaboration happens in mixed environments – remote and not. And helping people who might be working on multiple things, with more than one team or organization, find the right places to do that work form, whether its collaborative or focused. Technology needs to be designed in a way that takes human nature into account and builds a bridge for people in and outside of the room.
Whether working in the office, from a café, a co-working space or from home, the goal should be to make it the most collaborative, creative and engaging experience possible.
How will organizations look at talent post COVID-19? What are the biggest worries keeping talent leaders like you awake at night?
Our CEO Satya Nadella talked about the recovery from this pandemic as being more like a dial than a switch. There are three phases that most companies and countries will go through - respond, recover, and reimagine. For some, the dial will move forward, for others it will jump back before moving forward again.
In all situations, talent will be a key lever as companies look to respond, recover and reimagine. At Microsoft, our people are at the center of the innovation we drive and the support we provide, helping governments, citizens, first-responders, customers and communities in India stay connected and productive. We will continue to work and innovate alongside our customers as their digital transformation partners as they navigate this crisis.
What are the best practices companies can embrace in uncertain times like COVID-19? How is Microsoft relying on its culture to create an empathetic and inclusive space for colleagues, helping them stay productive, creative and secure as they work from home? What is an ideal post lockdown strategy, according to you?
The nature of work is changing, and so are we as we respond to the needs of our employees and their families. At Microsoft, our goal is to better understand the impact of remote work and help our employees adapt to do their best work during these challenging times.
Our goal was to ensure every Microsoft employee has the tools, resources, and solutions to be as productive, creative, and secure as possible, working from any location and on any device. All of us at Microsoft use Teams daily for chat, meetings, calls, and collaboration. Now that we find ourselves working remotely, we have been able to stay productive because we are accustomed to a digital workspace. We also rely on the Microsoft 365 environment to empower employees to collaborate through self-service creation of Office 365 groups within Teams while ensuring appropriate security, compliance, and manageability are in place.
For many of our employees, this change is also about being able to build new routines and habits as they adjust to working from home. To support colleagues through this transition, we have created resources to guide employees, with tips to stay healthy, engaged and productive during COVID-19. We have seen a number of our teams schedule no-agenda ‘tea-breaks’ on a Teams video call. This helps virtualize the water cooler conversation that many miss these days.
How is Microsoft better understanding the impact of remote work and helping employees adapt to this new normal?
Remote work can create challenges in maintaining a healthy work culture and managing change. While the transition of technology was seamless, we recognized that this was also a period of deep change. Our employees were working in new environments, juggling new, often competing demands, and trying to stay productive while battling the stress of protecting their loved ones. Supporting them and their families was top priority for us.
We introduced a dedicated 24/7 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Helpline for our employees and their families. Available in multiple languages, employees can use this helpline for virtual consultations with medical practitioners to assess symptoms and avail medical guidance, all in a private and secure environment.
We also put together essential resources to support the physical and emotional well-being of colleagues. To support mental well-being, we are encouraging employees to use Microsoft Cares, a counseling service as part of our benefits program.
Frequent employee communication has been a key principle that we have used during this time to ensure employees are heard, leadership is visible, and best practices are shared. The leadership at Microsoft is frequently connecting with colleagues all over the world through live events, one-on-one conversations or informal catchups.
Are there certain traits that can make leaders more effective in times of crisis? What would the “new normal” for leadership be now?
Like with every area of our life, leadership in uncertain times requires unwavering empathy and resilience. I’m privileged to work with leaders at Microsoft have truly modeled what it is to be calm in the face of adversity, to coach others through ambiguity and to demonstrate care when it was most needed by their teams.
As things around us evolve very fast, operating with deep empathy will be critical-empathy for customers as we respond to their changing needs, empathy for colleagues as they juggle multiple responsibilities and also empathy for ones oneself.
Equally important will be embracing a long-term view as leaders re-look at business models and new ways of doing things to future proof their businesses.
How can leaders deal with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that their employees are going through?
COVID-19 has disrupted what we see as ‘normal’ in every way. With so many of us juggling the responsibilities of work and home, including myself, this change can often seem overwhelming. It is important for leaders to address this anxiety that their teams are going through and prioritize care, for themselves and everyone around them. Keeping lines of communication open with employees will be critical here. As leaders, it is important to create clarity, give hope and truly empathize with our colleagues now more than ever. My learning is that now, the more we seek to understand and address the needs of our colleagues, the more we help create an ecosystem of support that ultimately helps everyone do their best work.