Article: COVID-19 & WFH: Changing HR priorities in Turbulent Times – Takeaways from a panel discussion

Employee Engagement

COVID-19 & WFH: Changing HR priorities in Turbulent Times – Takeaways from a panel discussion

The closing panel discussion of the People Matters EX conference brought together leaders from different sectors to reflect on their key lessons over the last year.
COVID-19 & WFH: Changing HR priorities in Turbulent Times – Takeaways from a panel discussion


As the 2021 India edition of People Matters EX Conference drew to a close, a panel of senior HR and business leaders shared their key lessons over the past year. From rethinking talent practices to re-calibration of their workplaces, they reflected on the key priorities for the future.

The expert panel included: Kevin Freitas, CHRO at Dream Sports, Anu Mathew, Chief People Officer at Pine Labs, Behram Sabawala, Chief People Officer at Tata CliQ, and Nishant Gaharwar, Senior HR Leader at Leading OTT Brand. It was moderated by Tanmaya Jain, Founder & CEO at inFeedo.

Throughout the past year, companies have had the opportunity to try a number of policies that changed people, process and technology. The expert panel reflected on some of their key success stories while identifying challenge areas that could transform work in the future. Here are the key takeaways:

The increased need for ‘human’ connect

Among the many challenges that the pandemic has forced companies to deal with there’s an increased need for human touch. “With a remote working culture, there’s been a significant need to bridge the gap in human connect with employees,” Anu Matthew of Pine Labs noted. And this has meant that the leadership has to engage more actively – in order to convey that it’s no longer just about business results, but also about the individual wellbeing. She also shared examples of how the company’s CEO had led a 21-Day wellness challenge that led to inspiring other business leaders and employees.

The culture ‘scale’ factor

While growth and communication were needed for any business to navigate this difficult time, Kevin noted that culture was critical, since there was a need to understand whether it was possible for the company to scale up their workplace culture as new employees joined. This led to Dream11 creating policies to support employees staying close to the office to ensure that if and when there is a transition to working from office in the future, that transition could be smooth.  Apart from this, the company organized regular townhouse conversations with the leadership, so any issue is addressed at all levels. Kevin also noted that even as the company navigates the pandemic, it is important for employees to know that there is enough opportunity to learn and take up new things.

 The awareness and action on mental wellness

Nishant noted that the pandemic heightened the awareness of the importance of mental health. As employees worked from home, they needed to feel both connected and happy. He noted that in the last year, there’s been an increased opportunity to get to know team members personally because of the way communication was opened up for everyone to share their thoughts, ideas and pictures.

Empathizing with employees’ mental health needs as a priority over work was critical. As the second wave swept the country, employees were assured that ‘work’ could take a backseat and that they could take time off to take care of themselves, their partner or a family member.

Reimaging processes for new business realities

Throughout the pandemic, HR strategies had to be backed by policies that put the needs of the employees first. Behram Sabawala, Chief People Officer at Tata CliQ said the company instituted a number of new policies including unlimited paid time off and ‘choose your notice period’.

Among the reimagined processes, he spoke of how the company now uses a multi-tier method to assess the perfect hire, which includes five different components: 1)  Offer on time 3) Join on time 2) 45 day Amber (engagement bot) score 3) 90 day manager score  and 4) 180 performance review 5) Engagement score via Gallup.

While business contexts may vary, Anu Matthew noted that when it came to KPIs, Pine Labs took a different approach. About 250 employees noted that they wanted to volunteer and be a part of the support mechanism that was instituted to help their co-workers. “It’s been beautiful to witness how the program worked and how we’ve been able to save lives as part of the effort”, she noted.

Feedback was another core issue debated by the panel. While some panelists noted that the volume of feedback is unlocked by anonymity, and therefore it is more useful as it tends to be direct and candid, other panellists noted that anonymous feedback needs to be aligned to the culture of the company. If companies wanted to focus on building a culture of open communication and transparency, it wouldn’t be appropriate for them.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #MentalHealth, #PMEXConf, #PMEXIN

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