As it turns out, most companies did a great job of addressing their employees’ basic needs of safety, stability, and security during the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis.
However, with the arrival of the second-wave these needs are evolving, calling for a more sophisticated approach as organizations enter the next phase.
According to a recent study by McKinsey, it was found that more than 80 percent of respondents say the crisis is materially affecting their daily work lives – people have widely varied experiences, perspectives, and outcomes.
In this interview with Chaitanya N Srinivas, Vice-President & HR Head for IBM, we will look at addressing employee experience in a more targeted and dynamic way in the new world order.
Q: In the current times, how is IBM putting employee experience at the center of people management?
At IBM, people are core to everything that we do. From that perspective, our processes and policies have always been aligned towards employee experience. There are three key tenets that we are driving as a priority this year: employee experience, people skills and culture. We have already pivoted towards putting employee experience on top of everything that we do, and we enable the managers to look at each of the processes and think through what can be done differently. For instance, we went into a virtual onboarding mode but while we did that our employees were at the center of it and this started almost 12 months ago, and we are continuing the process till date.
We are also encouraging employees to continue their focus on re-skilling and up-skilling in technologies like Cloud, AI, Machine Learning, and aligning to market needs. The learning hours witnessed a nearly 20% increase as compared to last year on key topics including Cloud and Cognitive practitioner, enterprise design thinking, and automation essentials on our Think Academy digital platform; IBM’s learning program.
Q: The strategy, process, and initiatives you mentioned above, what does that look like in practice?
In terms of employee experience, virtual onboarding focuses entirely on the new joiners. From the time they accept the offer, they join our organization and for their first 60 days, there are several tools in place now to help them first learn about IBM as a company, their job profiles and enable them in terms of the virtual onboarding process, whether its pre-filled forms to AI-enabled help desks, chatbots on how to do different things for their easy reference and more.
Also, in the last one year, digital collaborative technologies have completely transformed the way we work. We have a gamut of digital collaborative tools like virtual video conferencing, virtual whiteboards, design thinking tools, file-sharing, chat, and voice tools that have empowered employees to be agile and work seamlessly by collaborating virtually.
Q: We are living through the second wave of COVID-19 and the state of fear, and anxiety is multi folds. How employees' needs and experience are changing today as compared to last year? How do you drill down on which employees need more and varied types of support?
IBM is supporting and undertaking prudent steps to ensure the well-being and safety of employees and providing them a productive working environment during the pandemic. Employee health and well-being remain a key priority for us. As IBMers, we are united in our value system that has its roots in a rich tradition of giving & volunteering. Seeing the increase in incident rates and the costs escalating as compared to last year, we announced the enhancement of our insurance cover in addition to what insurance they already had. We have enhanced our medical insurance for IBMers and their dependents up to 5 lacs per person.
In order to drill down and prioritize different employee needs and varied types of support, we have also tied up with select home care providers to provide telephonic support to affected employees undergoing home isolation. We are looking to roll this across states. We have set up several employee support groups across cities to provide employees with a platform to discuss issues, challenges, concerns, and coping mechanisms such as managing stress, staying active, and promoting self-care.
We have also created a central place that employees can come to which is an IBMers for IBMers squads in each of our locations. Employees can reach out to them through social networks and then the squads can look at their needs and filter them accordingly and see whether they need a support group and what kind of help they can get in terms of doctors, etc. We also have partners who are supporting us in terms of various specific needs that the employees may have like the requirement of essentials in a particular city, emergency transport needs, getting folks emergency transport to hospitals and for medication and more.
IBM has also aligned with hospitals in various cities to organize the COVID-19 vaccination camps for IBMers and their families. These vaccination camps will be held in the following cities - Bangalore, Hyderabad, NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Kolkata, Vizag, and Ahmedabad. IBMers can also get vaccinated at any authorized center or hospital and the cost of vaccination will be reimbursed as per the IBM medical insurance policy.
To help channelize the requests around critical resources such as ambulance, oxygen, medicine, hospital beds, in an efficient manner and connect employees with the IBM Squad volunteers on the ground, we have introduced COVID Assist, a Watson Assistant-powered bot.
Q: How is IBM tailoring actions that are creating widely shared feelings of well-being and cohesion across the workforce?
The well-being of our employees is extremely important for us and we have a dedicated group working on the physical and mental well-being of the people in the organization. While we had our traditional employee assistance program, we have increased that many folds but at the same time, we are also looking at countrywide campaign on wellness, which includes, mindful sessions on better living, how to manage time better, and emotional support. The sessions include volunteers from the industry and IBM, including IBMers who have recovered from COVID and can provide support to other employees and their families on the do’s and don’ts.
Q: How do HR teams embark on the journey of finding, implementing, and adopting a technology that solves real challenges like employee experience and also brings the desired results?
Our recent IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study, “Accelerating the Journey to HR 3.0” states that 60% of Indian organizations report that data-driven decision-making is critical to the future of HR. Organizations are embedding AI and digital technology throughout the entire employee lifecycle and are leveraging AI and analytics to make better decisions about their talents– such as skilling programs and compensation decisions.
We are leveraging AI to augment decision-making by managers, better experience while interacting with employees, and curate highly personalized learning experiences that are customized to individual needs
Cognitive HR has ensured that we make better hiring decisions. It is helping us remove biases from the system. We are now able to source candidates internally and externally in a transparent manner and get better success in the hiring process
We have implemented a management dashboard that brings together diverse data points and helps managers manage their teams and make informed decisions. The dashboard includes information regarding employee salary, performance, their learning agility, it could be around how they stack in terms of their skills, to their current job, etc. The managers can view all the data in one place and can make quick and informed decisions.
Another example is IBM’s Your Learning a digital and cognitive platform. it provides employees across the enterprise with a personalized portal to access internal and external learning across various modalities –face to face, video, audio, text-based, and a combination of these. The platform proactively suggests appropriate learning based on the learner’s profile, job function, and cognitive learning from past searches.