READ the June 2021 issue of our magazine: COVID-19 Rages On: Are You Ready?
After many months of facing down COVID-19 and the multiple complications it caused companies operating worldwide, enterprises are plotting their next moves in light of a still uncertain future. Companies are investing their time carefully reviewing their past COVID-19 reactions, responses, and, in particular, their employee working from home policies and procedures, as well as return-to-office aspirational plans. They are evaluating what immediate actions are taken, often necessarily reactive, and mid to long-term decisions that were made were right on, and which simply didn’t work and why.
At Synechron, as a leading digital transformation consulting company to the financial services industry, we pride ourselves on being agile. We understand the need to pivot quickly and embrace what may be coming down the road and stay future-ready. Flexible organizations, no matter their size, must remain poised for the unexpected -- be that a natural disaster, a business system operational apocalypse, a cyberattack that shuts down all applications, a disgruntled former employee purposefully introducing malware or even the death of a top executive. COVID-19 was not likely on the list of possible mayhem scenarios warranting an update of the business continuity plan for most firms. But, like it or not, the pandemic required rapid and decisive actions.
While some others were scrambling to map, build and transition to a digital, remote, virtual way of working, we were ready with our own digital infrastructure already in place. We quickly enabled virtual collaboration tools, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and enabled VPN-based access to implement, set up, and secure employees’ access to hardware, software, and additional services. In fact, even during the pandemic, we have won awards in recognition of our digital infrastructure. But our overarching, three-part goal was not to win awards but to add employee functionality that was faster, better, and more secure for them as well as for our organization as a whole. Our clients were so wowed by our business continuity, that they set our processes and standards as benchmarks for them to follow.
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The pandemic did, however, teach some important lessons. The pandemic taught us that we needed to quickly shift from a focus on “employee engagement” to “employee experience” and delight all employees from the very start. This meant devising new ways to immediately interact with them, including virtual onboarding for those newly joining our firm across our then 18 offices (we have 22 offices now, after making two key company acquisitions in late 2020). That also bucked the business trend of firms hunkering down and turning away new business as they mapped out how to navigate through the lockdown situation. Synechron refused to go into "hibernation" and our leadership elected to buy and build for the future, beyond COVID-19, while still catering – albeit in new ways – to the client projects we were immersed in.
We recognized that the systems and processes we were building for our financial services clients to deploy with the objective of delighting their customers, would strategically, purposefully, and carefully be implemented across our own global offices to increase satisfaction for all of our employees (8,000 worldwide at the start of the pandemic, 10,000+ now post-acquisitions).
Just as we had been consulting for years with our bank, asset manager, and insurance company clients as to how to enhance the entire customer lifecycle, we chose to look at the entire employee lifecycle at Synechron. This broad review included a commitment to bring in experts such as doctors, nutritionists, psychiatrists, and others, and set up programs that ensured the physical and mental well-being of our employees – which was our number one priority. We expanded our benefits and aids to include supports for a variety of employee-focused programs that included emergency financial assistance for employees and families as needed. We worked out enhanced insurance coverage to include COVID-19 hospitalization and other expenses and also covered employees’ immediate families in this along with a default coverage for our employees. We sped to seal our orders and partnerships to facilitate cashless employee vaccination drives and initiatives and providing access to hospitals as well as doctors and medical professionals.
When impacted employees were unable to source hospital beds, oxygen, or crucial medicines, members of our COVID Support helpdesk through their timely actions were able to provide critical and staunch support. We even built a mobile application for the COVID-19 helpdesk to keep employees up to date on news, and able to reach out to our 24/7 teams in an emergency, particularly for our hard-hit employees in India and ex-pats in the US and Europe. From listing nearest COVID-19 Testing Centers, and Hospitals and Government Isolation Centers, to details of food suppliers to avail meals during quarantine and recovery period, everything was available on the mobile app. At certain instances, we went all out to ferry impacted employees in Life-Support Ambulances from one city to another to ensure they get necessary hospital beds and critical oxygen support. We realized the need for employee time off that our people would require, while recuperating themselves or caring for their loved ones, and immediately activated the paid Pandemic Leaves of 15 days which can be utilized.
This was all accomplished during the best and worst months of the pandemic, and with the majority of our employees working from home for the foreseeable future.
We continue holding regional Virtual Town Halls that replaced our on-site Town Halls with our CEO. We are holding frequent virtual meetings via Microsoft Teams and Zoom so that our employees can continue their peer engagements and interactions. These have included various contests, hackathons, quizzes, and fun programs, and shared activities. We developed multiple learning opportunities and several series of lectures/presentations optimized for virtual meetings and initiated our online collaborative ‘SyneTribe’ cross-regional, cross-team, cross-functional work projects. We have also invested heavily in upskilling our current employees by offering them 24/7/365 access to free courses, training, certification programs, and personal skill enhancements through a wonderful virtual L&D platform. They can use their pre-pandemic commuting time to up-skill, re-skill, and build brand new skills for work and for real life.
In fact, we have more recently been considering how we can rethink our talent management. That is in terms of not only hiring talented individuals with the specific skills we desire but to give greater emphasis to offering upskilling and cross-skilling opportunities to a greater swath of our dedicated employees who can serve in multiple roles, as necessary. COVID-19 has allowed us to adjust our view of employees across our global offices and potentially re-invent our talent landscape moving forward.
What the pandemic has also taught us is that the manager-employee relationship has certainly, and quite necessarily, shifted. Pre-COVID, it had been based on maintaining 100 percent professional relationships, as many businesses successfully operated this way. Now, there is a decidedly more “emotional attachment” between supervisors/managers and their subordinates. This came about as individual employees’ needs surfaced, many faced serious medical issues for themselves and/or their loved ones and many required a different level of personal support that could not have been foreseen before COVID-19. What was the secret ingredient that transformed these relationships? In a word, ‘empathy.” We found that having an authentic empathetic and understanding ability has shown that this is the key ingredient to muddling through and surviving this pandemic-led social and working environment.
Going forward, we at Synechron are in a holding pattern, with many of our management teams’ eyes trained on what comes next, and what new wave the pandemic may toss our way. We are in "Constant Watch" mode, ready to re-evaluate our business, region by region, or business unit by business unit, as the future unfolds before us. The biggest challenge going forward will be a location by location back to work (office opening) strategy based on the science and guidance of the local government & health authorities.
No matter the path forward, we stand ready to reinvent ourselves again, transform our employee practices, and embrace those key takeaway lessons we have learned.