In the days since we first learned about COVID-19, the world has been impacted in ways none of us would have previously imagined. What should be the focus of leaders in a crisis such as this one? How can they steer employees through difficult times and help them adjust to the new reality? And most importantly, how can they maintain business as usual while still delivering an amazing employee experience?
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Shweta Mehrotra, Chief Human Resources Officer for Citi South Asia, shares her views on the expectations from leadership in order to help organizations tide over the current crisis and be agile and future-ready.
Key things for a leader to focus in a crisis like COVID-19
COVID-19 has been an unprecedented situation, and so managing business and people presents several challenges. For banking specifically, which is an essential service, it means our businesses are operational and for some colleagues, such as our branch staff, it means they have to go to the site every day. We need to provide them with a safe working environment that will give them the peace of mind to perform their duties. Some of the following skills become important:
Clarity: The situation continues to evolve rapidly and leaders have to respond quickly and thoughtfully. Information comes from many sources in this connected world, so identifying important and actionable information, staying calm, is critical.
Collaboration across the board: This is hugely important in these uncertain times. As the crisis unfolded, it created situations with no standard operating procedure, requiring expertise from various specialists to solve for it in limited time. In the context of Citi, we had the unique opportunity to learn from other markets, which have already gone through the crisis.
Within India too, collaboration was key - with 95% of our employees working from home, we have been required to adapt to a new operating model across our businesses.
When the country went into lockdown, thousands of Citi employees needed to be enabled to work effectively from home. Our technology teams stepped up and developed a working model within 36 hours, repurposed laptops and home-delivered machines to employees, allowing them to continue seamless operations. They also enabled our traders, phone-banking officers etc. to work from home securely; these are roles prior to this we had not imagined to be conducted from home!
Empathy: The changes in the operating model has required us to revamp our ways of engaging with our clients and think about what can we do to support our communities. Our branch and customer service teams are increasingly providing digital solutions, remotely. We have helped clients stuck abroad amidst the lockdown book return flights to India on their cards swiftly, helped senior citizens who are new to digital banking embrace the technology and make critical overseas fund transfers without the need for visiting a branch. Our colleagues have been tirelessly working to meet the emerging needs of our corporate clients, whether it be in imports, exports, connecting our clients with their customers or meeting payroll. In these difficult times, Citi is also doing its bit through pledging our commitment of INR 75 Cr to initiatives focused on healthcare, humanitarian, and economic needs, which are required to bring the country back on track from the disruption caused by the pandemic
Help employees to adapt to the new reality of working
We are all committed to helping our colleagues through these difficult times, and our decisions have been hinged on the health and safety of our employees. At our branches and premises, we have enhanced sanitization and disinfection protocols in place along with the social distancing norms for all the customer interactions. Employees are working in split operations and are being provided door to door transport to minimize exposure.
We have taken several measures, including, reimbursing expenses for data charges for a select grade of employees, a special allowance to employees who are most likely to face economic hardship, and supporting the physical and mental well-being of employees through education and personalized counseling.
All employees also have the option to avail health consultations over the phone from Citi empaneled doctors, for themselves and their family members, as needed. We have also broadened the gamut of our insurance coverage to included expenses incurred for COVID-19 treatments.
During this incredibly challenging time, our colleagues have been working harder than ever to support our clients, while juggling their family obligations. To show our gratitude, we offered an extra day off on May 22, so that they can relax, spend time with family, and take care of themselves.
Since everyone’s vacation plans have been impacted this year, we have amended our leave policy for 2020, allowing employees to carry forward 33% of their leave balance to 2021.
Our wellness team is also conducting regular webinars on ‘effective remote working’, ‘anxiety management’ and ‘ergonomics while working from home’ to help employees adjust to the new working environment and routine.
We are also focusing on delivering our learning content through Degreed and online channels like WebEx- so that our employees are engaged in learning new skills.
Maintaining business as usual as much as possible while maintaining employee experience
With so many of us working remotely, it is not uncommon to feel lonely at times. We tend to miss our ‘water cooler’ conversations and daily interactions with colleagues. Therefore, it is vital we stay connected – with each other and our clients. We may be physically distant but we need and continue to be socially connected.
Our entire management committee along with all people managers are making efforts to stay engaged with employees through regular town halls, virtual coffee connects, and periodic check-ins to ensure all our team members feel as close to business as usual as possible. We have developed detailed manager guides to help the team leaders learn and share best practices to engage teams and make a swift transition to remote working. Multiple fun engagement activities are being organized by teams to lighten the atmosphere and provide employees an avenue to showcase their unique skills with each other.
In the end, I believe leaders need to have an empathetic view of our communities, clients, and the overall ecosystem.