“COVID-19 chapter was not in anyone’s Business Continuity Plans (BCP),” said Surender Mehta, HR Director _VOIS India & Global Head of HR_VOIS Business, Vodafone. No one had planned for the entire world to lock down. The pandemic brought with itself unprecedented challenges, which the businesses across sectors and across the world are still grappling with.
For a technology company like _VOIS, which has a workforce of ~23,000 across India, EU & Egypt centers and enables delivery & intelligent solutions to Vodafone’s markets across 26 countries, the link that ties them together is people- employees and customers. And when the entire world was already dealing with the global health crisis and lockdowns, it was absolutely essential for them to ensure communication connectivity & solutions as the dependency on digital services increased dramatically.
“All of the _VOIS services of consumer & enterprise customer operations including the hi-tech areas such as IT, Networks, Financial & Analytics, Digital Solutions - have been instrumental in agile problem solutions and ensured smooth operations for Vodafone customers & employees,” added Surender Mehta.
In a recent interview with People Matters, Surender Mehta shared how COVID-19 crisis accelerated digitization and increased the focus on employee wellness, and the need to strengthen a resilient workforce.
How has the current health crisis impacted your people strategies? How are you making the transition to the new reality of work?
Our focus has been on reviewing our existing processes to ensure that we simplify them as much as possible. When the crisis first hit, to a large extent our digital capabilities that existed before the pandemic and the nature of our business helped us transition to the remote working setup quite quickly.
Thanks to _VOIS technology and our digital ways of working, smart working was already an option for the majority of our people.
We remained 100 percent committed to honor all the employment offers that we had made and completed virtual onboarding for our new joiners. Through Q1 of this fiscal and in midst of the pandemic, we have already welcomed 500+ new colleagues into the India organization
To achieve a near 100 percent remote working, we quickly organized logistics to deliver thousands of IT & communication equipment to employees for them to work from safe environments of their homes and we flexed our communication allowance & support policies for uninterrupted services
At _VOIS, we have a strong bias for EXX (Employee experience Excellence) and compassion in our approach, The second element was quickly flexing all people policies to empower the workforce and help them maintain a good work-life balance, including facility of paid leave outside of their leave quota, if required to take care of self or immediate family member health due to COVID-19.
We also launched a wellbeing initiative called 100% Human.
The idea was to acknowledge that in the digital revolution we need to remember that we’re not robots. We are in fact 100% Human.
The initiative includes a series of digital wellbeing & resilience programs, expert advisory, DND slots for personal time, and meditation practice to enhance mental strength. Our wellbeing platform - ThriVe, which provides a wealth of tools and support to inform, empower, and motivate employees to look after health and wellbeing – including a personal wellbeing self-assessment, links to external and internal support services, and much more.
To stay connected to the employee “feeling” state while working remotely, we launched a series of pulse surveys in April. This helped us design our people-centric, personalized wellbeing interventions. The pulse survey continues to help us fine tune our approach as we march through the pandemic.
Changes in the demand for products & services, alongside changes to the way we view productivity, is urging companies to rethink their workforce: its size, composition, deployment, management. What will the profile of the new workforce look like? Are you looking to make changes in your talent management system?
_VOIS India adapted very quickly to the needs of the talent market. Within a few days of the COVID-19 impact, we transformed our hiring & onboarding processes into digital. We are currently understanding and ideating on the future of the workplace and workforce to leverage learnings during the pandemic times and look forward to some exciting trends on both Ws.
While we work on the design of the future, its key employees continue to deliver and not lose sight of their own growth and development, and we have been making a series of interventions to ensure learning culture.
Tech and Functional training have all moved to the digital platform. Digital penetration has zoomed to 85%+ and we already see the benefits and gains in skilling agenda
The pandemic crisis has in fact also highlighted the importance of human skills like agility, innovation, and get it done together. At _VOIS , we have our spirit beats and are focusing on co-creating with employees 4 themes i.e. 1) Experiment & Learn fast 2) Earn Customer Loyalty 3) Create the Future and 4) Get it done together.
During these difficult times, it was fantastic for employees to participate in an initiative of ideation, we call it “Launchpad”. Through this, we invited all employees to share their ideas on how to make a real difference in the world and bring our company’s purpose and strategy to life and face the new reality of work. The engagement we received - from employees was overwhelmingly positive.
How are you planning to scale up your existing digital initiatives?
Just before COVID hit the world, we had launched our new _VOIS brand globally at the backdrop of our new strategy and big shifts we need to up the game in providing intelligent solutions. One of the big shifts is hyper automation and the learnings of COVID-19 have only accelerated our resolve and drive to achieve much more. Now, digital focus shall now also include the virtual working environment with a balance of 100% Human.
Some HR Leaders have said that COVID is really the time for the HR function to shine, and certainly HR is inextricably involved in the adaptation of the workplace. Do you think if HR leaders are prepared to shoulder that kind of weight? How would their role change & how can they be better prepared for it?
The pandemic did make the role of HR even more prominent in current times. It also brings realization that if as an HR leader you are not truly glued to your business, the value that you can add will be very limited. So in my view HR leaders and professionals who understand business deeply and holistically are better placed to help their respective organizations amid crisis.
The ability to strike a balance between cost and employee experience is only possible if HR professionals are both commercially savvy and people & culture-centric. Otherwise their decisions could be lopsided.
Besides, commercial acumen, being the catalyst of change, and trustee of culture & values will differentiate HR contribution.