It’s been more than a year since the pandemic upended the business universe. As companies plan to re-emerge in 2021 and beyond, CXOs will have to build on the lessons learned so far by revolutionizing business models and workforce strategy. One of the key concerns for companies is to ensure adequate safety and wellness of its employees. Leaders in the tech industry believe, it is their responsibility to make workplaces safer, maintain every possible safety protocols, streamline work through digital tools and automation and most importantly address the mental health issues of their workforce.
Digital tech makes work smooth
There has been a surge in the popularity of workforce collaboration tools focusing on team communication and efficient project management today. High-quality video conferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Google Meet, and Skype are the most popular daily communication channels between remote team members spread across the world.
“The access to high-speed internet in remote centres in India has helped individuals relocate to their home towns in tier 2 and 3 cities to continue business as usual,” believes Smitha Hemmigae · Head of Marketing at ANSR.
According to him, several organizations have upgraded their email etiquette and procedures to ensure data protection while still communicating effectively with external stakeholders.
Sankalp Saxena, SVP and MD-Operations, India, Nutanix states that technologies such as virtual desktop infrastructure and desktop as a service can maintain business continuity over the past year.
“These solutions enable organizations to have virtual workspaces running within an hour so that employees can immediately and securely access their work systems from the safety of their homes. Businesses in India will continue relying on end user computing and cloud solutions to support the decentralization of teams, even as offices open up and they adopt hybrid work models,” says Saxena.
By investing in cloud infrastructure, organizations have ensured that their remote teams have access to data or information available seamlessly across the organisation in a secure manner. As Vikram Ahuja, Co-founder of Talent500, says, “Remote work has accelerated the adoption of cloud services and along with it renewed the emphasis on cybersecurity.”
Organizations are strategically thinking about cybersecurity investments to protect their workers, data, and their infrastructures, as Ahuja states, a data breach can lead to loss in reputation as well as customer and employee data. Sudeep Ralhan, Vice President – People, Walmart Global Tech India, says, “Safe remote working is important irrespective of the size and scale of an enterprise and the core principles one could adopt has moved from a traditional “trust but verify” to a “never trust but always verify” space.”
While zero trust in security is preferred in a remote work setup, from a preventative front, he stressed on multi factor authentication as an important aspect with principle of least privileges. Ralhan says, “As we mature in the remote working models; protecting data will remain as the prime requirement.”
Safety in the workplace is also improving through wearable technology devices that can track biometrics, enable calls, scan barcodes, and detect exposure limits to harmful elements. Wearable technology can help to determine work-related illnesses and prevent them from occurring in other employees in the future.
“Organizations are also making investments in AR/VR technologies to create immersive experiences so that there is better stickiness to the brand,” Hemmigae says.
Conducting virtual breaks together and interactive team activity sessions, wherein everyone can cool down and have light-hearted conversations is now a weekly routine. As Ahuja mentions, the aim is to give everyone a chance to connect with the larger team and maintain some semblance to in-person conversations.
A focus on mental health
Despite superior digital and workplace collaboration tools to help remote workers connect with ease, most companies have also realized that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a physical health issue—it’s also a mental health challenge and needs special attention from companies and individuals.
“The second country-wide wave of COVID-19 has brought with it a significant spike in mental health concerns,” says Tina Vinod, Head – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, ThoughtWorks, India.
According to her, “Organizations should acknowledge the growing fear, uncertainty and loss by offering employees customized support, helping managers lead with compassion and empathy, and sustaining team-connect with trust and engagement in a virtual setting.”
The company has launched initiatives specifically designed for employees to more openly and safely discuss issues around mental health. As Vinod explains, “These include interactive sessions where employees narrate their personal stories of battling COVID-19. A facilitated leadership training exercise; ‘Leading with compassion and empathy during uncertainty.’ Virtual yoga sessions and EAP support that ensures employees can access 1:1 direct counselling and grief counselling sessions. Our intranet is a great platform for key ThoughtWorks updates and being globally connected.”
Satyanarayanan Visvanathan, SVP, Head – HR (Global) and Corporate Quality, CSS Corp, mentions,“In this unprecedented environment, where the workforce is distributed and operating remotely, organizations need to view the workplace holistically. It is imperative to balance out between health considerations and safety versus employee efficiency and productivity.”
According to him, CSS Corp launched a CHEER framework, developed specifically for Covid times, to drive high employee morale and positivity. “Special emphasis is being given to employee mindfulness sessions and a dedicated 24/7 counselling line is available for supporting employees’ emotional and mental health. We are neutralizing burnout, anxiety, stress, and the problems that emerge from working virtually after an extended time,” says he.
Accenture in India too is strongly focused on breaking perceptions around mental health, encouraging people to seek help and training supervisors on supporting mental wellness among their teams. We also offer round-the-clock counselling support through our Employee Assistance Program and an AI-based app. In addition, we have built a robust network of mental wellness advocates who have been trained offer support to others around them, says a senior official of the company.
Raj Narayan, NLP Counsellor and Leadership Coach believes, there are lots of things that we can do to look after our own mental health and to help others who may need some extra support and care. “As we protect ourselves against potential exposure to the coronavirus, keep in mind that social distancing does not mean social isolation,” he says, pointing out top management can play a crucial role in ensuring its workers are fit through various coaching and well programs.
Culture and communication
Culture and connect are binding factors for every organization and, in times of crisis, cultural resilience will ensure people stay unified, grow and come away stronger.
Ahuja mentions, “Remote work can sometimes be isolating, so it is crucial to help your teams feel connected. A connected culture in the workplace allows for workplace cohesion and employee engagement and enhances customer experience. It encourages cognitive clarity and fuels innovation. And in the remote scenario, a culture of communicating plays a big role in establishing trust and enhancing accessibility with superiors or coworkers.”
Hemmigae emphasizes on about the future of employer-employee relationships. “HR needs to now focus on employee’s overall well being through the lens of their recruitment strategies, work models, management structures, benefit policies, collaborative technology and workplace culture.” She mentions how ANSR has been consciously working on focusing on overall wellness of our employees – Physical and mental.
“Setting up regular catch-ups to understand if there any areas of concern. Our employees also have access to counselling for mental wellness. We also organize health centered events like online Yoga or Zumba classes for our employees. Maintaining your company’s culture while remote working can be crucial to the business’s operational and financial viability,” she says.
Emphasizing on the importance of human connection, Ralhan says, “It’s heartening to see how people are going above and beyond to support each other during these troubled times – from sharing experiences to helping with infrastructural support to sometimes just lending a shoulder – connection takes many useful forms.”
Referring to Walmart Global Tech, he informs the company has amplified its communication over the last year – leadership messages, town halls, workplace groups, newsletters, all aimed at increasing the sense of belonging and aligning a workforce spread across the country. “This has been particularly useful for the thousands of people who have joined us virtually in the last year,” he mentions.
It is mandatory for companies to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Continued and accelerated workplace wellness measures will reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and support overall physical and mental health.