It would be an understatement to say that the global working population has been through a traumatic year. Working from home (WFH) is tough on people who have school-age children and limited space to use as an office. And not everyone lives with the best technology and fastest internet connection.
Global technology company HCL Technologies confronted this reality head-on. The $10 bn company has over 150,000 employees and came up with smart and generous innovative measures to keep them productive and fully engaged while adjusting to a new WFH world. During this journey, it won the Forbes award for being one of the World’s Top 30 Employers and was recognized as a Top Employer 2021 in 11 countries globally, including South Africa.
HCL Technologies Chief Human Resources Officer Apparao Venkata Varre, known as Appa to his colleagues, looks at this massive effort and tells us where the world of work is headed.
Our working worlds changed dramatically during 2020. But HCL’s experience shows how a global workforce can be empowered during a pandemic.
HCL prides itself on the duty of care and I knew that there would be a lot more on how they navigated to beating the pandemic situation, which would go beyond just distributing the hardware required to work from home. And so, the duty of care was extended to the employee’s family members as well.
So, we provided laptops, and shipped desktops along with back-up power supplies. But we also created policies that made the whole situation a lot more convenient – like additional allowance for mobile / internet data and back-up power supplies. Personal space is important, and we understand that. Which is why we offered employees the Flexi-time benefit so that they could take some time off to attend to personal commitments, because managing a home, a family and navigating this new work culture is hard.
A new leave – Pandemic leave was introduced, in which the employee can take leave up to 14 days if they or their family member was sick.
A 24/7 helpline managed by in-house HCL Healthcare clinics was put in place. Doctors and nurses provided clinical and non-clinical advisory services and emergency care to employees and family members.
Navigating this new work from home was not easy on mental health. Many found themselves stressed, anxious, and even frustrated. So, we signed up Life Coaches to care for the emotional and mental wellbeing of our employees and their families in addition to virtual events such as yoga sessions and meditation. These helped to keep spirits up in a time when things were shaky.
Communication is even more important in a crisis. When a crisis occurs, you cannot say to your employees. ‘I’ll get back to you later on this matter’. We had a strategy on how we would communicate with our employees throughout the pandemic with a specially curated communication campaign – #TakeCareHCL and a COVID-19 resource microsite. And an employee volunteering program – like the buddy system, where an employee would call another employee and keep in constant touch with them to make sure they are safe and comfortable. Indigenous technology and apps helped us monitor, track and update at-scale.
But, for a lot of people who could work from home, there were many who could not. Not everyone can work from home. HCL’s own IT support staff for example, had to be running company data centres to keep the entire technology ecosystem of our clients going. So, they were provided with hotel accommodation and meals close to these HCL sites.
Employee feedback matters to HCL. Many businesses might be content to hear that 90% of their people were happy, but when this statistic crossed my desk it concerned me. What about the other 10%? You must be self-critical in pursuit of a human-centric approach to business.
This pandemic has changed our way of working. Looking ahead, I believe that by early 2022 no more than half of my colleagues will be working from their old offices on any given day. But people will still need to be part of a team wherever they are located. They must be able to collaborate with their colleagues, as that collaboration is what delivers service. So, I can see people coming to office for at least two days a week.
It is hard to say how work will evolve. There is no silver bullet. The world has never been in this situation before, it is a kind of a blank canvass. But people do need the experience of working together. I predict we will see a balance between the pre-pandemic world and the new WFH practices that have emerged worldwide.
That all-important team spirit is about interacting with other people in a productive way. HCL has pioneered an approach to teamwork that we call Ideapreneurship. To anyone schooled in traditional IT services it sounds bizarre. Rather than stick to the letter of the service agreement with the customer, HCL encourages employees to work together and find ways to go further.
They search out ideas that will help the client, regardless of whether that takes HCL outside of its contracted boundaries. And if those ideas are taken up by the customer the teams who came up with them reap financial rewards.
Over 17,000 employees have contributed ideas to this program, proving that going above and beyond its contracted obligations to clients is part of HCL’s identity. It all comes down to employee involvement and passion for the job. We are all part of a virtuous circle and it scores highly with customers, who tell HCL just how much they appreciate a different level of support from a service provider.
That level of service to customers also reflects the willingness of HCL employees to go the extra mile for each other. For instance, this meant driving around delivering laptops to their colleagues during the pandemic. A lot of people have gone beyond the call of duty.
HCL is in the technology business, and technology does give leeway to innovation. However, it is human application that finally drives transformation. People are the key to everything.
HCL’s ongoing involvement in employee welfare extends to financial support. Not a single employee has spent their own money on hospitalization due to COVID-19. And this means their families as well. This again, goes back to our duty of care.
I am truly proud at the scale of our efforts in such an eventful year. We have done a humungous amount of work and our people have been relentless in supporting our customers too.
That positive approach meant the pandemic had no impact on HCL’s bottom line, in fact 2020 was the year we passed the milestone of $10 bn in revenues. Delivering constant support to our customers through the most difficult of times has seen revenues remain untouched by the storm that has hit global business. It pays to put people first.