Sonali Misra, HR Head, Bain & Company (India)By Baishakhi Dutta
The coronavirus outbreak has already caused havoc. In this time of uncertainty and rapid change, consultancy firms are weighing in to assess the impact on different market segments. In an interaction with ETHRWorld, Sonali Misra, HR Head, Bain & Company (India), explains how the American management consultancy firm has revamped its strategy for employee well-being while making way for business continuity.
How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted your organization? What steps have you taken to keep the employees’ morale high in this scenario?
We have had to adapt as everyone else to the situation. The measures we have taken range from replacing live meetings with virtual options, putting a pause on travel, implementing a work from home policy and reinforcing all the personal hygiene and other practices necessary for all of us to stay safe and limit the spread. At this time of crisis, we have seen some remarkable stories of creativity, innovation and our people caring for one another and for their communities at large that are very inspiring and truly represent the best of Bain.
From an employee perspective we understand and empathize with the unique challenges such an unprecedented situation brings.
From a priority perspective, the safety of our people remains our main focus and we have taken all the key measures to ensure this. We have been in the “work from home” mode from a few weeks earlier than the government imposed lockdown and will remain conservative when we consider reopening our offices.
This is also a great opportunity to invest in and mobilize new ways of digitally enabled working. Led by our Tech support team we have quickly adopted better tools for remote working, virtual collaboration and engagement. Zoom has been a game changer for us. We launched an internal resource site with the latest updates, guidance and resources to help us all navigate these uncertain times.
What, according to you, are going to be the key drivers for productivity in this situation?
Transparency and communication become the key in times of unpredictability; we have overinvested on this dimension. From fortnightly office wide Townhalls, to virtual meetings with different cohorts where leaders address top of mind questions directly, and an uptick in one on one check-ins, we are keeping a regular pulse check on how our people are doing and collaborating with them on the support we can offer. We have introduced a bunch of virtual fun options – Friday beers, Leadership lunches, quiz competitions, game nights, to spend time collectively blowing off steam.
Also wellness is the key and we are helping our employees to focus on both physical and mental health – we are encouraging our people to take some time to invest in their wellbeing. We’re doing virtual exercise classes, as well as offering subscription to meditation apps and virtual counselling support.
Understandably, financial planning is also top of mind. So, that is another area we are supporting through webinars with financial planning experts. These are a few of the investments we are making to ensure our employees feel supported through this crisis.
How has been the experience so far with people working from home? What are the key learnings?
“Working from home” is the new normal given the risk of exposure to Covid-19, and it’s here to stay for a while. Consulting is not a profession that one would intuitively think can seamlessly move into a remote working mode, but we’re adjusting fast and reasonably well to it.
Our experience thus far indicates quite a few benefits – some are obvious – you save on travel time, you have a bit more flexibility to attend to both professional and personal responsibilities. Working from home enables you to build the muscles of self-discipline and focus. You learn new skills – collaborating and communicating effectively in a remote set up, you have to become savvy with technology enabled tools be it Zoom, Skype, Webinars etc out of necessity. There are a bunch of watch-outs too – boundaries between personal and professional time blur and it can get exhausting as one can feel you are expected to be “on” at all times which can lead to stress and burnout.
Productivity often takes a hit especially for businesses that are front end client facing where live client collaboration takes some time to replace with virtual collaboration. Some managers may have a learning curve when it comes to managing teams remotely. And, of course, it is hard to replace impromptu in-office catch ups virtually. Sometimes we can also see information asymmetry and if not managed well this can lead to feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out), rumours and miscommunication.
All in, given safety of our people is our highest priority, we’re learning from our experience and putting in place work from home norms and other best practices along with training our people in the various tech-enabled new ways of working.
What are the top three challenges confronting CHROs? How can they overcome them?
The number one challenge for all CHROs will be navigating change in 2020 amid the tremendous uncertainty of Covid-19. As operating models evolve, there will be a need to be more agile, proactive and responsive and as HR leaders, we will need to adopt a more collaborative approach to our change management strategy vs. only top down decision making.
The second is on investment in upskilling/reskilling – In the current environment as we operate in an increasingly automated and digital world, it is imperative to stay on top of “new ways of working” even in more traditional roles. So upskilling/reskilling people to enable them do their roles effectively in a remote environment with the same levels of productivity and addressing the skill gaps that arise will be a high priority to enable organizations to operate effectively. The way to do this well is by partnering with the business leaders and teams to understand what skill gaps exist and invest in training people to use technology tools to enhance their productivity and give them the confidence required to operate in this unique environment.
The third is creating a culture of wellbeing – we will see a change that puts individual resilience and wellbeing front and centre. The softer aspects of HR – the duty of care, building a culture of trust and empathy will be the key. “Soft” skills especially communication and connectedness which we are seeing as fundamental to how we operate in the current pandemic, will remain vital focus areas for management. The CHRO and the HR leadership will become the custodians of this change.
How do you see the advent of HRTech — the proliferation of bots and platforms such as LinkedIn etc?
I’m a big believer in HR tech especially AI to supplement, not replace human expertise. There has been significant debate on the pros and cons but all in I believe it is foolhardy to think that in this digital age, HR will remain immune. There are few HR processes where HRTech is a strong enabler:
• Recruiting: Implementing Digital Hiring Technology in recruiting processes and thereby eliminating human bias by using technology to screen candidates.
• Employee Engagement: Artificial Intelligence based systems are great at carrying out intelligent surveys and gathering feedback in real-time via bots. This enables the HR leadership to see a detailed employee karma perspective at any given point in time and retune the organization’s engagement plan, policies and processes accordingly.
• Support for FAQs: HR teams often have individuals who need to spend time repeatedly answering FAQs on the standard policy and process related questions. AI can be programmed to handle a set of these FAQs through Chatbots and Virtual Assistants. This provides leverage to the HR team members and enables them to focus on value additive work.
So, investing in HR tech, upskilling our teams to get comfortable leveraging technology to enhance productivity, and actively engaging on tech platforms such as LinkedIn are going to be par for the course in this Digital age.