If there’s one department every employee has reached out to at least once during this pandemic, it’s human resources (HR). In almost every organisation, the HR team has become the most-sought after, redrawing company policies and ensuring employee engagement during one of the worst health emergencies to break out in recent times.
It became their task to collate information around mental health, wellness and availability of oxygen cylinders, ensure delivery of medicines, add covid-19-related hospitalisation to insurance policies and undertake vaccination drives. Reinventing became the keyword for the HR team. The challenges were many for them as this was also the time of furloughs, layoffs and remote hiring. So what is it that affected them the most and how did they rise to the occasion?
Also read: Do we even want to return to the office?
We asked some HR heads across sectors their tricks and strategy. Here’s what they had to say:
BINU NAIR, AREA HR DIRECTOR, NORTH HOTELS & DIRECTOR (HR), TAJ MAHAL HOTEL
The biggest challenge was to manage uncertainties around the various lockdowns and the new normal scenario that was rolling out. What was of paramount importance was to ensure the overall well-being of our guests as well as our employees. Another important part was to manage the professional environment alongside the personal and emotional needs of our employees. By leveraging technology, we facilitated retraining and remote learning for them so as to restrengthen the augmented protocols of safety at our hotels.
RITU AGAST, DIRECTOR (HR), PEARSON INDIA
We had to keep pace with the swift transition as everything changed in a matter of days early last year. The covid-19 pandemic became a time for us to deliberate economic and social duties towards employees and act on ‘what they need’, while keeping employee health at helm. Since everyone was working from home, families became an integral part of our company and we realised that they could become a source to nurture the mental well-being of our colleagues. So we organised several family-oriented engagement activities. This not only lifted everyone’s spirits but also helped us in strengthening our employee relationships.
HARSHADA SARODE, HR MANAGER, PLAYERZPOT
One of the biggest challenges that we faced was around virtual interviews and remote hiring. A lot of times a candidate’s abilities and capabilities are figured out by just observing their body language. It became difficult to evaluate it through virtual interviews. Remote hiring also meant a candidate had multiple offers in hand. This increased the dropout rate and often made it costlier for us to hire the right talent.
PRITI SHETTY, HEAD OF PEOPLE, WEWORK INDIA
My toughest task was to relook at some of our policies in order to keep our employees motivated and inspired through these unprecedented times. We had to focus on initiatives that energised them such as wellness leave and “workations” that allowed people to travel and work. We also started Zoom-free Fridays, free counselling sessions for mental well-being, and employee-led virtual events to reinforce the human connection that is an integral part of any workplace culture.
PAVITRA SINGH, CHRO, PEPSICO INDIA
The first task at hand was to undertake a few surveys to get to the pulse of people’s requirements. We found out that employees wanted flexibility and wanted to work from home but they missed the camaraderie of the workplace too. So we launched ‘Work That Works Policy’ which is a hybrid work model and is a win-win situation for employees and employers. We also realised that working parents at the company were juggling hard between managing work, managing home, and most importantly, taking care of their children. To support them, the company incorporated various virtual childcare services not limited by gender or age of the child.
K.S. BAKSHI, GROUP HEAD (HR), INTERGLOBE ENTERPRISES
People management was one of the most challenging issues we faced, with remote working being the toughest. Managing employee expectations and infrastructure to provide a smooth and continuous work from home experience was difficult, but the team rallied together to ensure business continuity. As things began to settle down, bringing people back to the office was another challenge—aligning mindset and managing fear/anxiety became important.
PRADEEP CHAVDA, HR DIRECTOR, SODEXO INDIA
Since many of our pharma and healthcare clients were operational through the pandemic, methods of service delivery needed change. One of the challenges was developing technology to train our ground staff. Regional videos and tutorials were developed to engage with them. Another area was mental health. A 24x7 phone service was made available for counselling and pandemic-related enquiries.
KAMESHWARI RAO, GLOBAL CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER, PUBLICIS SAPIENT
Social connections foster creativity and innovation but during the pandemic it became tough. It was difficult to develop informal and formal avenues for having fun and relaxing. Another big challenge was supplying practical aid such as insurance, hospitalisation, and managing other medical emergencies for them and their loved ones. During this hour, it became imperative to provide additional emotional support to manage their mental as well as physical well-being.
SEEMA UNNI, HEAD (HR), FIDELITY INVESTMENTS INDIA
To enable decision-making in a dynamically changing environment was one of the biggest challenges we faced during the pandemic. We focused on building new practices and maintained transparent communication with employees. I feel fortunate to have been able to work shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues to support our employees and their families through these trying times, including running a 24/7 support centre. We learnt that resilience was the key.