This is a year that no vision statement prepared the humanity for
Jun 02, 2020
If we can’t bring people to the workplace, we must find ways to bring the workplace to them, says Tarun Varma, Vice President - HR, Shell India.
Over the course of the nationwide lockdown, we have seen significant impacts on the energy systems and broadly on the energy sector. In an interaction with ETHRWorld, Tarun Varma, Vice President - HR, Shell India, shares how the energy organisation ensured the essential services were operational for serving their customer community during such a testing time. Edited excerpts:
How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted your organization? What steps have you taken to keep the employees’ morale high in this scenario?
This is a year that no vision statement prepared the humanity for. Having learnt from the real-life experiences of our colleagues in China, we in Shell India set up a central monitoring team in early February. The fact that we have a health team, as a part of our organization, which consists of doctors and health specialists, was a blessing during these challenging times. This team did a thorough assessment of the risks of exposure and issued clear guidelines on personal hygiene and social distancing for our 12,000 people working across offices, retail sites, markets, laboratories, and factories, to stay alert to symptoms.
Our primary focus was on care for our colleagues, customers and communities. We instilled mandatory work from home for all office-based staff and stopped business travel inside and outside of India to minimize exposure. However, since we are in the business of energy, an essential service provider, our plants continued to operate with a skeletal staff and all our fuel stations had to be up and running.
We implemented strong visitor management protocols, frequent health symptom checks, availability of hand sanitizers and increased frequency of housekeeping along with sanitization of office areas and deep cleaning where required. We had to ensure that our staff and contractors, who were braving the odds to keep the systems up and running, felt safe in their work environment.
How challenging has it been to restructure your workforce policies to address the current pandemic-driven work situations?
Given our employee value proposition and the culture evidenced at Shell, we did not undertake any significant restructuring of policies. Instead, we aimed at acknowledging the concerns of our people at an individual level.
We set up platforms to connect with more than 2,000 team leaders (global and local) who have team members based across India. The outcome of their efforts helped us appreciate the various and unique contexts that our people are in, and how we could respond as an organization. This prompted the country leadership to put in motion a three-pillared approach for supporting our people and keeping their morale high.
As the lockdown set, we mandated Work from Home and implemented the first pillar on infrastructural support. The second pillar focused on care for individuals (physical, emotional & social). The need of the hour benefits such as telemedicine facilities, counselling services and medical insurance was made available for our employees and their family members. The third pillar focused on keeping all our people connected as one big virtual community, at the local and global level.
How has been the experience so far with people working from home?
As the nationwide lockdown set in, we set up platforms to engage with our people through multiple channels including an All India Webcast to better understand their experience of a mandatory WFH. We had colleagues adjusting to working amidst a joint family at home, those who had to leave their paying guest accommodation and find a means to travel to their native place. We listened to how a colleague had to balance preparations for lunch right before an important team call. We heard the voices of those who are eager to return to office as they miss the actual presence of a team, as well as feel a lack of belonging while being on virtual team calls.
As the lockdown extended, we kept listening and repurposing our existing offerings to address the physical, emotional and infrastructural needs of a mandatory work from home scenario. This seems to have built due to traction with our people who share their appreciation around our flexible working guidelines, provision of EAP (Employee Assistance Programmes), telemedicine support to employees' family members, clarification of the company insurance programmes, as also the extension of employee leave balances till the year-end given the travel restrictions that came into force just as families were planning their summer holidays.
In fact, this mandatory lockdown period has also unlocked the hidden talents in many of our people, such as, one of our IT engineers, who is wheelchair-bound, took the initiative to get his hands onto cooking whilst spreading his radiant positivity among the rest of us. I can clearly say that while we work from home in a socially distanced manner, we have clearly become a virtually proximate organization.
How critical is the role of technology in the HR domain today?
As a part of the “HR Journey to World Class”, the underpinning HR technology helps reduce the amount of administrative work, optimizes workforce management and also helps make better decisions, ultimately improving employee experience. Globally, as a part of the HR Journey to World Class, we are moving from fragmented HR tools to Workday, a new age SaaS-based HR suite of technology offerings with full functionality in place, over the next couple of years.
What are the latest HR-related technologies that have been implemented at your organization?
In the last few months, I have come to the realization that if we can’t bring people to the workplace, we must find ways to effectively bring their workplace to them. However, for effective virtual connectivity, there is a lot more to learn. For example, almost 60-80% of our non-verbal cues in a physical meeting are processed by our sub-conscious self, but these are constrained to a mere 20-40% in a virtual setting. Hence, while we have incorporated the latest collaboration tools like MS Office 365 or Skype for Business, we are also augmenting the same with support material on topics such as establishing trust and building a human connect.
To enable connectedness and smooth cultural immersion into Shell, we would have normally called all the new joiners to a face-to-face workshop in one of our centres. But given the ongoing situation, and the inability to send across IT systems in the midst of a lockdown, our Learning & Development teams worked with IT colleagues and swiftly enabled the DTAO (Desktop anywhere online) application. This helped us onboard our new joiners virtually from across India, and the feedback states the experience to have been immersive and seamless.
Senior leaders' video logs have brought awareness to sustainable working style with a focus on blind spots around burnouts, discipline in managing work hours, and being selective about the meetings we attend.
How do you balance the need for maintaining a decent retention rate as well as ensuring high productivity?
As a country leadership team, my colleagues and I believe in collectively shaping a work environment that prioritizes diversity and inclusion, promotes a culture of open innovation, observes equality for all genders and prioritizes uncompromising focus on ethical behaviour. We aim to accomplish this by working on three key areas - transformational leadership, authenticity and purpose.
We focus on developing transformational, collaborative leaders who can manage and lead large teams of motivated, engaged employees and can engage a diverse set of stakeholders effectively both inside and outside of Shell. With employee engagement rates that emerge as top quartile year on year and single-digit attrition, we are committed to fostering a work environment where employees are inspired to bring their whole self to work.
Even in the most trying of circumstances like the present, we are leveraging various levers to maintain the financial resilience of the organization and psychological wellbeing of our people without diluting our core values of honesty, integrity and respect for people. It is our belief that employees perform at their best in a culture that’s grounded in values and purpose, and an environment of positivity and respect.
What are the three biggest trends emerging in the HR space in the short-term and in the long-term?
In my opinion, the biggest trends in HR revolve around people, process and systems. In terms of people, I find a sharper focus of HR professionals on their commercial agility, digital literacy and value-based business partnering. While this may vary across industries in how HR professionals develop themselves, it is definitely gaining appreciation from business leaders who are trying to steer their organizations in a turbulent volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.
On the process front, the focus is on empowering and equipping team leaders to hone their people skills. And to do so, HR processes are being made to fall lighter on the organization, so that the real value emerges in the actual utilization and the impact of the same. Those HR teams who help team leaders in mastering the art of recruiting, rewarding, recognizing, and coaching, will be the ones whose organizations demonstrate the strongest employee engagement and productivity.
With respect to systems, there seem to be a variety of avenues, with cloud-based solutions being the flavour of the season. When we leverage these systems for data-based decision making and strong virtual engagement, it helps us in becoming a more effective organization that is better aligned to its purpose, strategy and execution.
As appeared in article written by Baishakhi Dutta (ETHRWorld.com)