Investing in technology, flexible working, empathy, and communication: keys to unlock a better employee experience

At TechSparks 2021, YourStory’s flagship event, HR leaders discussed how they navigated the pandemic, changes in the traditional understanding of work and understanding diversity and inclusion in a post-pandemic world.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things. Professional setups have seen an overhaul in hiring, productivity, collaboration, crisis management, etc. and learned to re-tune themselves to a ‘new normal.’

One thing that instilled a ray of hope through the pandemic was how people supported each other. Companies, big or small, stood up for their employees and for the society-at-large.

While embracing the ‘new normal,’ the world around us has started getting ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable.’ Keeping this in mind, at TechSparks 2021, YourStory’s Senior Editor, Ramarko Sengupta spoke to HR leaders from Tata Steel, Amazon and Dunzo to decode their journeys of ‘going beyond managing human resources’.

In a roundtable titled, ‘Human beyond resources: Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable,’ Swati Rustagi, Director of HR, Amazon India Operations; Geetanjali Swamy, Head, Legal and People, Dunzo; and Siddhartha Shah, Chief HR BP & Chief Diversity Officer, Tata Steel shared their learnings, new policies and practices they’ve put in place to cope in a post-pandemic world.

Of people, culture, and hearts full of hope

“There’s no one size that fits all when it comes to situations like these, so it’s important to hear everyone… and when you step up as an organisation, your people step up for you in the times of need,” said Swati Rustagi, while talking about changes in policies made at Amazon India to enable flexible and efficient work conditions during the COVID-19 induced lockdowns.

“Be it our partners, sellers, employees… We worked towards finding a way to support [everyone],” she added.

Talking about the culture at Amazon, Swati shared that 1,900 employees volunteered to be COVID warriors and were helping the more prominent Amazon family with medical and food supplies.

Siddhartha Shah from Tata Steel also spoke about employees who supported the organisation in times of crisis. “We tend to run entire townships in cities where we have our plants. We realised the power of the people when our employees volunteered to work in hospitals run by Tata Steel.”

“The pandemic has taught us, an enterprise as big as Tata steel, to think small but act fast,” added Siddhartha while highlighting that “work needs to be defined in a way that people find it comfortable and engaging.”

Lauding the exceptional work of Dunzo’s on-ground teams during the pandemic, Geetanjali Swamy mentioned that this unexpected crisis taught them the importance of ‘listening to employees.’ She elaborated, “[Currently] We are going back and listening to what people want and are creating policies on their feedback. We run many surveys, organise discussion groups, chai pe charcha type sessions, etc., to give employees a forum to talk and share.”

Diversity and inclusion in the times of COVID-19

“This time has made us think about what diversity and inclusion mean for us. How do we start tracking and measuring these things? How differently can we look at and solve for the mental wellbeing [of our employees]? This [pandemic] experience made us more conscious,” said Geetanjali, talking about the evolving policies and processes at Dunzo.

Highlighting ongoing hiring efforts at Tata Steel, Siddhartha said, “Gender diversity has been our focus area for the last couple of years. During the pandemic, we recruited women as Heavy Earth Moving Machine Operators (HEMM). We are also hiring about 12-15 transgender persons to join the team as machine operators.”

“Unless you bring women into leadership, diversity is a pipe dream,” said Swati while stressing that diversity cannot be built into an organisation’s culture unless “the leaders are diverse because that’s where it starts influencing the policies, thinking, behaviour, etc.”

Mentioning Amazon’s efforts in including more women, she added, “we have specific hiring programs for the LGBTQ community, veterans, and young adults with disabilities.”

Looking ahead

“How do we invest in people,” did Geetanjali make a pertinent point. She said that the company was looking to invest in onboarding tools, introduce efforts to make communication seamless and look for easier ways to collaborate among teams. “We need to give them a feeling of belongingness,” added Geetanjali while talking about exploring AI-specific tools to help improve mental wellbeing at work.

Siddhartha said, “The important thing to keep in mind is - tech interventions will shape the way ahead. We would like to look at our talent management efforts, R&D efforts… and understand where technology integration can best be leveraged. Other elements that will remain important are flexibility of work and building a healthy employee experience.”

Swati spoke about the importance of access to information and data to enable their employees to self-manage. She also spoke about creating a mechanism for ‘manager nudges’ to judge and prioritise their workflow better.

“Technology can never create empathy, so it’s up to us, the people, to ensure that empathy becomes a part of the culture,” she added.

“Another issue to note is the lack of consistently high-quality data connection across the country… How do you solve that? How do you solve the issue of power cuts? If we are advocating that people could work from anywhere, anytime, then there are some fundamental infrastructural issues we must start thinking about,” Swati said.

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For a line-up of all the action-packed sessions at YourStory's flagship startup-tech conference, check out TechSparks 2021 website.


Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan

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