The impact of COVID-19 has been far-reaching and all-encompassing. Organizations are facing uncharted waters as they continue to navigate the impacts of the pandemic. Businesses across the world have been forced to pivot, change, and finally adapt to the ‘new normal’. For some companies, this may be as simple as setting up a Slack channel, but for others, it’s a much more daunting task.
With a headcount of 150,000 ideapreneurs spread across 46 countries, HCL, a leading global technology company, has shown tremendous agility in adapting with the fast-changing business environment during the coronavirus pandemic.
We sat down with Pankaj Tagra, EVP & Head – Nordic and DACH region, HCL Technologies, to discuss the challenges his organization has faced leading large teams and building trusted relationships while working remotely.
HCL’s Response to COVID-19
Whispers of COVID-19 had already started circulating when the World Economic Forum was in progress in January 2020. Soon after, safe working practices were discussed at HCL’s management meeting.
“HCL activated its COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan at the end of January. By the time lockdown was enforced in most regions, HCL was already operating with 96% of our teams remote.”
With several G-100 clients in the life sciences and healthcare space, HCL has been pushing the pedal in supporting them and enabling essential day-to-day activities for critical workers. HCL’s rapid decision-making, resolve to outmaneuver uncertainty and a swift switch to full-scale remote working placed the company in an advantageous position to support organizations at the forefront of handling the unprecedented pandemic.
Lessons Learnt – Here to Stay
The coronavirus has become the accelerator for one of the most extraordinary workplace transformations of our lifetime. For many not accustomed to working remotely for prolonged periods, the ‘Work from Home’ announcement in early March meant learning and adjusting to a new way of conducting business. Fast forward six months and a majority of these individuals will have surprised themselves with how well they have performed under the most testing circumstances. As economies open up and the workforce begins to head back to offices, a majority of this workforce will undoubtedly inculcate these invaluable lessons in their regular workflows.
HCL, primarily an office-based organization in the pre-pandemic times, too has undergone a massive transformation. For Pankaj, who has seen his teams go from strength to strength despite the lockdown, the new normal most definitely comprises remote working.
“Our bookings have been higher when compared to the previous six months. HCL has completed several projects and met deliverables with a majority of the workforce working remotely. Our learnings from the pandemic are here to stay and will now be a part of our organizational ethos.”
As offices begin to reopen and people move back to the workplace, Pankaj is keen on taking these learnings and turning them into actions. The first item on his agenda is addressing the potential lack of personal connections between HCL’s clients and customers.
Feeling at Home
As HCL’s clients are adapting to the new normal, the hiring workflows are undergoing a similar transformation and moving entirely online. Although most stages of HCL’s hiring processes are already remote, Pankaj and his team firmly believe in meeting candidates. It not only helps get a better understanding of the candidate but also showcases the workplace and culture that the candidate will be a part of at HCL.
“It certainly helps to have physical touchpoints, but we can still make sure the process is as human as possible.”
With differing restrictions around the world, HCL has taken an unwavering stance on remote working for its workforce. As a result, it has invested significantly in retaining the human side of joining the HCL family.
“We have created virtual tours of our offices to demonstrate the changes we have made to keep our people safe.”
Large companies sometimes come under criticism for letting employees fall through the cracks and go unnoticed. For Pankaj, who knows the power of relationships through his long and successful career in sales, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“HCL is not simply an organization, but also a family. People need to feel that they are a part of that family even when they are working from home.”
Focusing on the human aspect, impacted by the physical distance between teams, has paid HCL back in dividends. Its hiring and placement of new consultants have mostly remained undisturbed.
“Our virtual hiring process has been a massive success considering the number of employees we have hired in the last five months and how successfully they have been placed in customer engagements. I feel the results have been extremely encouraging.”
Leading Large Teams
Bringing the right people together is rule number one in the book of problem-solving. This is especially true as companies begin their journey towards recovery now. For organizations with smaller teams, this is a relatively simple exercise. As these teams grow in size, it can get harder to keep your finger on the pulse.
The solution? Technology. For Pankaj and his team, technology is undoubtedly an enhancer, but human interactions still have a key role to play.
“Technology enables us to connect with our co-workers. I feel we should not underestimate the importance of the human touch, ensuring we take out time to speak to our team members. We can start every meeting with a simple question: How are you?”
The coronavirus crisis is posing extraordinary challenges for corporate leaders. It has also outlined the importance of decisive action and honest communication. The natural response for many business leaders, who suddenly feel out of touch with their employees, might be to double down on routine and provide structured days for teams who would generally be around for physical check-ins. However, being a good leader during the pandemic means that one is willing to show compassion. For Pankaj, this has never really been an issue as he has always favoured openness and honesty in his team. He believes:
“Work doesn’t have to be completely transactional. We need to be open and consciously take time out to connect with our teams.”