Asynchronous Approach to Communication and HR Practice: A Panacea in the Time of COVID-19 Crisis 5097

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Speaking to All Things Talent, Pravin Prakash, Chief People Officer, BYJU’S talks about key shifts in the edtech sector, how businesses will continue to witness innovation in the way they operate, recruit, enable employee productivity in 2022, and why an asynchronous and individual approach to communication and HR practices is the need of the hour.

How have the employee well-being initiatives undergone a change at BYJU’S in the last two years?

Employees are at the core of what we do, and we value every BYJUite. We have always secured our employees’ safety and well-being while giving them room to thrive. In the last two years, we have doubled down on fostering an environment in which employees feel physically and emotionally healthy, safe, and supported. Focused on redefining the ‘employer-employee’ relationship, we ensured that we built and sustained an open line of communication.

At a policy level, we have introduced new employee-friendly policies and updated the existing ones. The recently announced employee leave policy is a massive upgrade where both employees and trainees will be able to operate flexibly with accommodations for ‘Period Leaves’ and Child Care Leaves’. We have further strengthened our insurance policy with a variety of parameters to include parents, parents-in-law, siblings, and same-gender partners. This tailor-made insurance policy is also aligned with an app for enhancing employees’ experience – unlimited free doctor consultations, fitness sessions, mindfulness sessions, and many more.

Also read: With a Seat at the Table, Eruditus’ HR Plays a Critical Role in Growth, Hiring and Overall Business Strategy (allthingstalent.org)

To ensure our employees are at ease with their new working format, we have weaved a holistic employee wellness program into our existing initiatives with the launch of the ‘BYJU’S Let’s Talk’ initiative – a 24X7 one-on-one online counselling platform. We also conducted multiple workshops on mind management, guided meditation, Zumba, yoga, fun contests, live sessions, and more. By establishing a steady communication channel through such activities, employees have a sense of a virtual “chai time” session, helping them stay connected, motivated, positive, and feel aligned and engaged with the company’s vision.

What are the five key employee initiatives spearheaded by the organisation in 2021? Can you provide a detailed breakdown of those initiatives?

In the last 21 months, the way we work, function, connect, and operate on a day-to-day basis continues to transform. This has been a learning curve for us, a true test of our mettle, and has brought to the forefront the importance of empathetic leadership more than ever.

At BYJU’S, we are focused on building a culture of holistic well-being that encompasses emotional, mental, and social aspects of employee wellness, supporting them to live a balanced and healthy life in these challenging times.

  • Enhanced insurance policy: We recently introduced an enhanced and tailor-made health insurance policy for our employees that covers and further scales up focus on their physical and psychological well-being. This includes benefits like the option to choose covers for family members i.e. parents, siblings, in-laws, and same-gender partners in the same plan, unlimited doctor consultations, hospital cover, fitness sessions, mindfulness sessions, mental well-being treatments cover, and much more.
  • New leave policies: Our comprehensive leave policies have always put BYJUites first. Our constant endeavour is to create an environment where they are valued, supported, and cared for. As part of this, we updated our employee leave policy this year, wherein staff and trainees will be able to work in a flexible manner, including availing period and child care leaves.
    • Period leaves – In a step towards creating a fair and balanced work culture, all women employees at BYJU’S are now eligible for a total of 12 period leaves in a calendar year.
    • Updated childcare leaves – We have updated our child care leaves, employees with children aged up to 12 years are eligible for seven leaves annually. The leaves can be availed on multiple instances and can also be split into half-day leaves.
    • New maternity leaves – In addition to the 26 weeks of paid leave, BYJU’S now offers its women employees an additional 13 weeks of unpaid leave.
    • Paternity leaves – For new fathers, the number of paternity leaves has been increased from seven to 15 days. This new policy allows new parents the assured flexibility and security to bond with their children in the early years of life.
  • Medical requirements: To help our employees to the best capacity, we have created an INR 20 Cr CEO fund to enable them to cover Covid-related medical expenses for their families and themselves. Through this CEO fund, each employee can apply for reimbursement of up to INR 5 Lakh to cover hospitalisation costs for themselves and their families.
  • Vaccination drives: BYJU’S also set up a vaccination drive for the 18+ age group. To date, 4000+ employees are vaccinated.
  • Motivational sessions: From mandala art, baking, effective communication to storytelling contests around photography, meme-making as well as a virtual talent competition called ‘BYJU’s Got Talent’, we have been keeping our employees engaged to boost motivation and morale during these uncertain times.
    • Conducted workshops that shared insights on mind management along with guided meditation to beat stress and anxiety.
    • Other sessions on personal, financial, and mental well-being to connect better with our employees.

While working from home has been productive for BYJU’S employees, we are working towards a comprehensive plan of action for the future with careful consideration towards the current scenario. Keeping employee safety as the foremost concern, we see the future of work to have a mix of both physical and remote working, allowing teams to unleash their creativity and experiment with new ways to live, learn, work, and play.

“While working from home has been productive for BYJU’S employees, we are working towards a comprehensive plan of action for the future with careful consideration towards the current scenario. Keeping employee safety as the foremost concern, we see the future of work to have a mix of both physical and remote working, allowing teams to unleash their creativity and experiment with new ways to live, learn, work, and play.”

While 2020 was all about enabling work from home, 2021 went in understanding and resolving issues that could stem out from remote working. What do you think the edtech space will need to deal with in 2022?

The ecosystem of working has evolved tremendously in the last year, with automation and tech-driven solutions enabling HR functions to focus on people and create impact. Technology has changed recruitment for the better by providing access to a large talent pool and personalising the hiring process.

In 2022, we will continue to witness immense innovation in the way businesses operate, recruit, enable employee productivity, well-being, and create new avenues for collaboration to further enhance hybrid workplaces. This trend will continue to drive innovation in people management, engagement, and retention.

I think the Hybrid workplace model has allowed people to unleash their creativity and experiment with new ways to live, learn, work and play. With BYJU’S being a digital-first company, we were able to smoothly transition from an offline mode to working online. Everyone at BYJU’S went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the learning journey of our students remained uninterrupted. Unified by the mission to positively impact the learning journeys of students across the globe, our teams have been in overdrive mode on bringing new innovations to ensure seamless learning experiences to our students. We even accelerated the launch of multiple products while working remotely.

However, we understand that these new ways of working will essentially require a remodelling of our existing communication infrastructure. A more asynchronous and individual approach to communication and HR practices will be the need of the hour. Businesses will have to focus on building powerful teams with high-calibre individuals to not only create a better system but also create genuine intellectual property and research. The time for disruption is now, and a renewed focus on research and technology will be the way forward for new-age businesses.

The tech talent-hiring boom has been unprecedented this year. It has been said to be higher than pre-pandemic levels. In a TOI report, it is mentioned that BYJU’S is expanding to newer geographies and looking for targeted hirings from IITs. What are the special skills you are looking for and what has been the biggest deciding factor in recruiting tech talent this year?

At BYJU’S, we are always on the lookout for the right talent to join us in our mission to enable students to fall in love with learning. We look for people who are enthusiastic about their work and want to make a difference in students’ learning outcomes. We are a millennial-driven organisation with an average employee age of 23-24 years, across various departments. We’re recruiting across departments for both technical and non-technical positions, and we want to keep engaging with the untapped potential of a young and inquisitive generation.

We are looking at harnessing the global talent pool by actively hiring a diverse set of candidates in the UK, US, and India. By assembling a powerful team of high-caliber individuals, we aim to make technology transparent for the user and harness it in a way that tech-enabled education can reach the largest number of people. Additionally, by creating new jobs we are creating an exciting and fulfilling environment for Machine Learning and AI professionals, both experienced as well as new graduates. Our focus is not just about creating a faster or better system, but also creating genuine intellectual property and cutting-edge research that can disrupt and keep us ahead of the curve.

Also read: Changing Nature of Workplace Engagement – How Can HR Evolve? (allthingstalent.org)

From a hiring standpoint, we have around 25000 plus employees and we plan to hire around 3000 – 4000 people across technical/ non-technical roles for both mid-level and top management positions in the next 6 months. Amongst recent leadership hires, we have onboarded some known stalwarts from the industry like Puneet Bhirani as Senior Vice President – Operations, Rachna Bahadur as Senior Vice President – International Business, and Himanshu Bajaj as Head of Business – BYJU’S Learning Centre, to further help BYJU’S build world-class products, teams, and partnerships. We are also looking at onboarding software engineers who are keen on building their careers in developing solutions that will transform the way people learn from their early years to professional skills. We also aim to bring folks from the IITs and NITs into content development and academic innovation roles.

With flexibility being one of the key criteria for many candidates while looking for a job, how will employment models change in 2022 compared to 2021?

With the pandemic bringing the importance of working and learning online, we have witnessed companies shift to a completely virtual medium of working. Industries are looking for normalcy in the extended remote working situation in 2022. Some companies are also adapting a hybrid model to offer flexibility to their workforce. Communication and collaboration will also be at the core of the functioning. Digital technology and tools will enable creative ways to work, making work more flexible and productive for employees. The HR cohort will also be amplifying technology for recruiting, managing, and engaging their employees like last year.

Just like 2021, the future will also witness an enhanced and cohesive relationship between employee and employer. Employee well-being will be the focal point and organisations will come up with creative ways to maintain the workforce morale and make them feel appreciated and valued.

“Just like 2021, the future will also witness an enhanced and cohesive relationship between employee and employer. Employee well-being will be the focal point and organisations will come up with creative ways to maintain the workforce morale and make them feel appreciated and valued.

BYJU’S has been a consolidator in the market. How do you handle the M&A, from the employee perspective? What are the key checklists you would have from the perspective of employees pre and post-acquisition?

Since its inception, everything at BYJU’S has been centered around the learning needs of students. All the companies we have partnered with so far have a similar synergy as ours and the products are very complementary to each other. The one question we ask ourselves before finalizing any integration is whether it will be beneficial for our students. Three deciding aspects that are vital for any acquisition are the complementarity of product/technology, alignment of vision, and quality of the team. As a result, all our acquisitions are driven towards either adding more subjects, more grades, or expansion into more markets.

Partnering with Osmo helped us in utilizing augmented reality (AR) features to create a variety of educational games and create engaging, and immersive content for students. WhitehatJr fitted perfectly into our vision of giving students more and getting them ready for the future. Aakash created a blended learning model, wherein Epic provided interactive reading. Great Learning and Gradeup provided reach in new business segments. Through all these partnerships, we have integrated their hold in technology with our teaching capabilities. All acquisitions have followed the same model and encouraged the businesses to be run by individual entities.

We have stayed true to our business fundamentals and worked towards creating an ecosystem where entrepreneurs can grow and prosper. All our acquisitions and partnerships have turbocharged the growth and the reason behind this is how we keep our people independent by doing soft integrations. We believe in providing them full support to foster their efforts with minimal interference. Our philosophy is to create something with a better impact and not bigger. Convergence with companies helps us strengthen our value creation, and increases our capabilities and scale.

Could you give some overview on the total on-roll employee base of the company, across departments and geographies? What is your total employee count across countries? How much of it is organic hiring? What is your hiring pipeline in a 1-2 year period?

In India from a hiring standpoint, we have around 25,000 plus employees and we plan to hire around 3000 – 4000 people across technical/non-technical roles for both mid-level and top management positions in the next 6 months.

India cemented its offshoring advantage during this pandemic. Even the massive hiring numbers are reflecting this. In the context of edtech, how is India viewed globally, and in hiring in particular?

2021 has been a fruitful year for the edtech sector across the world. Though the pandemic disrupted the way we live, education was one of the sectors with positive relevance. Over the last two years, we have seen a lot of increased interest from the overseas market, opening up opportunities for Indian players to expand globally.

Edtech platforms in India have empowered Indian teachers to reach out to students across the world. For example, BYJU’S Future School which caters to students across the USA, UK, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico, is powered by 12k qualified female teachers based in India.

With the higher demands for skills such as AI, data analytics, and cybersecurity, India has a bigger potential to supply what the market needs. We feel there is a demand for personalised and engaging learning content all around the world. Though, we might need to add a few layers to the content to introduce cultural sensitivity and context, the innate nature of learning math and science is universal. While the international markets are largely product-driven – lack of personalisation and one-on-one peer interaction, Indian edtech companies like ours offer a personalised and engaging learning experience for all the students. I think moving forward, especially in India, we will also see a consolidation within the edtech space, companies offering similar services will merge and companies with niche, unique offerings will remain.

“Edtech platforms in India have empowered Indian teachers to reach out to students across the world. For example, BYJU’S Future School which caters to students across the USA, UK, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico, is powered by 12k qualified female teachers based in India.”

Several industries are talking about increasing gig workers? How is it for BYJU’S and the edtech industry at large? As an edtech player, what are your skilling recommendations for the HR industry and those who are entering this space?

The pandemic definitely has affected every industry and the Indian job market has witnessed a complete metamorphosis in the last few months. While some job descriptions have continued some roles have been altered with shifting demands. With remote working in play, the jobs of tomorrow will be talent-driven, location agnostic, and tailor-made basis skill and specialty.

To engage the human capital of a company, it is important to create a culture of accountability. This culture goes a long way in motivating employees to do better and to maintain best practices. In the wake of the pandemic, this form of work culture is coming to the forefront. Businesses are realising the need for an open and transparent line of communication with employees. Thus enabling them to expect the same form of transparency and accountability from their employees. Furthermore, the future of work will witness HR functions as an integrated business strategy coming up with newer practices and processes with a lot of emphasis on the ‘humane’ aspect of human resources.

Overall, the future of employment looks exciting. We at BYJU’S are looking forward to passionate and talented individuals joining us in this journey.

Pravin-Prakash-Chief-People-Officer-BYJUS-1

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Pravin is leading the People Operations function across India at BYJU’S. His role includes planning and creating innovation-driven initiatives for employees and supporting them with several programs for development, training, and personal growth. Prior to joining the company, he was a technology consultant.

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