In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Anu Mathew, Chief People Officer, Pine Labs talk about how early preparation (WFH enablement) before the nation-wide lockdown made employee safety and business continuity easy and seamless. She also shares why Pine Labs planned to reopen offices and how they designed employees’ safe return to the workplace.
ATT: Having worked as an HR leader in the industry for long, how has this journey been so far? What were some of the opportunities, challenges, and important decisions that helped you evolve into a leader?
Anu: One word to describe the journey is “exciting”. I have been fortunate to have roles that have set transformational initiatives into motion for the organisation and individual growth. I made an important commitment to myself that really helped me evolve as a leader – “Work because you enjoy it and then it’s easy to give it your best.” I am really happy to lead the people function in a fast-growing organisation like Pine Labs where we are building payment and commerce solutions that will transform the industry.
In terms of challenges, there’s no better example than 2020, a year that helped us all learn so quickly about workforce safety.
Decision-making with limited information coupled with a crisis of unimaginable magnitude has taught everyone a new lesson on flexibility and optimism.
One of our early initiatives was to set-up a cross-functional response team of leaders which was tasked with meeting daily to take stock of the developments around us and mitigate risk. In hindsight, early preparation was very beneficial to drive a proactive approach towards employee safety and business continuity.
ATT: When the Indian Government imposed a nationwide lockdown in March this year, companies had to transition to WFH models overnight, but your company had already started with WFH enablement way before the lockdown in February. Can you tell us what urged you to transition to the WFH model and how did this decision help you better prepare for the pandemic?
Anu: Pine Labs is a diverse team – While we have a large tech talent who can work from anywhere, we also have a large Sales and Customer facing team who meet customers every day and other functions who primarily work from the office.
One of our early initiatives was to set-up a cross-functional response team of leaders which was tasked with meeting daily to take stock of the developments around us and mitigate risk. In hindsight, early preparation was very beneficial to drive a proactive approach towards employee safety and business continuity. We were on top of things when the early reports of the COVID-19 outbreak started happening around the world.
We erred on the side of caution and before waiting for official lockdowns to happen, we allowed employees to work from home. This was completely a premeditated decision to keep employee safety as our top priority.
ATT: How did you ensure that your employees adapt to new ways of working without affecting business continuity and lowering productivity? What important role did cross-functional collaboration play in enabling remote working and fuelling digital transformation?
Anu: I am proud of the way Pine Labs teams have responded to the Work from Home (WFH) transition across all our offices globally. Credit goes to the leaders who supported the people through this change and figured new ways of working around the many challenges people faced on the professional and personal front. Cross-functional collaboration became more important as we discovered new ways to work – our shared objective through these changes was the safety of our teams.
In line with the changes in business focus areas, we organised many training sessions on the new processes and products. Our tech teams have spent a significant time in upskilling and learning new technology areas. To share an example, our sales and support teams have over 300 new joiners and we have completely revamped our selection and “New Cadet” training programs with increased involvement of leaders to ensure the productivity of new joiners.
Staying connected has become important for teams and at Pine Labs, we believe in having fun. We built new platforms for people to connect with initiatives like virtual parties, singing idol contests, virtual fireside chats, virtual
games, etc. And all along we kept communication transparent and regular through the safety emails to virtual coffee meetings with leaders to town halls.
To support our people during a health scare, we upgraded our medical benefits to include additional aspects such as Doctor on Call, a fitness app, and an employee assistance program.
ATT: Speaking of digital transformation, technological advancements are constantly changing the fundamental nature of work. How important is it to adapt employees’ skills and roles to the post-pandemic ways of working? How are you approaching this digital transformation?
Anu: Digital is at the heart of our business as our payment solutions transform merchant businesses. Our teams are working towards building payment and commerce solutions for the post-pandemic world. And in line with the new tech, we are building skills and processes to support this digital transformation. I feel that this is a great opportunity to simplify processes and make it easier for people. All people-centric processes including onboarding, off-boarding, We want to give people the flexibility of working from the office, so starting this December one can book a seat at the office and work from there. The digital platform of seat booking allows us to maintain information flow towards contact tracing, self-assessments before entry to office, and safe option of working from the office.
We are creating learning and development programs based on the precise needs of each business vertical. While we use technology to help people learn and adapt, our programs also have an increased involvement of mentors and leaders to help people connect more.
ATT: More than ever, promoting employee health and well-being has become a key focus amid the COVID-19 pandemic. How is Pine Labs monitoring COVID-19 closely, from both a holistic employee and a business perspective? What initiatives and programs are in place to support the health and well-being of your employees during these testing times?
Anu: We have a three-pronged approach to safety and well being. Individual safety has been emphasized with regular safety
communication, a special allowance to cover for safety gear for our field staff, enhanced medical benefits including an employee assistance program.
Secondly, our managers have team safety as an important agenda to ensure team risks are mitigated. To provide constant support to all, we also have in-house Safety Champions, employee volunteers who are keeping a strong vigil to help us follow the new protocols.
Most important is facilities safety, where we have adopted new facilities protocols to maintain hygiene. We want to give people the flexibility of working from the office, so starting this December one can book a seat at the office and work from there. The digital platform of seat booking allows us to maintain information flow towards contact tracing, self-assessments before entry to office, and safe option of working from the office.
ATT: To make sure the employees are working efficiently and tasks are running on-time in the WFH setup, how has good rostering planning become more crucial than ever? How do you create the perfect work schedule for your teams?
Anu: Different roles will need different rules for rosters. In a remote working environment, people have also discovered work timings that maximize their individual productivity. As an organisation, we want to provide maximum possible flexibility as we believe that leads to best productivity. We also encourage frequent team connects, daily stand-ups, and good use of available technology like video conferencing options to sync up with their team members and therefore a trust-based approach instead of a roster-based, man-hours tracking approach. Some roles like contact centre do have specific rosters and we see an increase in the goal-focused approach of daily targets versus clocked-in timings.
We have also used the concept of 15 days rosters with people split into mutually exclusive self-sufficient Team A and Team B. This reduced the risk of exposure for any infection spread from one team to the other.
ATT: Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, how are you turning towards virtual hiring solutions and onboarding to hire potential candidates? What challenges have you encountered with virtual interviews, hiring, and onboarding, and how are you overcoming them?
Anu: We have expanded our teams and we have gone completely digital for the hiring process including sales ability assessments, virtual interviews and a new remote cadet training program. To avoid remote training fatigue, we have a new cadet program that has fieldwork and assignments sandwiched between online learning lessons.
ATT: Lastly, are you planning to reopen physical locations and return to the workplace? If yes, then what key considerations are needed in designing a return to work plan? According to you, how can Return-to-Workplace readiness be assessed from a Digitized Single platform?
Anu: We have reopened in a gradual and cautious manner for many roles. We feel the flexibility to work from the office or anywhere is important to drive peak performance. As an organization that values diversity, we want to offer the choice to people to help them excel in their roles. This is a great opportunity to include young mothers who would like to work from home or the talent who do not want to relocate or differently-abled who find commuting tedious. To enable these options, we have invested in a digital platform to ensure the process of automated check of individual safety metrics and approvals for working from the office-based on seat availability.To enable these options, we have invested in a digital platform to ensure the process of automated check of individual safety metrics and approvals for working from the office-based on seat availability. Click To Tweet
To design this safe return to the workplace we have taken inputs from people to understand what makes them most effective. At Pine Labs, we have continued to get people involved in these decisions. In July, the HR team connected on call one to one with every employee to understand the individual challenges and we went back with solutions for each. In September, we did a comprehensive survey of different roles and the sentiment towards the return to the office where more than 60% of our people wanted the option to work from the office at least a few days every week. And hence, we put together the approach and design towards a safe return to the office.
We have reopened in a gradual and cautious manner for many roles. We feel the flexibility to work from the office or anywhere is important to drive peak performance. As an organization that values diversity, we want to offer the choice to people to help them excel in their role.