Karthi Swaminathan, Vice President and General Manager, India @Tact.ai pens his experience on navigating the future of the workplace in India amidst the pandemic. He shares the different initiatives, best practices, and learnings from Tact.ai's Bangalore office.
In the first quarter of 2021, we believed that we were at the tail-end of the pandemic here in India. We were beginning to put plans in motion to re-open our Bangalore office, embrace the hybrid work culture, and anticipating seeing our colleagues in person.
All those plans were put on the back burner when the second wave of Covid-19 hit in April. The second wave was deadlier, unexpected, and hit closer to home for most of us.
The devastation caused by the second wave was unimaginable. Everyone we knew was affected on some level and there was a collective trauma as the country was navigating through the peak of the curve. For us as leaders at Tact.ai that meant we needed to take steps to make sure that our employees were taken care of. At Tact we have believed in a human-friendly and human-centric philosophy from day one, so addressing the issues our employees may face was our priority. So, we all came together with collaborative solutions that worked for us all.
The key to building a successful employee culture: remote, hybrid, or from office; is caring. You need to care about your employees and your employees in-turn will care about their work, their team, and the company’s growth.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, we kept our focus simple; our employee’s health came first, no exceptions. This meant giving our employees unlimited leaves, support, and resources to be equipped to face the challenges that were headed our way.
During the second wave, several of our employees or their families suffered from COVID-19. Having the unlimited leave policy in place did not only help them focus on what matters the most (their and their loved one’s health) but also reduced the stress while trying to heal. Another important step we took towards employee well-being is getting additional COVID insurance on top of the existing one, to make sure that there wasn’t an additional economic burden on them. Our message was clear; prioritize your health, we will take care of the rest.
We saw our colleagues actively coordinating to help the Tact community by sharing resources, wellness monitoring, and helping each other by forming an emergency response team. This team was built to provide support through each other’s network for oxygen, supplies, or medicines. Our colleagues from outside of India were also able to reach out to this emergency response team to get support for their families in India.
Just last week we had a Vaccination Drive for our India office to make sure our employees get the vaccines promptly, without going through the cumbersome booking process. This included their family members and home help just to make sure that everyone around our employees is taken care of as well.
In the last year, we all have worked from home, taking care of either kids, pets, or parents. The line between work and personal life has become hazier. While some of us have neatly settled into our remote work routine, some of us are still struggling to find the balance. Overall, the process has been overwhelming, as many continue to face issues with isolation, stress, and exhaustion, the result of which is loss of productivity.
I think what motivated our team to strive to do better in these difficult times was flexibility, autonomy, and empowerment. When people have the autonomy over planning their day, they eventually end up being more productive and more involved in their work.
What we have also done is given our employees an outlet to talk among each other as well as to experts. To ensure the continued well-being of our employees we have gotten them access to 1:1 counseling sessions with trained Psychologists through our wellness program. So that help is always available if they seek it.
In an India-specific study by Microsoft in the annual Work Trend Index, it was discovered that 74% of Indian employees wanted more flexible remote work options. At the same time, 73% of them were craving more in-person time with their teams.
It’s an interesting dilemma, even as we have gotten adapted to remote work, we still long for the team bonding activities, office conversations, and the camaraderie we develop with our teams in person.
One crucial gap with remote work that always will be there is the quality of employee engagement. This was challenging for us on many levels, we are a smaller team, that highly valued team dynamic and community participation on a day-to-day basis. In fact, our Bangalore office was known for a great assortment of snacks, team-building events, get-to-know-you lunches, and large gatherings.
Our teams developed new processes and solutions to overcome the logistics of onboarding new hires remotely. We ended up expanding with a 45% growth in our new hires during this time.
I think one of the most impressive things we have done as a Tact community, globally, is the funds we raised for India’s Oxygen Donation Drive in association with GiveIndia. We had started this effort to support India's fight against the devastating second wave to bring relief and aid to the individuals and families across India who were suffering.
We started an internal drive to donate with matching contributions coming from Tact.ai. Within two weeks, we raised 21 lacs against our target of 15 lacs, 146% over our intended goal.
The strength and courage of the Tact team and the strides we have made in the last 15 months of remote work is truly an amazing feat. As the second wave wanes and vaccination numbers rise, I think we are all set for success when it comes to the future of hybrid work in India.
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