Fintech

AI-powered chatbots, ML, RPA will be crucial: John Gaunt, Synechron

Synechron is one of the fastest-growing digital, business consulting and technology services providers firm based in New York. It is accelerating digital for banks, asset managers, and insurance companies. Here, John Gaunt, Chief Human Resources Officer, Synechron, talks about the future of work. Excerpts from an interview:

DQ: How are you dealing with the Covid-19 situation? What plans have you put in place?

John Gaunt: Synechron has adopted an extremely practical and yet sensitive approach towards employee safety and welfare during the Covid-19 pandemic. Being a major fintech player, Synechron ensured seamless continuity in operations for its clients’ business, while safeguarding its employees from health hazards. Ground zero teams actioned an appropriate Business Continuity Plan and a Pandemic Response Plan, which was followed to the tee. Our BCP Team also participated in online trainings and attended industry webinars on how to be well prepared to fight COVID-19.

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In the initial days, we set up a health help desk, which screened our employees for symptoms. As travel restrictions were imposed on a global and domestic level, colleagues travelling across geographies reported at the health desk and were asked to quarantine. Health hotline numbers were set up to report any health emergencies. Employees were apprised frequently about advisories and guidelines framed as per inputs from governments. Timely communications were sent to employees, giving directives for preventive measure and next steps. Our support teams who were required to be in office premises, despite lockdowns, were provided with safe and hygienic travel and hospitality. A comprehensive work from home plan was implemented, much before our industry peers.

More focus on employee engagement activities led to an effective launch of a campaign called #Workahomics with various themes for employees to participate in. Synechron actively championed CSR activities to support donations for helping the needy fight the pandemic effectively. We also donated masks and sanitisers to the frontline workers, mainly police officials, to applaud and support their efforts.

Town halls and award ceremonies turned virtual, thus increasing motivation amongst employees.

DQ: Are you giving employees more control over their schedules?

John Gaunt: In the light of employee safety during the recent times, Synechron enabled work from home (WFH) option for its entire workforce, globally, much before the other players in the industry did. Our employees were provided with systems, internet connectivity and any other infrastructure that may be required to support productivity. Thus said, our employees are enjoying the flexibility of working from home, as the time spent for commuting to office is saved and utilised wisely.

By enabling our employees with tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, VPN and Webex, we are ensuring that the connect with clients and teammates stays strong. Employees have the flexibility to log in earlier and plan their work tasks and day’s meetings effectively and smartly, so that they have time at hand for their hobbies and family commitments.

DQ: How are you assessing on learnings from enforced experiments around WFH?

John Gaunt: Synechron believes and vehemently supports continuous learning and development of its workforce and so apart from the regular classroom training which take place throughout the year, Synechron, as part of its employment upskilling initiative, has entered a corporate tie-up with Udemy. This has become a major highlight in its employees’ work-from-home journey. With employees getting access to more than 3500+ courses online, more and more employees are using this time to upskill and upgrade themselves with new learning. As on April 30th, Synechron employees had clocked more than 90,000 hours of Udemy learning. This showed the keenness of our employees to upskill during work from home.

Managers are also stepping in as mentors, as they help their team members choose the right courses on Udemy. Initiatives such as Techie Thursdays, which host learning webinars by our in-house subject matter experts on emerging technologies have gained much popularity amongst our employees. Another initiative has employees participating in technology-based debates has also seen great enthusiasm. Employees are showing interest and are being encouraged to write technology blogs and thought leadership articles. Under #Workahomics, our ongoing employee engagement campaign during WFH, we encouraged employees to make video blogs on a business topic of their choice and call themselves SyneGurus.

DQ: This is a challenging time for managers. What advice would you give them?

John Gaunt: A manager plays a very crucial role for employee productivity and welfare even when teams are physically present in office. With the recent work from home mandate owing to Covid-19, managers need to be sensitive to their team members’ state of mind and physical health. A manager’s character is to keep the team members motivated, to do better despite adversities and find joy in work.

While the need of the hour is to stay connected to collaborate more effectively, it is also necessary that managers understand if an employee needs or has to be offline due to unavoidable reasons or technical and infrastructure failures. Being available, helpful and understanding are the key attributes that are called for. Also, you cannot pour from an empty cup, thus, all managers need to ensure their well-being, hand-in-hand with their team’s. Encouraging team members to pursue their hobbies and spend time with family to relieve stress along with helping them identify new courses to upskill with, are some very effective ways that we are encouraging managers to apply to take care of their team.

DQ: How does work/life balance work in a crisis like this?

John Gaunt: Synechron believes in encouraging employees to focus on themselves as individuals first. The organization respects individual talents, hobbies, intelligence, and choices they make as employees. Since the early days, Synechron has always encouraged work life balance by motivating team members to try new skills, practise their hobbies and spend quality time with family.

It has provided various avenues for its employees to practice that. We have a fully- equipped gymnasium, Xbox game zone, yoga and zumba sessions, pool tables, and massage chairs, in office. Synechron had also introduced desk bikes (a desk that has a built-in bike), which allow you to spot-pedal and exercise. This combined fun, fitness and work altogether.

Internal teams such as HR, Employee Care and Admin cater to various requirements of our employees and also provide for engagement and entertainment activities within office premises. However, the ongoing crisis is not a dampener to these activities and all the teams have ensured their events are available virtually, to provide ample connect and engagement for employees. We have a concept of Life@Synechron Clubs, which hosts activities that revolve around sports, music, art, talent shows, online gaming and more. Employees are enjoying these activities now through Zoom calls and not missing out on the fun.

DQ: What are the policy responses you would give to the MSMEs and SMEs?

John Gaunt: Companies across sectors – be it banking, manufacturing, pharma or a pizza delivery chain – are plunging into their digital transformation journeys to compete and stay relevant. IT companies are significantly enabling these players make strategy calls in every aspect of the business.

Synechron believes that organisations whether small or medium or large scale need to be digitally enabled for their day-to-day business and business continuity. As a major player in FinTech Services, Synechron will continue to invest and work on Digital Transformation and accelerating their digital journey for our clients.

DQ: How are you now facilitating digital work?

John Gaunt: Synechron, being a major player in fintech services, provides crucial support to its clients via Application Development, IT Support and Database Management, Data and Analytics, and more. We are using remote infrastructure management services and robust cloud-based infrastructure for our clients, largely renowned logos in the BFSI sector, who depend heavily upon us to ensure that their business-critical services run seamless.

Client servicing has gone a notch higher as we employed applications such as Microsoft Teams Slack, along with messenger systems, remote dashboards, and VPN access to connect with our clients. Daily best practices such as regular scrum calls, virtual team connects and town halls, webinars and discussions, have enabled routine tasks to become smooth and quick, the digital way.

DQ: How are the latest technologies going to redefine workplace?

John Gaunt: The pandemic has changed the way we live and do business across the world. What once was seen, felt, touched and purchased, has now suddenly been bought online by consumers who’re gauging the quality of a product /service by looking at its photograph. Thus said, use of online applications or mobile apps, will not just change the face of business, but online collaboration tools and virtual work settings will also revamp the way people work, be productive, communicate and operate.

Major technologies such as AI-powered chatbots, predictive analytics, machine learning, Natural Language Programming (NLP)- based automations and testing, robotic process automation (RPA), data mining, cloud infrastructure management, etc. will play a major role in redefining work, and of course, the work-place.

While chatbots make way for swift customer query resolution, data and analytics will aid faster decision making. RPA is changing the face of factory operations and workforce numbers already. Information stored online on cloud infrastructure, will result in better transparency in deals and transactions, decreasing bureaucracy and red tape.

As of February 2020, India ranked at No. 77 on the Global Sustainability Index and by the end of this pandemic, almost every company / factory / business on the face of this earth will be trying to undo the wrong to the natural balance. The lockdown, which was imposed in many geographies has been an eye opener. Organizations will now take a strong view to reduce their energy utilization and carbon footprint by making changes to technology and the way their employees work.

Initiatives that encourage recycling and the usage of bio-degradable material will gain more traction. Moreover, ways of working that support the sustainability efforts of an organization will be devised and implemented. This could include only a certain percentage of staff being physically present in office on selective workdays. Remote working will be encouraged as many organizations who had set up large offices to seat hundreds of employees together, will find these spaces fall short as a 6-to-8 feet gap between two workstations becomes mandatory to practice social distancing.

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