Anjali Byce

People-first and Remote-first are inseparable

The new models of work will accentuate the ‘power of choice’ and intensify the ‘battle for talent’ as Anjali Byce, CHRO, STL observes and augurs. Let’s understand more of these implications in this interview, where we get to know how AI will enable CHROs to listen well and how virtual onboarding can still be as deep and warm as its traditional predecessor.

You have stressed the importance of a distributed workforce. What is the future ahead as we step into 2022?

The world redefined by Covid-19 depicts how businesses and society may evolve as the world grapples with the potential long-term consequences of global contagion. Still, both people-first and remote-first are inseparable. This combination is breaking down geographical barriers and broadening the applicant pool. Moreover, because of the widespread adoption of remote collaboration technologies, we are likely to see more diverse teams distributed across the globe achieve great success. Access to best-in-class talent working from where they are; is going to become a norm!

We will see this evolve further into a “digital or hybrid workplace” that is secure, flexible, and allows individuals or teams to manage their day-to-day tasks, self-help capability, and collaborate on projects with other groups.

Another less talked about the change that we will witness is the shift in the ‘power of choice’. We see talent across the globe choosing – Brand & location. The erstwhile era was focused only on Brand, with talent having a limited say; and relocating based on organization needs. Recent times have shown talent displaying their power of choice by turning down opportunities if it doesn’t fit their locational need. The distributed & hybrid working model is set to intensify the battle for talent!!

Another less-talked about change that we will witness is the shift in the ‘power of choice’.

Connect, Care and Capability – Is it easy to find a good balance here in the current era? Can you tell us more about the ‘Employees Connect’ approach?

People Centricity is at the heart of STL’s purpose of transforming billions of lives by delivering digital networks. Our culture is an embodiment of this sentiment. We focus on the 3 C’s – Connect, Care, and Capability. Staying meaningful and relevant to a rapidly changing context is at the core of our people strategy. We use a multitude of approaches to stay connected with our employees ranging from town halls, to skip level meetings, ‘office hours, quarterly reflections, and pulse checks. With a move to mass remote working, we leveraged technology to stay in touch. A warming outcome of virtual working was the ability to connect and meet families of employees seamlessly and with ease. To be able to have employees’ kids and loved ones participate in events truly made our world small, round and close-knit.

Care is another element at the heart of our people strategy aligned to our values. During the pandemic, we honored every commitment and virtually onboarded more than 300+ STLers around the world including a vibrant batch of graduate trainees and global interns. Being an essential services company, many of our employees have been warriors keeping us all connected by working at our plants and project sites. Employee Safety has been paramount and meant creating meaningful safety protocols and even a new operating model. We took a 360-degree view of health and wellness–the insurance coverage for employees and their families was enhanced.

Capability is tightly linked to our value of ‘Hunger to Learn’. We continued to invest in building future leaders through our high potential programs, a strong focus on building future skills through our Tech Academy, frontline key account management capability, and building innovation and agility.

You have virtually onboarded a substantial number of people during the crisis? What was the experience and what tips can you give to other HR heads?

Living our value of Promises Delivered–We virtually onboarded around 350+ employees globally. This meant being nimble and quick in moving to a completely virtual gamified onboarding program; to retain a consistent Employee Experience.

On-boarding has always been a critical factor in the success of hiring. Get it right, and great talent stay and grow with the organization. Get it wrong, and great employees walk out the door, taking their talent elsewhere. Now, with more employees than ever working remotely, most HR leaders have to recruit, hire, and onboard new employees virtually. It is vital to provide your new hires with a comprehensive onboarding process starting days after the offer is accepted. It is crucial to connect weeks before the employees’ Day 1 in the organization. We keep it simple—We ensure that signing all the necessary documents and collecting requisite data is done ‘Once’ at the source. This makes the process simple, seamless, and easy! Also, consider reliable channels for communication and exchanging feedback when preparing the onboarding plan. Pay attention to the Big Day. It is about making sure the employee has a warm welcome, meets team members, and has a buddy. This ensures easy navigation through any ambiguities making it warm and inclusive. Also on-boarding as a runway!! Everyone needs one prior to take-off! It is crucial to allocate enough time for new hires to adapt, and get familiar with company culture for effective onboarding. Virtual onboarding can seem challenging, but when designed well–creates high impact and high touch; enabling a meaningful experience when onboarding a globally distributed workforce.

Would the role of a CHRO get easier or more challenging in the AI-supported workspace of tomorrow?

Deep Learning will transform every single industry and the Human Resource department will be no exception to the influence of AI. HR professionals understand the importance of optimizing the combination of the human mind and machine learning for a seamless workflow and intuitive work environment. Employee Experience and Engagement is becoming core to building people practices that are contextually relevant and meaningful. AI has the capacity to make decisions in real-time, based on pre-installed algorithms and efficient computing technologies. This will help CHRO’s ‘listen’ and address needs proactively. High transaction areas can be robotized. Additionally, artificial intelligence and machine learning can help businesses understand their target market and promote result-oriented talent, customer and sales strategies. In my view, the CHRO’s ability to leverage AI-supported workspace will result in enhanced employee experience and predictive analytics for building people practices & policies.

artificial intelligence and machine learning can help businesses understand their target market and promote result-oriented talent, customer and sales strategies.

What new imperatives and challenges would the six-foot office imply for HR leaders?

The six-foot office is rapidly becoming an important subject; primarily with the safety of employees at its core. The six feet distance rule will result in manifold implications–Organizations will either need to have larger offices, change operating models to have fewer employees onsite at offices, or redesign the existing workplace to innovatively enhance collaboration with social distancing. While these approaches will help HR leaders address health, safety and productivity challenges; an equally important challenge is to ensure that collaboration, office setting, and seating arrangements continue to have the right ingredients and stimulation for creativity, innovation, and mood-upliftment of employees. A natural by-product of the six-feet office will also be a refresh in approaches towards building employee engagement, camaraderie, teamwork, assimilation of new employees, and connecting between diverse groups that were easier during in-person sessions. HR leaders will need to strike a balance between workforce re-design, smart innovations, use of tech, ergonomic, and aesthetics for creating a work environment that represents company culture and values while creating an energized and engaged team.

Anjali Byce, CHRO, STL

By Pratima Harigunani

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