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7 October 2020

Q&A with Ram Subramanian, Global Head, Human Capital Practice, TCS

Workforces everywhere in spring 2020 were disrupted due to COVID-19. Now that the world has learned to live with the pandemic, enterprises around the globe are determining how to create safe and productive workplaces for employees returning to the office. Ram Subramanian, Global Head, Human Capital Practice at TCS, is an empathetic and committed leader with over 25 years of experience serving as an advisor and personal coach to HR and business decision makers around the world. Here he offers some insights into the key issues enterprise leaders should focus on to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of employees as they transition to return to work.

What was the initial impact of the pandemic on enterprises and how have things changed since then?

At first, the impact was mostly personal. There was so much about the human element. It was a reactive situation with companies trying to figure out how to respond across various functions. Organizations had succession plans in place, but these were more about location and processes. With the pandemic, everyone and anyone in a company and their customers were impacted. It completely changed the dynamics and created a lot of uncertainty.

As time went on, organizations realized that the pandemic was not a short-term issue that could be solved easily. Now, return to work is more than just ensuring individual employee safety and well-being. It also directly connects to the purpose of the business, and meeting promises to customers and partners. It goes beyond the capacity of an individual in HR or administration to resolve this situation. It requires organizational-wide contribution backed by a seamless solution that connects data sources and technologies, automates processes and captures and displays KPIs.

What are the top issues to consider with return to work?

In the beginning, communicating to employees and creating a communication channel for checking that people were safe was the primary focus. Now, things are more complex. With return to work, enterprises need to consider issues such as privacy laws, security, and labor contracts. How do you ensure facilities are safe? You need to also consider how to administer processes, update policies, and manage compliance. For example, companies need to collect data about how an employee is feeling. But how do you make sure privacy regulations are met and that this information is only available to the appropriate decision maker?

How can enterprises measure the success of return to work programs?

There are two parts to this success.

  1. Are companies putting employees first? Are they really ensuring the health and well-being of their employees?

  2. Do organizations keep up their promises and obligations to customers and partners in their ecosystem? What are those promises? For a shipping company, it means meeting shipping guidelines. For manufacturers this could mean having enough output to meet orders from their buyers.

If organizations can manage to meet these two top obligations, they can consider themselves to have succeeded in running their businesses in a difficult situation.

What are the challenges for enterprises with return to work if they have multiple geographic locations?

In international operations, the conditions of the pandemic are different and often personal. Take for example, describing if you are well or unwell. A lot of us are comfortable in our own native language, so companies may need to come up with various ways to gather this information. Beyond demonstrating care for individuals, organizations have the responsibility to track this information about symptoms to keep people safe. It gets complex very fast because you need to address not only the employee at headquarters but also in the factory in Malaysia. It all has to work across the board to meet different HR policies and local labor regulations.

How has the employee experience changed since spring 2020, and should enterprises be thinking differently as part of return to work programs?

Employee experience is defined by the moments that matter, such as starting a new job. The situation with COVID has made the employee experience more pronounced. We’ve gone a little further into continuous listening and feedback because there’s a sense of anxiety. Employee experience was easily measured when employees were together in the office. But now employees are far removed from workplaces, and it becomes a challenge to measure the moments that matter. It’s become more critical to measure the sentiment of employees—to look beyond measuring accomplishment to look at how employees feel through the entire process. That’s a positive change and has made employee experience more real. Systems, like ServiceNow, not only bring work together but also bring in people insights—how they collaborate and the sentiments along the way. These are going to be the new systems that will be much more successful in the future.

How do return to work programs create links between employee and customer experience?

Smart return to work systems not only focus on how workflows deliver on promises to customers but provide positive employee experiences as well. Consider how companies have spent millions of dollars on websites to inform customers. For example, if a customer wants to buy electronics, they can go to the store’s website and access more information about that product than what is made available to a store employee in terms of product training. The customer is more well-informed than the employee. Now, business systems are evolving to provide optimal employee experiences that will directly contribute to positive experiences for customers. Employees are going to be the winners with these new employee-focused systems.

How do workflows help enable return to work?

A successful solution brings multiple parts of the organization together through tightly connected workflows to achieve a common objective for ensuring the health and well-being of employees. The workflows are the biggest aspect. Then, there are the insights around the people and data and how they impact your ability to do your business. An open and flexible platform like ServiceNow makes it easy to create such integrated workflows and respond to customer needs quickly. Combine that with our contextual knowledge about a customer and insights that matter, and we can create a safe workplace command center to help customers be successful with return to work in these uncertain times.

To learn more, attend the TCS-ServiceNow Roundtable with Josh Bersin on November 5. Register today.