In this Q&A, Monika speaks about building accountability and encouraging micro-breaks to keep teams recharged and refueled amidst the crisis. She stresses on the importance of collaboration and shares tips for improving efficiency among teams to thrive. “Don’t resist change, rather embrace it”, she opines. Monika Gunalan serves as the Director, HR Business Partner at Postman, an API development collaboration platform. She has completed her Master's in Business Administration and has a decade’s experience in aligning HR strategies for accomplishing business results.
This interview has been edited for clarity and context. The opinions expressed in this interview reflect the interviewees opinions solely.
DB: What is your advice to firms that do not have the necessary infrastructure to support remote work to go about setting up the same quickly?
MG: Trust your employees (no micromanaging), build accountability and processes, and motivate people with a strong focus on the 'why'. Please give them the flexibility to manage their own time. Enabling asynchronous communication, while keeping collaboration in mind, between employees is the key.
It's also important to acknowledge that not everyone would have every facility to work from home effectively. Every employee has different kinds of challenges. Some have to manage family or kids with no support. So, as a leader or a manager, it's essential to be more empathetic and understanding.
DB: What are some of the key factors organizations should consider while preparing and executing business continuity plans (BCP)?
MG: I think it's essential to identify the critical functions and how they would operate in a crisis. If we have well-defined processes and documentation around it, BCP gets easier.
DB: Supporting the health of staff should be a top priority for firms. How can HR teams aid in supporting the workforce and their organizations while enabling continuity?
MG: There are two aspects here: mental and physical health.
For physical health, in the current situation, encourage people to have a routine, which includes work/family time. Encourage some fitness activity that can be taken up! At Postman, we provide an allowance for fitness activities by reimbursing their bills as well.
For mental health,encourage employees to reach out if they want to talk, and create a safe space for them to open up. Work with the experts in the field of mental health. Many organizations have been doing some good work in this aspect.
I think one of the things that we do well that aid in employee mental health is having non-work-related slack channels, where people can chat about the food they're making, how their pets are doing, and what their children are up to, etc. These micro-breaks help employees refresh and refuel.
Our leadership team also decided to mandate three days off so that we get enough time to relax and take a break without getting burnt out.
DB: In such uncertain times with numerous departments turning to HR for guidance on policies and other queries and with limited means at HR teams' disposal for motivating and engaging employees in person, what is your advice for our HR superheroes to stay sane and maintain their own well-being while balancing numerous other roles towards their own team, departments, organization at large and their own families?
MG: Practice mindfulness, eat, sleep, and drink right. Have a routine which includes exercise. Take 30-mins to an hour in a day to do what you like the most, e.g., painting or any other hobby that you always wanted to pick up! Most importantly, UNPLUG from work when it is time! It is easy for us to get hooked to the laptop without being aware of the number of hours we spend working. Continuously working long hours without breaks or any other activities can lead to burnouts.
I believe this is also the time that makes HR folks super creative in the way you run employee engagement activities. The job of an HR doesn't end with doing employee connects or listening to their issues, it's a lot more about how do you encourage collaboration, how do you enable small things like a water cooler conversation between employees. These may seem like little, insignificant things but they make a significant impact.
DB: What are some of the steps your organization has taken to ensure a smooth transition to the Work From Home environment and what, in your opinion, are the steps to ensure a successful continuity plan?
MG: Like I mentioned earlier, asynchronous communication is the key. We do not need a meeting for everything. As a company, we follow that. Why do you need a meeting when you can get the work done in an email?
Overall, it wasn't a difficult transition since we were used to working from home, and we had most processes in place. Of course, everyone misses the workplace and colleagues. We also have distributed employees, so we had our ways figured out to collaborate in different time zones and functions.
Some of the things that have worked for us (some even before the pandemic) -
- Highly process driven/proper documentation
- Always being transparent about company updates/decisions through – all-hands at a regular cadence
- Provide platforms for employees to showcase their work
- Employee engagement – we do something called quality team time (QTT) for employees,which includes things like mixology sessions and friendly virtual competitions.
DB: How do you envision the post-COVID era? What and how much do you think is going to change for the workforce and what can HR teams do to ensure they're well-equipped for what's to come?
MG: I think companies that adapt and perform in this situation will come out as a much stronger company post-COVID. This remote working is a trial run for companies, which means they'll also be able to keep some of these processes that enable less meeting time and increased efficiency. Companies also won't have a need to be tied down to a physical location as much as before, which provides more flexibility in terms of hiring employees and financial flexibility as you can save on office rent.
Some companies might choose to continue working from home and keep the workspace minimal. It's important to adapt to the changing environment and see what works best for you.
HR teams need to be a lot more process-driven than before, and also have an opportunity to bring highly creative ways of engaging and motivating employees.
DB: How much of an impact do you think the digital transformation will have with COVID catalyzing the urgency for the same? From a people's perspective, what do you think employees can do to prepare for this next wave?
MG: The biggest challenge will be adapting to new tools and methodology here. Let go of any resistance to change and embrace the new normal. As mentioned above, it will also be helpful for employees to remember to take breaks from work and workout. Also, always reach out, whether it's to HR or a peer, to maintain social interactions. It could be as simple as a 15-minute virtual coffee chat.
DB: How do you feel upskilling can accelerate digital ambitions of organizations? How can HR teams champion this initiative?
MG: HR teams can identify gaps and create learning initiatives based on the needs of the company. It doesn't necessarily mean signing up for different courses alone. Learning could be on the job or through books. It depends on the industry that you're working in and what upskilling means to you. It's also critical to track and continuously improve on these skills.