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Monday morning blues may belie the concept of love for work and workplaces, but happiness at workplace is far from a myth. Especially at hundreds of organisations that care for their employees and deliver some of the coolest workplaces.

The organisations have gone out of their way to protect and comfort workforce in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Here are India's top 10 Coolest Workplaces:

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#1. Google

From a relaxed leave allowance policy to numerous perks for working from home and a peer-to-peer mental health community, Google surely knows how to pamper Googlers.

From numerous break-out zones with provision for indoor sports like table tennis to chess, carrom and card games to the popular foosball where employees can unwind, to a delectable spread of food spanning various cuisines to cater to hunger pangs available for free, Monday morning blues is an alien concept for Googlers. There are choices when one decides to settle down for the day's work as well, from the bright-coloured bean bags to swing chairs or even the old-fashioned diwan. Not surprisingly, it is one of the reasons why it regularly tops surveys on coolest or the best places to work in. In BT's surveys, too, Google has been the uninterrupted leader since 2014.

In an unusual and difficult year, the list of initiatives Google took for the welfare of its employees even while they were stranded at home is exhaustive. Some of them like a work-from-home allowance - a sizeable $1,000 - to enable Googlers to procure equipment like office furniture or online fitness classes and virtual offsites are par for the course. There are others that stand out.

Recognising early that in a forced WFH regime employees maybe more stressed than usual due to the added burden of household chores, the company relaxed its policy for leave allowance. It introduced the concept of 'carer's leave' so that Googlers have the flexibility to look after their kids while schools were shut longer than usual. Initially introduced for a period of six weeks of paid leave, it was later extended to a total of 14 weeks.

In addition, to avoid burnout, it also gave two official day offs to each employee to log off, unwind and recharge their batteries. Another challenge companies faced during the pandemic was ensuring the mental wellbeing of their workforce. To that end, Google introduced the Blue Dot Programme - a peer-to-peer mental health community.

#2. TCS

Covid-19 was more than a danger for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). Its resources, assets and business, its 4.5-lakh workforce, were spread across 46 countries. The IT services giant moved quickly to bring the functioning back on track. The company first framed the Secure Borderless Work Space (SBWS) infrastructure to facilitate remote working, where all employees migrated to the digital work structure. Secondly, it announced it would not lay off employees and honour all job offers, including the 40,000 given to new graduates.

At present, TCS has enabled remote working for 95 per cent of its employees and established Cloud-based governance of over 23,000 projects, enabling high volume of digital collaboration - 35,000 online meetings, 406,000 calls and over 3-million messages.

Meanwhile, the HR team has reimagined associate engagement with 'purpose orientation'. 'Engagement with Purpose' is a 360-degree programme across different areas- health and wellbeing, lifelong learning, career building, serving communities and social collaboration. Through this programme, the HR engaged with over 4-lakh associates during the last one year. Focus on physical fitness and emotional wellbeing through yoga, nutrition and home safety have been key drivers to ensure associate wellbeing globally.

For dealing with the pandemic, TCS has established a 24x7 dedicated medical helpline for employees. Besides, it had set up 11 first-line isolation centres for employees and their families within office premises in Chennai, Kochi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Indore and Nagpur. It also provided home healthcare benefits, besides arranging self-quarantine in partnership with hotel chains and hospitals. Considering that 80 per cent of TCS workforce is Gen Y, it launched OneTCS Channel for virtual townhalls with the CEO and senior leaders. It also hosted chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand and astronaut Ron Garan, among others.

#3. Amazon

The Covid-19 pandemic led to massive job losses in companies. Amazon India, on the contrary, went on a hiring spree. Not only did it honour all hiring commitments made the previous year, it also created over 70,000 seasonal positions across operations network and customer service. In September last year, it announced 1,00,000 seasonal positions ahead of the festive season. "The pandemic has reinforced the important role Amazon and ecommerce can play in job creation. We believe there is greater access to talent than before and it is a good opportunity to strengthen teams and nurture talent," says Deepti Varma, Director (HR), Amazon India.

Varma is excited about the leap-frogging of the company's diversity agenda in recent months. "When others were downsizing, we were hiring. We were able to hire a diverse talent pool. We were able to attract a lot of people who had taken a break and were looking at getting back, people with other skill sets, people with physical disabilities," Varma says.

While the company already has two silent (manned by hearing and speech impaired employees) delivery stations in Mumbai, it is now looking at hiring people with different intellectual abilities. "We are trying to come up with pilots for people with other disabilities," Varma adds.

In the last one year, the company has hired a lot of transgenders in fulfilment and operational roles. The male-dominated Amazon fulfilment centres now have over 6,000 women employees as opposed to just 60-odd four years ago. The company has, in the past few years, been persistently trying to make its blue collared workforce diverse too.

#4. ICICI Bank

When an employee of India's second-largest private sector bank, ICICI Bank, goes to a retail or a corporate customer for sourcing business, he offers the entire range of products and services from savings account to mortgage to credit cards. When a customer reaches out to any employee (including HR or legal team) at any branch or the corporate centre, he gets to experience the full bank. This is part of a huge business transformation under way at ICICI Bank for aligning nearly 1,00,000 employees with the new strategy of organising itself around the customer ecosystem.

The new HR strategy has been woven around 'One ICICI, One KPI and One ROE.' The seeds of this new strategy were sown two-and-a-half years back when Sandeep Bakhshi took over as MD & CEO. The bank was facing headwinds due to the vacuum created by the exit of Chanda Kochhar, forcing it to rejig its overall business strategy to focus on operating profits, risk management and strengthening the balance sheet. As a first step to align HR policies to a common goal, the bank decided to move from grade-based organisation structure to role-based (head of asset, liabilities, etc.) designations and empowered teams at the zonal and branch level. This immediately crashed the hierarchy or department structure and helped in faster response time. The results are reflected in India's Coolest Workplaces study where the bank has made it to the Top 5 in the list.

As part of the transformation, there is now a common goal sheet for the top leadership team. "Today, they all get assessed based on that one common criteria," says Soumendra Mattagajasingh, Head - HR (Retail Banking Group and Employee Relations) at ICICI Bank. The bank has been focusing on bolstering its work culture. The old workspace system has been replaced by open offices. This goes well with the young workforce. The average age of employees is 30 years.

#5. Microsoft

The challenge of an employee with ageing parents versus one with young children or another who lives alone can be very different, especially in an unprecedented year like 2020. A series of initiatives by Microsoft India over the past year made it much easier for employees to address such challenges. Microsoft's efforts were primarily centred on two things - frequent communication and wellbeing. Communication was essential because there's a dynamic shift in the way employees are working today.

"Frequent communication was and continues to be a critical part of keeping our teams together in a remote-working environment, ensuring everyone feels connected, heard and empowered to share experiences. We created platforms and surveys for employees to share feedback and voice their thoughts," says Ira Gupta, Head of Human Resources, Microsoft India.

Wellbeing, both physical and mental, is another area where special emphasis has been given. The reason: According to Microsoft's October 2020 Work Trend Index report, about one-third of workers in India mentioned increased rates of burnout during the lockdown.

Whether it is about introducing a dedicated 24x7 Covid-19 medical advisory helpline to support employees or adding new leave options - PSCCL (Paid Pandemic School and Childcare Closure Leave) which provides employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave for childcare, supervision, and education duties of children - Microsoft has expanded its horizon to handle the emotional and physical wellbeing of its employees.

The company also added mental health to its sick leave policy and renamed it Sick & Mental Health Leave. The policy allows employees to take time off for themselves or for a family member for mental wellness.

#6. Accenture

Reimbursement for setting up home-office, internet and electricity was common during the early days of the pandemic. Accenture India went a step further by providing office chairs at minimal cost and financial support, even accommodation, to a large number of employees asked to vacate their paying-guest accommodation.

The company equipped all its people -- over 2,00,000, across eight states and 43 offices - with work from home (WFH) infrastructure and collaboration tools almost immediately. "At Accenture, wellbeing, health and safety of our people have been our topmost priority. With that as our north star, we supported our people by leveraging our strengths - our digital capabilities, learning environment and deep-rooted understanding of and commitment to equality," says Lakshmi C. Managing Director and Lead - Human Resources, Accenture in India.

Accenture expanded the use of AI-enabled chatbot for wellbeing, provided access to experts, and held virtual meditation and other resilience sessions. "We also introduced free medical tele-consultation, not only for our people but also their families," says Lakshmi.

Accenture also came up with solutions to help parents working from home. For instance, the 'Virtual Summer Camp' provided parents resources to keep children engaged through virtual hobby lessons, do-it-yourself tutorials, treasure hunts and puzzles. It also curated a new activity every day.

The company also launched a 'Virtual Village' to support parents who had to double up as tutors and online learning facilitators. The platform matched children of employees who needed help with learning with children who could coach them.

For LGBTQ+ people, Accenture announced new leave policies, breaking gender stereotypes to focus on care-giving. Even parental leaves (maternal, paternal, adoption and surrogacy leave) have moved away from gender binary stereotypes and focus on the caregiver.

#7. HDFC Bank

Covid-19 hit when India's second-largest bank, HDFC Bank, was preparing for transition. Aditya Puri, the founding chief was getting set to hang up his boots in October 2020, while in parallel grooming Sashidhar Jagdishan to take charge. Addressing the management digitally, Puri said welfare of employees would be the first priority of the bank during the crisis phase. HDFC Bank decided not to cut increments and bonus and offered promotions.

For meeting challenges head-on, the bank formed core committees at senior leadership levels across different business segments - HR and Admin among others - to look into employee safety and business continuity.

A Covid-19 medical helpline was set up for employees and the bank ran awareness campaigns through medical webinars, newsletters and videos on internal communications channel 'Our World'.

For mental health, several awareness series and learning resources have been made available. A radio show has been recorded in conversation with a senior psychologist for spreading tips and ways to deal with this unprecedented time. It also experimented with short, animated videos for managing anxiety during the lockdown. The company also set up a team of doctors from Apollo Hospital for connecting with employees and family members who fall sick.

For employees who tested positive, the bank picked up additional expenses that fell outside the medical insurance ambit. It also introduced a special Covid leave policy for those who tested positive or had to be quarantined due to colleagues testing positive.

The bank also ran awareness campaigns and an interesting off-job learning series - which included 20 minutes of learning bytes, online music, cookery and fitness classes. Online sessions for meditation, mindfulness and yoga and physical wellbeing sessions for employees and their family members saw participation of more than 20,000 employees, says Razdan.

#8. Axis Bank

"Covid has accelerated changes and we are seeing rapid digitisation everywhere. Any change these days is led by technology," says Rajkamal Vempati, Head of Human Resources at Axis Bank.

To keep pace with this high-velocity change, the bank has partnered with Manipal to turn people with some prior programming experience into full-stack developers, who work on both the client-side and the server-side of software applications. "We need full-stack developers and buying talent, especially when the demand is so high, makes little sense. For a large organisation like ours, it is best to develop talent in-house," she says.

Axis has been increasing its technology hiring for some years and the number went up 2.5 times during 2020.

Through its GIG-A-Opportunities model, Axis threw open roles in digital banking, technology, virtual sales, audit and credit policy to people across India last year. It offered virtual, project-based short-term contracts to people from diverse backgrounds and geographies. "When we launched the pilot in August, we received over 60,000 applications for 40-50 roles and of that 45 per cent were women and 75 per cent applicants were from Tier-II towns," says Vempati.

Axis has created a hybrid workforce, giving its staff the option to choose between working from home five days a week or coming to office two or three days. Alongside, the company has well-defined boundaries of working from home, adhering to set timings. "We can't be on the treadmill all the time. We call it 7UP - no work calls after 7pm or on weekends. We have to create these boundaries in the long-term and ensure they are respected," she adds.

#9. Wipro

When Rishad Premji took over as the Chairman of Wipro in mid-2019, the company's performance was hovering around low single digits. One of the first things Rishad did was to speak to leaders about what was being done wrong and why the company was lagging its peers. What emerged out of those meetings was that the problem was more internal than external, and there was a need to bring together different parts of the company to drive a 'One Wipro' in front of clients.

It was then that the IT services major came up with five new habits - Being Respectful, Being Responsive, Always Communicating, Demonstrating Stewardship and Building Trust - that would be imbibed into the organisational culture. To translate these values into action, the company appointed Sunita Rebecca Cherian as Chief Culture Officer (CCO) in January 2020. "This is the single-biggest thing we have embarked upon in the last one year of our journey," says Saurabh Govil, President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Wipro.

Like its peers, Wipro also has over 90 per cent of its employees working remotely throughout the past year. Many measures have been undertaken to ensure that employees don't feel any disconnect. These include regular virtual check-ins by leaders and HR to address employee concerns, frequent smaller and informal connects within teams to foster a sense of belonging and running organisation-wide surveys on a regular basis to gauge employee sentiment across remote work, manager/leader effectiveness and the state of physical and mental wellbeing.

With close to 2,000 employees testing Covid positive and the unfortunate demise of 11 more, wellbeing has been a key area of focus for the company, says Govil. "We have rolled out multiple programmes pertaining to physical and emotional wellbeing, including indoor fitness challenges, sessions by counsellors, employee assistance programmes etc. Recently, we also launched an employee wellness app."

#10. Abbott India

Abbott India, which sells popular brands such as nutrition product PediaSure and antacid Digene, employs about 12,500 people in its four companies in India. This is the highest outside the US. "I am privileged to be leading a high performing team, committed to strengthening the legacy of Abbott and enhancing our promise to help millions of people live a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life," says Ambati Venu, Vice President, Pharmaceuticals, Abbott India.

Abbott, which earns over $1.5 billion revenue in India and views the country as one of its fastest growing long-term markets, has been following an India-specific talent strategy since 2014. One of its recent additions has been a smart chatbot, SMART HR, on which employees can give feedback and frank views to the human resources team and organisation leaders. "The main theme of our employee connect programmes is 'Your Voice Counts'. We have also launched a 'career connect' initiative for employees to grow up the ladder," says Deepshikha Mukerji, Regional Human Resources Director at Abbott India.

Abbott's growth in India is rooted in a simple, clear and powerful value proposition, Grow with the Leader'. That is why over 80 per cent of Abbott's front-line and senior sales management vacancies are filled through internal assessment and development route. The Employer Value Proposition programme helps it engage with senior business leaders to influence high potential talent to pursue a career in healthcare.

A counselling service, Employee Assistance Programme, Abbott Shop, an online discount pharmacy service for employees and their families and developing women leaders of Abbott are some of the programmes introduced in the last few years to support employees. Over 10 per cent of the 12,500 employees are women. More than 10,000 are in sales or work as medical representatives.


Report: Sumant Banerji, Nevin John, Ajita Shashidhar, Anand Adhikari, Manu Kaushik, Nidhi Singal, Nevin John, Rashmi Pratap, Rukmini Rao, PB Jayakumar.

Product: Mukesh Adhikary, Vivek Dubey.

Photos and llustrations: Raj Verma, Rachit Goswami, Mandar Deodhar.

UI developer: Vishal Rathour, Naeem Khan, Ravi Prakash Jha.

Design & concept: Rahul Gupta.