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.
Even though the transition to technology was seamless - because the company already had tools for remote working - it was a new experience for employees working in new environments, often juggling new, competing demands, and trying to stay productive while battling the stress of protecting their families. So 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.
Recently, the company 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. The IT giant also integrated wellbeing experiences into its products, including new features in Teams that help employees structure the day, make space for breaks, and stay on top of tasks in addition to the recent rollout of employee experience platform Viva.
"Supporting them and their families was top priority for us. We rallied to ensure our employee policies and practices addressed this rapidly evolving context. We are paying constant attention to understand the impact of remote work and help employees adapt. Our goal is to ensure every Microsoft employee has the tools, resources and solutions to be as productive, motivated, and impactful as possible, while prioritising wellbeing," says Gupta.
Despite the tough working conditions, Microsoft made sure that its core principles are followed to a tee. Take inclusiveness and diversity for example. Experts say inclusion has taken on a new meaning with employees working remotely. In a regular office environment where everyone had access to the same technology, infrastructure, and space, the remote working culture has changed that completely. Microsoft will host 'Include 2021', a free, global, digital event focused on diversity and inclusion. It is expected to feature global experts in academia, social change, and diversity and inclusion to engage in conversations about how to support lasting culture change.
As workplace shifted from offices to homes, the hiring and training practices, too, went virtual. There was virtual selection, internships and on-boarding for hundreds of hires across businesses wherein candidates and hiring managers engaged through an end-to-end virtual interview and selection process. Going forward, Microsoft will continue to leverage a hybrid model (in-person and virtual) in its recruiting practices.
Adapting to the new style of working would have been difficult without training and support from leaders. Gupta says the last few months have made clear the absolute necessity of skilling, reskilling, and upskilling to stay relevant. "The new remote work environment has pointed out critical issues related to information access, collaboration, learning and productivity. In this changed environment, it is critical to design experiences and learning paths that allow employees to prepare for the future of work."
"The role of managers and leaders is more important today than ever before to enable an inclusive, effective, and consistent employee experience. In times like these, we always go back to our culture and values. The impact of decisions organisations make today will outlive this pandemic. At Microsoft, I have seen leaders step up over the last few months," she adds.