By Ira Gupta, HR Head, Microsoft India. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.
In the last few weeks, there has been an unprecedented change in the way we work, connect, and balance our lives. The nature of work is changing, and so are we as we respond to the needs of our employees and their families. At Microsoft, our goal is to better understand the impact of remote work and help our employees adapt to do their best work during these challenging times.
Enabling colleagues to transition into the new normal
Much before the mandatory social distancing measures were announced by the government, we encouraged remote work for our employees. Transitioning a large workforce across the country to virtual work is no small task. Our goal was to ensure every Microsoft employee has the tools, resources, and solutions to be as productive, creative, and secure as possible, working from any location and on any device. While the transition of technology was seamless, thanks to our ability to fully leverage the power of Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365, we recognized that this was also a period of deep change. Our employees were working in new environments, juggling new, often competing demands, and trying to stay productive while battling the stress of protecting their loved ones. Supporting them and their families was top priority for us. We rallied together to ensure that our employee policies and practices were able to address this rapidly evolving context.
We introduced a dedicated 24/7 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Helpline for our employees and their families. Available in multiple languages, employees can use this helpline for virtual consultations with medical practitioners to assess symptoms and avail medical guidance, all in a private and secure environment. With schools and childcare facilities across the country staying closed, many colleagues were dealing with the added stress of taking care of their children. We added an additional leave option, the 12-week Paid Pandemic School and Childcare Closure Leave, to give our employees greater flexibility and time off. We also put together essential resources to support the physical and emotional well-being of colleagues. To support mental well-being, we are encouraging employees to use Microsoft Cares, a counseling service as part of our benefits program. Microsoft employees also have access to several webinars, virtual workshops and written resources on our wellness platform to help them make informed decisions about their own health and safety and that of their families.
For many of us, our homes are shared spaces and often do not have the required infrastructure to enable an extended work from home arrangement. For a comfortable and conducive work environment, we extended our policies to enable employees to procure the right equipment, including ergonomic furniture.
Fostering a connected, inclusive culture that enables employees do their best work
As we adjust to working remotely, there are several questions which come to mind. With no physical separation between work and home, how do we strike a balance? How do we continue to be accommodative and respectful of our co-workers’ schedules? How do we continue to keep our employees engaged and informed about what’s happening across the company?
Frequent employee communication has been key for us to ensure colleagues are heard, leadership is visible, and best practices are shared. It is inspiring to see leaders across the company connect regularly with colleagues beyond work and encourage sharing of thoughts, ideas and personal experiences of living in this new normal.
Needless to say, our culture has been our north star as we navigate this change. We are a company that values inclusion and diversity and we see our colleagues living these values every day. Like with every area of our life, leadership in uncertain times requires unwavering empathy and resilience and I am proud to work with leaders at Microsoft who have truly modeled what it is to be calm in the face of adversity, to coach others through ambiguity and to demonstrate care when it was most needed by their teams.
For many of our employees, this change is also about being able to build new routines and habits as they adjust to working from home. To support colleagues through this transition, we’ve developed a guide to working from home, with tips to stay healthy, engaged and productive during COVID-19. Among other things, this guide includes practical examples to be more thoughtful about inclusiveness, particularly around virtual meeting habits. Examples include encouraging colleagues to turn on video to feel more connected, making space for fun by using GIFs, stickers and emojis as a mode of expression, turning on live captions to be inclusive of colleagues with disabilities and slotting time for team celebrations. We’ve seen a number of our teams schedule no-agenda ‘tea-breaks’ on a Microsoft Teams video call. This helps virtualize the water cooler conversation that many miss these days.
Staying productive and secure
At Microsoft, privacy and security are never an afterthought, it is our commitment to our employees, customers and partners. Our employees have been working on Teams, a collaboration tool that safeguards privacy and user security by design.
We use Teams daily for chat, meetings, calls, and collaboration. Now that we find ourselves working remotely, we’ve been able to stay productive because we are accustomed to a digital workspace. Every meeting is now a Teams meeting, often with video. We are using features like custom backgrounds to block out our excited kids, our barking dogs, and our mismatched furniture. As we rally to help our customers prepare for remote work, we’ve found that the ability to record meetings has become essential. All attendees can access recordings of meetings they’ve missed and then listen in to the most relevant parts. We also rely on the Microsoft 365 environment to empower employees to collaborate through self-service creation of Office 365 groups or teams within Teams while ensuring appropriate security, compliance, and manageability are in place.
Enabling a team to work remotely is a unique challenge, and this challenge is different for every organization. At Microsoft, our top priority continues to be the health and safety of our people and we learn and adapt each day on how best to support each other as we navigate this together. Although there are challenges, I am confident that taking a people-first approach is what will help us tide over this crisis.