/ May 1, 2020
Ms. Shanta Vallury Gandhi's interview as published on ETHRWorld.com
Being a customer centric function how has the banking segment ensured safety and well-being of its employees in the current pandemic situation?
Being a part of essential services, banks are serving the society by working round-the-clock to fulfil the banking needs of the country. In order to protect people and contain the spread of COVID-19, most branches are operating with lean teams as other employees have been advised to work remotely. The banking segment saw significant investment in technology and security to create a safe virtual work environment for seamless continuity of operations for the convenience of our customers.
At RBL Bank, our Safety and Security Team had started monitoring the COVID – 19 situation and issuing advisory to all employees as early as January when the country wasn’t under any imminent threat. The Bank soon established a central task force called ‘Quick Response Team (QRT)’ to provide guidance to employees on various emerging issues due to COVID-19.
We have organised thermal screening, sanitization of all our physical premises, provided sanitizers and masks and are educating employees on quarantine requirements. There are regular updates being shared on the hot spots and containment zones and we are establishing strict social distancing norms. All of this has helped us manage the situation within the organisation.
Additionally, every single employee of the organisation has been reached out to personally by the HR Business Partners to check on their safety and well-being. We have also set up a dedicated helpline for employees, to reach out in case of emergencies. We have also been conducting regular calling rounds and are sending out SMS alerts to ensure each employee has downloaded the Aarogya Setu App to support the government in tracking individuals who could be at potential risk unknowingly.
The organisation has activated the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) and has partnered with a leading cab service provider and organised bus services to assist transportation for employees who had dependencies on public transport. We have also invested in enhancing our technological capabilities and internal communication channels so that employees can continue to work effectively, even remotely.
Shortly we will be launching an online medical services portal for our employees ensuring their mental health & physical safety.
You have been one of those sectors who continued to function despite the lockdown implementation. How do you take this - was it a challenge or an opportunity?
Digital theme has been looming over the banking sector for a long time and the lockdown has just accelerated the evolution for the sector and enforced adapting to digital banking for customers. We see it as an opportunity where the Bank is already partnering with many customers to re-define and design-think the solutions and offerings while being compliant with guidelines and norms. We have launched communication to encourage our customers to reduce dependency on branches for products that are digitally available while educating them through tutorials and other support options.
We envision digital banking to soon become the norm as digital literacy is likely to increase under this situation.
What kind of glitches and hurdles you faced as an organization and as an industry to deliver results in such testing times?
Being part of a sector where remote working has rarely been the norm, there were initial glitches as we implemented the BCP for Work from Home. As an organisation we were not conditioned to work from home therefore the first few days, were challenging around segmenting the workforce to continue uninterrupted services for our customers, while ensuring the safety of our employees. Overnight we had to provide laptops more than the inventory we had, scale up our Virtual Private Network (VPN), move employees on cloud proxy, ramp up our technological capabilities dramatically to ensure a safe, robust technology-backed virtual workspace for them. Early adoption of all these measures helped, in fact we were able to complete our year end with 75% workforce working remotely, in lesser time than last year by leveraging the automation.
Other challenges were to ensure safety for those who due to regulatory, infrastructure or compliance restrictions required physical premises. Our concern was to not only ensure safety for our people but for the families who they went back home to. We have safeguarded the employees at work, by providing them with masks, sanitizers, transportation etc.. We are sanitizing & disinfecting our workplace daily.
We have always spoken about our mission values of customers at the heart, employees as the pillar, community as the cause and shareholder values as the focus and these values of ours have helped us deliver well in these times.
What measures were taken to ensure that the employees do not perform under fear and their physical and mental well-being are not compromised?
For employees across the globe, this is a time of great uncertainty and as humans it is only natural for it to be so. These are unprecedented times and we are all reorienting our lives around it. The same rules need to be applied in business.
COVID-19 has led us to reorient the way people work with restrictions on travel, skeletal staff in organisations – we could potentially be looking at remote working becoming the new norm and social distancing the way forward.
So the onus is greater than before on organisations to understand employee concerns and adopt sustainable practices towards their mental and financial well-being. As an organisation we took proactive steps to address these concerns:
What do you consider the biggest HR and workplace learning of this uncertainty?
This pandemic has turned out to be a litmus test for many organisations on their preparedness for uncertainties. Given the global slowdown, with efficiency and productivity on minds, technology will now be tested to its full potential and will determine the future course of action for employees.
Today, as businesses realign their strategies, Human Resources need to realign their processes to complement the new norm. This will only come if the HR teams are agile with high speed of execution. The HR team of various organisations is re-evaluating policies and exploring tools to define productivity matrices to keep jobs effective and relevant in the times to come. It’s imperative for managers to trust their employees while communicating with them consistently and with clarity on the expected output.
Employee health and safety is of paramount importance, while most corporate organisations have their employees covered under health insurance, the focus should now be on educating employees on following the health advisories being issued. Organisations are also reassessing their policies with respect to communicable disease management and disaster management. Employee engagement and communication has stood out as one of the key factors to help employees navigate through these challenging times in a meaningful way, keeping the workforce interconnected. Digital technology needs to be embedded and woven into HR practices for this new world during and post COVID-19.
Lastly, while technology interventions will play a significant role in reorienting us to the post COVID-19 world, human resources will continue to play a key role in reimagining and defining the new normal in the days to come.
A word of advice for the employees and the employers of the banking sector to strategize and plan things post covid-19?
Digital learning is here to stay. The world has got smaller and digital learning will pave the way for the future. My word of advice will be:
For Employees: Invest in -
3. Fitness & Health
For Employers: Reinvent -
1. Reengineer the process & policies for cost optimisation
2. Reimagine the workplace as digital
3. Sustainability with focus on triple bottom line i.e. People, Profit & Planet