Article: Mateen Thiruselvaam on the non-negotiables for a hybrid workplace

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Mateen Thiruselvaam on the non-negotiables for a hybrid workplace

Sharing what enabled DHL Express in becoming the best workplace through a disruptive 2020, in conversation with People Matters, Mateen Thiruselvaam, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for DHL Express Asia Pacific, dives into experience, productivity, technology and healing as 2021 paves the way from remote to hybrid.
Mateen Thiruselvaam on the non-negotiables for a hybrid workplace

Mr. Mateen Thiruselvaam is the Senior Vice President of Human Resources for DHL Express Asia Pacific, responsible for providing strategic and operation HR expertise to support the company’s business growth. He has over 30 years of experience in the field of Human Resources and first joined DHL Express Singapore in 2001. In the last 20 years, he has held regional positions in Employee Relations and Learning & Development before moving on to take on the role of Vice President Human Resources for the Regional Office in 2006 and for South Asia in 2008.

In his last role as Vice President of Human Resources Singapore, South East Asia & South Asia, he was instrumental in developing HR-focused initiatives which were closely aligned with DHL’s business strategies and contributed to positive business growth. 

In this exclusive interaction with People Matters, Mateen talks about what enabled DHL in becoming the best workplace in 2020, enhancing experience and productivity across a remote workforce, key arsenal in an organization’s HR toolkit to keep employees engaged and motivated, and prepping the workplace for a hybrid future.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

In your opinion, what are the top three trends that will shape work, workforce and workplace in 2021? 

One key trend entails embracing the new norms of working including remote working and teleworking. As workstations become non-stationary, people are able to work flexibly and from anywhere. Virtual meetings have become ubiquitous as the need to travel has been reduced and I believe a large part of meetings will take place online even in the new year.

Equally, the impact of technology and digitalization on businesses has been well-documented in the public domain.  In 2021, we will see that become the rule rather than the exception when we look at people management – specifically in leveraging digital tools to conduct unbiased performance evaluation, recruitment, onboarding, train and retention. For example, we adopted a state-of-the-art recruitment platform that gave DHL Express the ability to attract and connect with candidates and process their applications swiftly, reducing the time to hire by approximately 75%. This means that candidates get on board and start contributing sooner.

Frequent and consistent communication would be a key arsenal in an organization’s HR toolkit to ensure that employees stay engaged and motivated.

Constant communication all round using a variety of apps and digital tools that allow for ease of collaboration, project management, and working remotely would continue even if we’re working together in the office. Employee engagement activities that leverage such software to motivate and engage will be critical to sustain and propagate organizational culture. For example, we are organizing virtual parties to celebrate our employees, migrating our internal news portal into an app that allows social interaction at a click of a button, and implementing several online training curriculum under our internal Certified International Specialist program which has been running for a decade.

DHL was recognized as the best workplace in Singapore in 2020, by the global institute Great Place to Work. In your opinion, what experiences and strategies led to this accomplishment?

DHL Express has been fortunate to have inculcated a very strong culture of collaboration, trust and excellence, and this stemmed from our relentless focus on ensuring that we have motivated people in the organization who take pride in whatever they do.

We have always believed that we’re creating a virtuous cycle with motivated people, who will in turn deliver excellent services to our customers and therefore enable a profitable core. This is also the reason that we will always have our employees as top priority, putting our people before profits. COVID has really brought that to bear as we ensured that our more than 100,000 employees around the world are safe and healthy, resulting in our ability to continue delivering for our customers.

Whilst we have been fortunate to have begun our digitalization journey prior to 2020, we have equally embarked on our diversity and inclusion program some years back. DHL Express has several programs in place to enable and encourage women in the workforce, already reaching 29% of female representation in Asia Pacific at the mid-senior levels in 2020. We’re not resting on our laurels, however, as there is still much to be done.

Diversity in every aspect will continue to be embraced as we move into the new decade with new targets and training programs to achieve our goal of becoming an employer, provider and investment of choice.

Are you planning any significant changes in the working model for your organization? Which direction are you headed towards - remote work, return to work or a hybrid working model?

Post-COVID, we believe that we’ll have a proportion of our employees continue working remotely. We have seen that there are several functions that allow for employees to work from home without compromising on productivity and a recent internal survey conducted also gave us insights into their wish to continue enjoying this flexibility. To cater to that, we have also looked into building teleworking options into employee contracts, allowing them the flexibility to work a certain number of hours a day/week/month remotely. Having said that, there are certain functions e.g. courier delivery and operations that can’t be operational remotely, so it’s likely that a hybrid model would best suit our organizational requirements.

Despite the perceived accelerated digital adoption, a recent ServiceNow survey found that a startling 91% of executives say certain routine business workflows are done completely or partially offline at their companies. What is your take on this?

As mentioned in the earlier question on the working model for DHL Express, there are certain tasks that require employees to be physically at the workplace but I would say that a majority of our staff are able to have the ability to work productively away from the office. The key is to ensure that they have access to the tools to perform their tasks efficiently, e.g. their ability to get and stay connected to our systems remotely.

Experience and productivity are critical to organizational and people sustainability as businesses aspire to move from recovery to growth. What role does technology play in enabling and striking a balance?

Productivity and KPIs are still in place in spite of the new norms of working. The way I see it, it’s a matter of empowering our people by providing the right tools for them to do their best at work every day. If people are happy, they continue to be productive, so it’s a matter of providing that connectivity so that they can deliver on their KPIs, as mentioned above.

I see technology as an enabler more than anything.

What is your advice for organizations prepping for return to office? What non-negotiables should they account for?

Just because people are happy working from home does not mean that we stop providing them the necessary work stations, offices and common amenities, so that they have a choice to enjoy all of those things if they decide to work from the office. To me, that is a non-negotiable! People would still need to interact face to face, conduct meetings, brainstorm etc. and they would need a space that allows and encourages them to do that.

Equally, the safety of our employees are paramount and something that we will never compromise on. Whilst we have global policies in place to ensure that, we have decentralized the decision making to the local levels to ensure that whatever practices implemented comply with local rules and regulations given the circumstances would differ from one territory to another.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

On the personal front – I think 2021 is all about the healing process for me. Whilst we will continue to focus on meeting our targets and sustaining productivity levels, it’s equally important to reflect on our people and see through the new norms of working that COVID has nudged us into. It’s about being there and showing appreciation for our frontline staff who has put in an enormous effort to continue doing what they do, day in day out, despite the risks to their health, separation from their families, and continued demands of jobs well done.

We, as a team, would like to ensure that the smiles on our people’s faces stay, and we do whatever it takes to help them achieve the work-life synergy that is needed to lead healthy and fulfilling lives in or outside the workplace.

This is critical because the lines between work and home have blurred somewhat as a result of the pandemic.

Whilst the pandemic has pushed us to adopt new practices suddenly and at scale, which meant that we spent 2020 trialing and experimenting what would/ would not work, 2021 will see us working in a smoother and more concerted fashion given the “kinks” have already been ironed out and addressed. 2021 will be a better year, because the future of work is here and now.

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Topics: HR Technology, Strategic HR, #SafeWorkplace

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