In early February, Nick Lambert joined France based IT firm, Orange Business Services as Senior Vice President to lead the Asia Pacific. Currently, Lambert spearheads growth across all market segments, including firm's key markets like China, India, Australasia, Japan, Hong Kong, ASEAN and Korea. As he joined his new leadership assignment, he, like many other leaders in the world, faced the most unfamiliar challenge of all times, the COVID-19 crisis.
In a recent interview, he shares how the current global health crisis has transformed him as a leader and how the company is dealing with the challenges with collaboration among teams across borders.
What is the process that OBS is following for ensuring business continuity? Is there any activity you have discontinued? Is there something new you are working on?
At OBS, we quickly formed a response team to assess the COVID-19 situation and share the learnings with other markets. For Orange Business Services’ key business areas, business continuity and disaster recovery plans have been developed and implemented for many years. We also took the proactive step early this year to ensure that we retested any plans that had not been tested in the last four months. Any identified gaps or issues were captured in a service improvement plan and tracked to completion.
Furthermore, we reassessed our strategy taking into consideration the different stages each country faced, the local regulations, and government advisories. With Asia Pacific being the first region to witness the impact of the COVID-19, we made quick decisions to mitigate any kind of crisis.
We were agile to get our staff to move to a teleworking mode in every country and aligned with local government guidelines.
For example, in a country like India with over 4,000 staff, our IT teams and managers transformed our operations to a teleworking mode in a matter of a few days. The entire staff was equipped with laptops and remote working tools. We continue to support our customers across the world through this arrangement and today 95 percent of our staff is still teleworking.
Our managers have played a pivotal role in engaging their teams and reaching out to them every single day to check on their health and well-being. Our primary focus throughout this evolving situation has been the health, safety and well-being of our staff and their families, as well as ensuring support for our customers’ business operations.
Which are the tools that you are using to enable collaboration between the remote workers of the teams during the current situation?
Fortunately, we already had a very flexible workplace policy and moving to a remote working model wasn’t difficult. A good part of our workforce in the region is millennials and for them, work is not defined by a place. Before the mandatory work-from-home directive, we had well-established channels of communication. We are using a variety of tools, such as Remote Access via Pulse Secure, VPN connectivity and multiple collaboration solutions, including audio and video conferencing services. Our internal social network called “Plazza” is also very active at the moment, enabling Orange employees to share information and documents in a very efficient manner.
How are you managing employee experience during the lockdown?
We must make ourselves comfortable with the new normal and bear in mind that remote working/teleworking/flexible working are all here to stay. Hence, we need to ensure that while we are all working in a different set up now, we still feel connected and engaged with our organization and each other. This is why the ‘human’ touch and connection is so important.
Keeping in mind the importance of maintaining this connection we introduces some initiatives:
- Open communication channels: Our Global and Regional Crisis Management teams are constantly monitoring, aligning, and driving consistent decisions and guidelines for our staff, which includes communicating to our employee’s specific health and safety guidelines, that are critical for their wellbeing.
- Employee pulse survey: Employee Assistance Program continues to provide strong support to our staff and their families; we went a step ahead to proactively run an in-house pulse survey a few weeks ago to connect with our employees and gather their feedback around the new working situation and what support they might need from us. We have received some very positive feedback and suggestions made by our staff, which our management team is reviewing at this time.
- Learning and development: Our managers are taking special care to catch up with their teams every single day. We are also emphasizing that our employees use this time constructively to participate in online learning. Our Learning and Development team is working closely with the managers to help build tailored learning paths for our staff, offering excellent learning content.
- Workload management: We understand that solidarity and responsibility are the most important attributes today. A real example of solidarity is our internally built online global Let Me Help platform. The objective of this platform is to connect teams with needs in contact with those who could support them.
We are gathering all the individual strengths and relying on the potential of our team to come out of this situation stronger.
Interestingly, there are several employee led initiatives helping us manage the current global health crisis.
While over 95 percent of our APAC workforce continues to work remotely, the teams are getting creative at identifying new and digital ways of working collaboratively, as well as having a little fun or learning something new.
To keep the team engaged, there are online contests organized by volunteering staff in India around sharing interesting recipes from their secret cookbooks. We recently organised a LIVE Yoga session for our Malaysia staff on a social media platform, which was delivered by an employee in India who is a certified Yoga expert. This is a wonderful example of how all employees are still connected beyond borders.
What are other talent challenges you are grappling with in this time of crisis?
Communication and transparency are the two key focus areas. We ensure that we keep our employees informed of our actions as well as create platforms where employees can voice their concerns.
Retaining talent remains a key focus, and we are taking this opportunity to invest in our people and upskill them to support our future business ambitions.
At the same time, we see this as an opportunity to attract talent in the market. Our human resources team is constantly leveraging the digital means to reach out to the talent market and build a talent pipeline for the future.
With 27,000 employees spread across more than 100 countries, we are accustomed to collaborating and working remotely. Our business is such that many of our employees are well-equipped to support business via remote connections and teleworking arrangements. To date, we have not had any significant impact on our manpower.
Fostering team spirit and bonding is a challenge many organizations face when employees are spread across various locations. We have provided our team members and our managers with communication kits and e-learning training modules to optimize the remote working and ensure we keep close contact and relationships among all staff during this period.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic challenged your leadership style?
I firmly believe in a collaborative environment. Business is all about understanding the value we want to create and then coming together as a team to achieve that. It is easier for people to contribute if they have a view of the outcome that is expected. This is my core belief, and it hasn’t changed in the past few months. What has changed is the approach. We are making small changes to the processes so that our people can thrive. I continue to collaborate with them albeit virtually and have been taking time to regularly check-in with employees on their wellbeing.
Ensuring transparency on decision making is important to strengthen the confidence of employees in the leadership team. It is difficult in the current scenario, but we are using omnichannel platforms for communication to address this.
I engage with employees, customers and partners across the board to get their feedback and understand their aspirations. At the end of the day, what we achieve as an organization is the sum of the individual efforts everyone is putting. It makes me proud to see the commitment of our people, who are stretching themselves in these tough times to support customers.
According to you, what are the key pillars of leadership in such times of crisis?
A crisis reveals the foresight and depth of leadership. Organizations focusing on immediate goals are finding it difficult to come to terms with the new reality. Business leaders are under greater pressure than ever to take strategic action, but uncertainty and too much haste can be big barriers to progress.
As we experience the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, there are three broad areas that companies should consider immediately to support employees: Enable remote collaboration solutions for remote/home working and ensure secure connectivity; run virtual events; and disseminate critical information via omni channel communication, including via chatbots to answer frequently asked questions.
Adaptability and informed decision making are an absolute must to mitigate any crisis. The COVID-19 crisis emphasizes that it is digitally and cloud native, insight-driven organizations that are best-prepared to demonstrate resilience, keep their businesses running successfully and retain their market positions. Further to that, these companies are not only best-equipped to manage the crisis, but their data-powered nature also makes them best-placed to recover and thrive as the COVID-19 emergency eases.
Have you planned for the post-COVID-19 phase?
We are in no haste to get our employees back in the office. They are supporting the business and our customers excellently, hence we want to carefully assess the situation before deciding to return to the office. Some countries are announcing relaxations on the movement of people, but we have decided to act with restraint. We are defining strong and clear guidelines to help our staff return safely to work.
I strongly believe in the ability of our team to bounce back stronger post this pandemic. Our present has changed our future considerably and we are gearing up for it. We are starting to organize for the post-crisis period, in the short and medium-term. Many organizations will be redefining their operations and processes to prepare for the ‘new normal’ and reinvent themselves. Then will come the evolving phase where organizations will think of their environment (regulations, role of government, business ecosystems).
Our customers’ four priority areas for IT focus beyond the immediate crisis include remodeling Supply Chain and Logistics, reimagining Channel strategy, accelerating Industry 4.0 and M&A. We can also see that customers’ expectations are changing. We will be there to guide them and support them in this transformation with solutions that are now business-critical.
We will work closely with companies to advise them on the best practices and offer practical solutions to them.
How do you think the future of work will change now? How are you preparing for it?
People need to be our focus, today and always. It is imperative that we continue to allow some flexibility in terms of teleworking, working hours, etc to allow our staff to support their families and loved ones.
The recovery phase is as important for an individual as it will be for businesses. We need to ensure our people are not overwhelmed.
To facilitate this flexibility, companies need to embrace digital transformation in true sense.
Some things we know for certain: remote working will now be more accepted and travel will continue to be limited for some time. Social distancing is likely to remain in place for some time, while “workplace distancing” through working from home will become an accepted practice, not a temporary emergency trend. Remote working will need to be powered and supported by sufficient infrastructure. Business travel will reduce, as countries continue to protect their citizens by closing borders and imposing entry limits.
Extensive remote working has a big impact on infrastructure and platforms, particularly with bandwidth needs. It also requires a different security approach with a wider variety of connected devices. Desktop as a Service can enhance standardization, ease management and ensure security.
As many organizations are using collaboration technology for the first time. We already have a considerable amount of adoption material to help people (and organizations) get the most from what they have (or facilitate changes in their approach, if necessary.)
The post-COVID-19 future will need companies to be resilient and sustainable and that will mean innovation powered by digital technologies and data.