Sunil Setlur is currently the Chief People Officer at Gojek, Southeast Asia's leading technology group and a pioneer of the integrated super app and ecosystem model.
In an illustrious career of over 15 years, Sunil has worked with some of the most valued brands including Accenture, Amazon, Google and now Gojek, across multiple geographies including Philippines, India and Singapore.
In his current role as Chief People Officer of Gojek, Sunil leads all aspects of human resource management at the company, with his function supporting more than 4,000 employees around Southeast Asia. Prior to joining Gojek, Sunil led HR for Google's Partnerships business in APAC, and was also previously with Amazon, where he was in charge of HR for groups spanning multiple functions and business lines.
In this exclusive conversation with People Matters and ServiceNow, Sunil highlights the key trends shaping Singapore’s workplace in 2021, emphasizes the increasing importance of inclusion, and encourages employers to play an active role in enabling adaptability to new workflows.
Read on for highlights from the interaction.
In your opinion, what key trends will redefine work, workforce and workplace for Singapore this year?
COVID-19 has changed the way people work in almost every industry and we’re seeing three key trends that have come about as a result of that.
The first is the need to manage work processes in a more asynchronous manner. Many companies, including Gojek, offer arrangements where employees can choose to either work remotely or from the office on certain days.
Employees may now be working in different time zones or at different velocities, and companies will have to play an active role in helping employees adapt to these new processes and workflows.
Secondly, with many employees working from home or remotely, building a strong culture and sense of community within teams is now more crucial than ever.
To help employees feel connected, companies will need to think of creative ways to engage employees virtually. This may come in the form of new employee engagement initiatives or the use of technology, such as internal social media platforms, to enhance connectedness.
Finally, the rise of remote work means that global talent will become more accessible. We expect that companies will be increasingly open to hiring freelancers or contract workers from around the world. This represents a great opportunity to build a more diverse workforce and make the marketplace for talent truly global.
What non-negotiables must employers account for as they navigate the 'return to workplace' strategy?
Health and safety remains a key priority for us and this is something that should continue being top-of-mind for all companies. We’ve started rolling out hybrid work arrangements at Gojek in select markets (Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), and are ensuring that safety protocols, such as regular temperature taking and social distancing, continue to be adhered to by our employees.
Beyond physical health, the mental well-being of employees is also a key focus area. To promote mental well-being, we’ve organised virtual talks on mental wellness as well as online activities (such as workout sessions) that help employees unwind. We have also introduced the “Thank Gojek It’s Friday” initiative, through which the second and last Friday of each month is deemed a no-meetings day, as part of our efforts to give them more time and flexibility.
Strengthening inclusivity is also increasingly important. We have an incredibly diverse workforce at Gojek, and we want to ensure that all employees are supported no matter their circumstances.
For example, working from home can often be a challenge for parents or caregivers, and to address this, we organise weekly child-friendly educational and entertainment sessions that help employees engage their children. We’re also continuing to look at new ways to further support employees who may be primary caregivers at home.
What does the working model for Gojek look like in 2021 - remote work, return to workplace or a hybrid working model? What are the key considerations in this decision-making process?
A hybrid model is what we continue to aspire to achieve, although this will depend on local regulations in each country. We believe this hybrid model is well-suited to Gojek because of the nature of our work. For example, a lot of innovation in developing tech products happens when there is strong collaboration, and that is often best served by in-person interactions. We also have an operations team that is regularly on the ground with our driver-partners, and hybrid arrangements are thus more of a default for them as compared to a full work from home model.
Ultimately, employees can choose what suits them best, and we are ensuring they’re supported whether they choose to work at home or adopt hybrid arrangements.
As employers strive to gauge workplace and workforce readiness to enable a ‘return to workplace', what role does technology play in building said readiness? Which aspects do you foresee requiring extensive tech adoption?
Gojek is a digital-first company, so using technology is part of everything we do. As companies navigate the return to the workplace, technology will be critical in promoting productivity and information sharing across teams. This is particularly important as employees adapt to the new environment where some work in the office and others work remotely. At Gojek, we are doing this through the continued use of task management tools such as Asana to ensure alignment across teams, while encouraging greater communication via tools like Zoom and Slack.
In a recent ServiceNow Work survey, 54% of executives expressed worries on account of remote work about outputs, such as delays in product or service delivery, and 48% of employees expressed worries about inputs, like reduced collaboration between business units. How can employers address these concerns?
Strong communications is vital to aligning employers and employees’ expectations. We are actively building a culture of open communication by giving employees a forum to discuss their views with management. For instance, we organise regular company-wide and department-wide townhalls virtually, which promotes two-way communication between employees and management, while giving employees the opportunity to discuss any concerns.
Having shared goals can also increase collaboration and ensure that employers and employees are in greater sync. We use the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) system at Gojek to set goals with measurable results, and this has been very helpful in aligning teams - even across different business units - and ensuring that everyone is working together towards a set of common goals.
In a hybrid work setup, how can employee experience be standardized for those working at home, working from office and working on the ground? What is core to Gojek's employee experience strategy in this new reality?
To standardise the employee experience, it is important to build a culture that is as inclusive as possible.
In line with that, we are making it a priority for all employees to have equal access to information and the tools that they require for work. For example, to ensure everyone at Gojek has a conducive work environment, we provided funds for employees to purchase work-from-home essentials last year, so that they could set up their own workspace at home for optimal productivity.
Understanding how employees feel is also crucial. We are in constant communication with our employees to get feedback in different areas. One of the ways we do this is through regular pulse surveys and an annual Employee Engagement Survey, which looks at employees’ thoughts on their work experience and how we can improve it. Results from our most recent Employee Engagement Survey have been very encouraging, with 74% of participating employees feeling engaged at work in 2020 despite the change in working arrangements brought about by the pandemic.
What key goals - business and people - is Gojek working towards this year?
2020 was a year of change, but it also brought about new growth opportunities as more people rely on digital services - a trend that we expect will continue to increase this year. In line with this, our focus as a business in 2021 will continue to be on meeting consumers’ evolving needs through our platform and services, while helping the millions of driver and merchant partners who rely on our ecosystem for income to remain resilient and access new growth opportunities.
On the people side, we recognise that the external situation across different markets remains fluid, so we are centering our efforts on helping employees navigate these changing conditions and ensuring they are supported through it all. To do this, we are looking at ways to help leaders and managers better support their employees, while doubling down on employee communications to ensure that everyone feels connected and engaged with the company’s mission and work.