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As the impact of the pandemic is slowly withering away with vaccination drives running in full swing across countries, business leaders have been planning for various return-to-office scenarios and new ways of working. What becomes extremely crucial for organizations and leaders is to ensure they are able to carve out the ideal employee experience for their people in this new hybrid work scenario.
In this exclusive interview, Mai Lan Nguyen, SVP, North America Human Resources, Schneider Electric shares her views on how organizations can better prepare themselves for a smooth return-to-office journey and ameliorate employee experience as they recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also shares some insights on Schneider Electric’s recent initiative that provides flexibility for women and men to balance both their professional and personal life.
Nguyen is Senior Vice President of Human Resources, North America Operations for Schneider Electric. In this role, she leads the HR organization strategy, planning and execution to drive business success and growth through best in class people programs, processes and policies. She is a member of the North America Executive Leadership Team. Mai Lan defines herself as a global nomad and has been with Schneider Electric for 15 years, during which she spent 8 years working in China and Brazil. Throughout her tenure she has held several key roles of increasing responsibility. She is credited with transforming the company’s talent acquisition and mobility functions, helping drive executive recruitment and on-boarding programs, and creating high-performance teams. She is a global nomad, half French - half Vietnamese and is a passionate data-driven HR enthusiast inspired by future oriented and innovative businesses. She loves challenges, being part of a high performing team and helping create inclusive and people-centered organizations.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
With organizations struggling to recover from the effects of the pandemic and increasingly embracing the hybrid mode of work for their employees, how can they invest to ameliorate employee experience?
There will be an interesting shift of values within the workforce over the next few years as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees are now asking themselves, “Do I like how I’m being treated here?” and “Do I want to stay here?”
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We know that employees have high standards on who they want to work for and that they have other options, so we need to keep them engaged and happy. To bolster the employee experience, businesses need to offer the whole package to employees and even prospects, too. It is about championing the right value proposition which goes way beyond the financials. It is about working for a company that has a meaningful purpose, a competitive set of benefits, the right work culture, a flexible schedule and more.
The things that we are doing, the intangibles like removing roadblocks to make things less stressful for employees or creating a workplace that respects their various needs, are very important for loyalty and to combat attrition. Our mantra is ‘let’s win the hearts and minds of our employees’ by putting their hearts first. So far, the efforts are working as our turnover has been fairly stable.
The pandemic made it clear that supporting workers in their personal lives effectively allows employees to have better lives and contribute more to the organization with a higher level of performance. How can HR leaders come up with a sophisticated approach in terms of offering tailored responses to employees' challenges and managing workers' overall experience as organizations enter the next phase?
We drive continuous listening of our employees via our annual engagement survey with strong action planning, upward leadership feedback, and ongoing recognition within all levels of the organization. These all provide insights on the desires of our employees. We also continue to benchmark against other organizations and evaluate how we can focus on the future needs of our employees and what we call ‘’moments that matter”, meaning important career milestones such as onboarding, changing of roles, promotions, and departures to name some examples. The emerging future HR trends along with feedback from our employees point us in the appropriate direction.
Knowing the pandemic caused many women to leave the workforce to take care of family at the onset of COVID-19, Schneider Electric created the New Ways of Working initiative to provide flexibility for women and men to balance both their professional and personal life. Please tell us more about this initiative.
We created the New Ways of Working initiative to provide flexibility for women and men to balance both their professional and personal life. Each one of us has a unique life and work situation and I believe in work/life integration versus balance. The initiative focuses on ensuring successful hybrid working environments by providing employees with an ergonomic home office package including a standing/sitting desk and emergency back-up care for their family and pets. Additionally, benefits such as part-time work, COVID-19 paid time off, and job sharing were offered to ensure our employees were afforded the flexibility to manage their professional and personal schedules. This program is already paying off, with preliminary data showing that our voluntary attrition rate for female employees decreased several points through Q1 2021.
Please share some insights on Schneider Electric North America’s return-to-office journey as 45% of its 30,000 employees have already returned or are preparing to return to the office and what the company is doing to keep them safe.
Starting June 1st, we reopened all our offices in the US and allowed all employees to return to the office based on their personal choice. Consistent with our new ways of working practices, returning to the office is an elective choice and employees are still empowered to work remotely. We are currently adapting our COVID-19 safety protocols following the new CDC guidance for vaccinated people and updating our mask and social distancing requirements. Starting from July, we expect to allow vaccinated employees who voluntarily disclose their vaccination status to stop mask wearing and social distancing. Unvaccinated people, or those who choose not to disclose their vaccination status, will continue on with the COVID-19 safety protocols including mask wearing, social distancing and personal hygiene. At each facility, employees and visitors must still undergo temperature screening and a health declaration upon entry, and capacity limitations will still apply for offices and meeting rooms. Our responsibility is to ensure our employees feel comfortable with returning to the office when they are ready to do so.
How do you see technology and data transforming the office of the future, especially concerning employee experience?
As we determine how to operate in the new normal, the office of the future will be a place for collaboration. Head-down work will be done at home or at an offsite work site. Our technology—Teams as one example—will enable our employees to work collaboratively with one another, with others in other organizations, and with customers without unnecessary travel. Technology allows us to live out our green and sustainability efforts while supporting our employees’ desires for more balance. They can meet with a customer on a project and then make it to their child’s soccer game that afternoon. We’re also leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) with our Open Talent Market tool where AI matches an employee’s interest with a potential opportunity elsewhere in the organization. This enables the employee to continue to develop themselves professionally and make valuable contributions to the organization, while also staying motivated and engaged.
How do you see the future of employee experience post-COVID-19?
Schneider Electric plans to keep our progressive programs and benefits intact, even in a post-pandemic world, while also looking for additional ways to expand flexibility in the future as we prepare for more of our employees to return to the office and in some cases, to continue to work in a hybrid environment. We want to ensure our employees feel supported to work in the way that is best for them.