The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has shown us a world we had never imagined before. This new reality has forced governments, organizations and individuals alike to take strong and immediate steps to reassess the present and prepare for the new next. The way we looked at work, workplace and the workforce has changed drastically as well. And with this, the role of technology, culture, employee experience and in fact, the HR leader has only been amplified further. Organizations that will be quick to respond and adapt to this new normal, will be the ones to bounce back earlier and better than the rest.
As we assess the changing face of the world of work and how it is responding to these changing dynamics, we talk to Jignasha Amin Grooms, Chief Human Resources Officer, Epicor where shares her thoughts on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the software industry, the long-term impact it will have on corporate culture, how it will forever transform HR’s role, and the role technology will play in the new normal as organizations work towards bringing back normalcy.
Grooms is a human rights lawyer and before joining Epicor, she served as HR Leader at Cisco. She is passionate about the human part of human resources, and as the CHRO at Epicor, she is focused on strengthening employee engagement as well as supporting their globally diverse, customer-first culture. More specifically, she provides overall leadership for Epicor’s People and Talent Strategy, as well as strategy and direction for talent- and people-related matters globally.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
As a global organization, how do you ensure there is a consistent employee experience/culture?
Fostering a consistent company culture and global employee experience is critical – it’s also easier said than done. However, for folks who see this as a daunting task, take heart. When I joined Epicor in November 2016, employees had little-to-no understanding of how the company worked or how their role added value. There was a perception that leadership was focused on cost cutting, with little regard for employees.
My plan to course-correct involved several steps: visit our locations in person and listen to employees, learn where the pain points were, determine what our ideal company culture would look like, get leadership buy-in, and then lead by example. The goal: to put our employees at the center of our business value proposition.
When it came to transforming HR, I worked to rebrand what our function would be for Epicor – a function centered on employee growth, innovative ideas, and agile processes. Several major changes were made, including leveraging Artificial Intelligence to drive agility, implementing a standardized and structured performance management system based off merit, and launching a career journey matrix to help employees understand how they can grow internally within the organization.
Due to this people-first approach, we have experienced a measurable, organic shift in Glassdoor ratings. Since 2017, employees’ approval rating of the company has increased to 82% (up 18%), and the CEO approval rating increased to 95% (up 30%). We are now also being externally recognized by global media as a great place to work.
How has COVID-19 impacted your industry and your HR strategy/initiatives?
As a software company that focuses on small- and medium-sized businesses, COVID-19 has definitively impacted our customer base in all six of the industries we serve (manufacturing, retail, distribution, lumber, auto, and services).
Because we are a global company, it was critical for us to get ahead of this situation. In early January, our HR team established a cross-functional task force that focuses on the safety and security of our employees globally. That task force has been instrumental in laying the foundation for how we efficiently and effectively transitioned into a WFH environment. This proactive thinking paid off – 99.1% of our employees transitioned to working from home without any additional equipment. We also sought to support employees by allowing folks a safe opportunity to pick up items from their desk area that would make WFH more effective for them (e.g. dual monitors, printers, etc.).
Additionally, we continue to monitor the situation by keeping weekly tabs on our employees and customers to see how they are doing, particularly when it comes to reopening. We’ve seen slow and steady progress over the last month around the reopening schedule, and we have thoughtfully focused on aligning our customer and sales support towards those locations.
We also reengineered our task force to focus on our own return-to-office initiative so that the employees who are ready to work on location can voluntarily come back to a safe and healthy environment. We want them to understand Epicor’s global preparedness plan, what we’ll provide regarding safety measures, and what is expected from them when they return in order support the actions we are taking on their behalf.
How do you think the workplace will look post-COVID-19 in the short term?
Physically, I think it will look very different. Many companies have already decided to keep their workforce virtual for the next few months, and some have decided to remain virtual for the rest of 2020.
At Epicor, we believe that there is a lot of innovation, communication, and collaboration that comes from being in the office together. For some of our global locations, employees have a cultural expectation – perhaps even a need – to be able to come into an office environment. That’s why we seek to be sensitive to our employees’ needs globally by giving them the freedom to make the best decision for them and their families at this time. For folks who are ready to return, we are focused on providing a safe environment, following all local guidelines, and staying compliant. For example, our largest location is in Monterrey, Mexico. The government of Mexico requires us to fill out a detailed document with pictures of health stations and areas where employees can go if they start to exhibit symptoms. We are taking every single precaution we need to so that as employees request to return to the office, we can support their health and well-being to the best of our ability.
Alternatively, from a business standpoint, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around when things will return to some sense of normalcy.
As a result, I believe the workplace focus in the short term will continue to be on business resiliency and how companies can improve their ability to adapt quickly and efficiently.
What potential long-term impact on corporate culture do you anticipate as a result of the pandemic?
I think the way we work will shift significantly over the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years. The short answer is that, long term, I believe we will see a sizable increase in WFH adoption coupled with intentional and innovative efforts to promote a connected company culture.
As newer generations come into the workforce, that shift will be defined by where they find value. I love that there have been some small but significant silver linings that have come out of what we all have collectively gone through globally. One of those silver linings has been the opportunity to pilot WFH. That said, employees are always going to want spaces where they can come together to collaborate. I believe it ultimately comes down to flexibility – providing employees the choice to work from home and in environments that give them joy and fulfillment, which ultimately drives productivity and engagement.
One thing that corporations can learn and plan for in the long term is how to help your workforce evolve to be able to effectively and efficiently WFH while still staying engaged and feeling like they are part of the overall corporate culture. Because as COVID-19 has taught us, one of the largest downsides with WFH is feeling isolated. At Epicor, we are looking for new and innovative ways to continue to drive employee engagement and collaboration, as well as how to drive a very differentiated employee experience – especially when our business is on a global scale.
Do you think COVID-19 will forever transform the HR's role; how so?
Rather than transform HR’s role, I think COVID-19 put a spotlight on where HR has already been headed. One of the big shifts I’ve seen during my 20+ years as an HR leader is that HR has moved from a more transactional personnel/support function to a critical business function that serves as a strategic thought leader for organizations.
Successful HR teams have stepped up during this unique season to help drive critical business decisions and change management with agility and adaptability. At Epicor, I’m fortunate to partner with a supportive executive leadership team and a CEO who empowers HR.
Ultimately, a company’s success is interdependent on all these HR efforts happening the right way at the right time. Success will also hinge on employees staying engaged and feeling like their company will put them first. Therefore, as HR’s role evolves with the times, I expect it to continue to serve as a thought leader that is focused on company culture and change management.
How has the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation journeys of organizations?
COVID-19 has highlighted the necessity of digital transformation for companies that want to stay relevant. It’s no longer a question of if, but when. As a result, we are seeing both increased urgency and accelerated adoption. Many organizations that began the journey prior to this situation are ramping up implementation, and others that had been on the fence are beginning the process because they now understand the benefits first-hand.
It’s obvious that technology-based solutions are what allow us to carry on with business through shelter in place guidelines and social distancing protocols. For example, retailers and food services are able to continue business operations by offering curbside pickup and touch-free transactions with handheld devices.
It’s the accessibility and mobility of Cloud in particular that is allowing companies to adapt quickly in order to retain some sense of business resiliency.
What role would technology play in the new normal as organizations work towards bringing back normalcy?
Just as it has been key to keeping organizations running these past few months during extraordinary circumstances, technology is going to play a huge role as workplaces move toward “normalcy”.
Even before COVID-19, we were in the midst of the next industrial revolution – Industry 4.0. To stay competitive, companies will need to leverage artificial intelligence (AI), business intelligence (BI), business analytics (BA), and machine learning (ML) to drive efficiency and effectiveness. What’s exciting is that these tools allow us to iterate on a process (e.g. HR, programming, support, etc.) to the point where we can free up hundreds of hours of employee time, which will in turn drive efficiency and effectiveness like never before.
For example, over the past year at Epicor, HR heavily leveraged AI to drive agility and address the competitive talent acquisition process. At Epicor, we are focused internally on driving digital transformation not just for ourselves, but for our customers in order to offer a differentiated experience and help drive security and data preservation in a way we haven’t seen before.