An inspiring leader with an illustrious career journey spanning about 25 years, Elisabeth Stene is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Digi Telecommunications. Prior to Digi, Elisabeth served as CHRO at Multiconsult.
She began her career in early 1990s with Telenor, and rose through the ranks across geographies over a period of 16 years. Elisabeth led people processes and human capital strategy at Telenor, before moving on from her role as SVP , Transformation and HR Operations, Group People Development.
In this exclusive interview with People Matters and ServiceNow, Elisabeth talks about HSE measures for a safe-return to the workplace, leveraging people-crafted solutions for digitisation, prioritizing employee well-being and retaining normalcy amid adapting to changes.
Read on for excerpts from the interaction.
In your opinion, what key trends will redefine work, workforce and workplace for the telco industry this year?
For most of us, COVID-19 has impacted, and to a large degree transformed our way of working. The pandemic has forced us to quickly adapt to a new way of working almost overnight with many adjustments made to ensure that business continues. So, it's no surprise that some of these changes will remain post COVID-19 and transform the ‘normal’ way of work that we used to know.
One obvious change that was brought about by COVID-19 is the new era of flexible way of work where employees have been working remotely. However, with the vaccine available in Malaysia, we will see more and more businesses reopen, either having their employees to come back and work in the office or opting to continue having their staff working remotely or adopting the hybrid way of work model.
While Digi practices flexibility in our way of work, we are also a firm believer that working from office remains important. In fact, being one of the essential service industries, there are certain roles within our company that require our employees to be in the office to ensure smooth and efficient business operation as we continue to keep customers connected to what matters most to them.
However, we do see the role of the office to change.
Rather than being used as a place for employees to respond to emails, the office will be more of a place for collaborative brainstorming and problem solving besides being the place for community building and forming company culture.
We will see more non-traditional spaces such as lobbies and even office cafes being used to host meetings and discussions. More spaces within the office areas are to be repurposed and refurbished to create a more conducive work environment that helps foster creativity and collaboration.
In turn, this has increased expectation among employees for their companies to provide the necessary infrastructure and tools that will support and facilitate their work whether in the office or remotely. Similarly in Digi, we have continued to invest in ensuring that our employees are empowered with digital tools for continued collaboration, helping them to remain productive. On top of that, we also made sure that our employees are able to work from home comfortably by assisting them to purchase office furniture for their use at a discounted rate.
We have also observed a shift where most companies are forced to adopt and transition digitally especially for their HR processes. Although Digi had started to digitalise some of our HR processes before the pandemic, the digitalisation of other relevant processes have all accelerated during the past year. Currently, about 80% of Digi’s HR processes are done digitally, mostly via our very own HR appl, altHR.
As talks around 'return to workplace' emerge, in your opinion, what are some non-negotiables that employers must account for?
First and foremost, employees’ well-being is where companies should be looking into as they prepare for a workplace environment which is safe and aligned to the SOPs set by the Government. It is the responsibility of an organisation to look after its employee’s well-being, as a healthy workforce is essential to enhance productivity and ensure sustainability of a business, and in turn create a positive impact to the organisation.
For Digi, the employee’s safety remains our utmost priority. Stringent industry-leading health, safety and environmental (HSE) measures were implemented at our premises from the onset of the pandemic and this practice will continue into the future as we ensure that all employees adhere to our standard health and safety operating procedures as well as the business continuity plan (BCP) guidelines. These are done and will continue to be emphasised through education, numerous reminders, and constant check-ins with team members.
Companies also need to continue practicing open and clear communication with their employees. Leaders should be able to consistently engage their team members and keep everyone informed and on board with what is currently happening within the company. In Digi, we have always and will continue to have an open and transparent communication with the employees as often as we can, and at every level of the organisation.
We believe a clear understanding of what is currently happening and what the company does for employees and customers will not only help employees understand the impact and value that their contribution brings but will also encourage them to give their best.
Some examples of how we ensure communications are cascaded down from top to bottom include the changes in the frequency of our various townhalls -- from quarterly to monthly townhalls where top management updates employees virtually on what is happening, monthly leaderships forum to bi-weekly, regular one-on-one dialogues between leaders and their teams.
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?
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the critical needs for companies to have effective collaboration for their businesses to survive. They need to be able to bring their people who are working remotely together, promote team dynamics, boost their morale to keep productivity going, while providing the necessary tools.
For Digi, it was important for us to ensure that our company strategies are well understood by all employees and we do this through top-down communication. We repeatedly reference back to the strategies during all of our communication forums such as the bi-weekly leadership forums, monthly town halls, daily team huddles, weekly bulletin updates, which are all organised virtually.
As Digi is lean on resources, we are also aware of the need to have effective collaboration by optimising expertise and finding the fastest way to address market needs. We did this by bringing together experts within the company or establishing partnership with relevant external partners and other Telenor Business Units, to discuss views and share their expertise and experience. As each function within the company has its own domain expertise and that not everyone is a master of everything, it is also important for us to ensure that everyone is on the same page and has the same understanding on the common deliverables.
We believe the diversity of experience will help us identify potential risks and find opportunities from different viewpoints as we generate new solutions and adapt to changing situations.
Another biggest change that we have seen in Digi is the need to have proper digital means of collaborating. The pandemic has seen Digizens becoming much more advanced users of digital tools up to a point where they now have a new level of expectation when it comes to collaboration tools. So, as a preparation for post COVID, Digi is already working on guidelines for employees and is also exploring other tools for a more efficient collaboration.
Despite the perceived accelerated digital adoption, a startling 91% of executives say certain routine business workflows are done completely or partially offline at their companies. In your opinion, what gaps are keeping any requisite digitization at bay?
We believe one of the keys to a successful digitalisation journey lies in the transformation of people and its mindset shift. Most of the digitalisation that we are going through requires people-crafted solutions. Not only that, transitioning employees to doing things digitally requires acceptance, readiness, adaptability and effort invested in training.
While moving routine business workflows onto a digital playing field is important, what equally matters is having company-wide support with the right people and right mindset in place to see through an effective digital transformation.
We also need to be mindful that not every business problem can be mitigated by adopting digital as some challenges are much more complex and this requires more than just digitalisation to close the gap.
With reference to enabling workplace and workforce readiness for a ‘return to workplace’ strategy, which all pockets do you foresee requiring extensive tech adoption?
Being a digital company, tech adoption has always been our fundamental core and this will be the same post-pandemic. But we expect to see the current practice with digital meetings/tele meetings to be continued and expanded into new areas such as training, talent acquisition, onboarding etc. The benefits of these are twofold: we allow employees the flexibility to participate remotely and we also facilitate attendees across borders and boundaries.
One good example of something we have initiated during the pandemic and will be continuing, is the increased number of digital check-ins for our remote managers who are working within our supply chain, tracking the operations of contractors and subcontractors working on-site through our in-house developed Digi Permit To Work (D’PTW) app.
Another example would be how despite last year’s movement restrictions which limit physical engagements and meetings, we had successfully continued with our flagship young talents programme, Digi CXO Apprentice. By pivoting to digitalising the recruitment process and leveraging on various digital tools, we managed to reach out to young talent not only in Malaysia but also from outside the country. The result was a record number of applications for the programme yet. Through online and virtual assessments, eight apprentices were selected and placed with their respective mentors. This is definitely a process that we will continue to practice even after the pandemic is over.
What does the working model for Digi look like in 2021 - remote work, return to work or a hybrid working model? What are the key considerations in this decision-making process?
While Digi practices flexibility in our way of work, we are also a firm believer that working from office remains important.
We believe that some, if not all roles, would benefit from being physically present, but of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for all employees, and we are continually accessing the situation to cater for our employees’ productivity, well-being and mental health.
Our utmost priority is to ensure that whilst abiding by the SOPs set by the government we continue to provide a safe and conducive environment for Digizens to work and allow them to perform at their best and highest potential.
Experience and productivity are critical to organizational and people sustainability as businesses aspire to move from recovery to growth. In a hybrid work setup, how can employee experience be standardized for those working at home and those working from office?
We believe employees who are kept engaged, have a good understanding of the company’s strategies and have the necessary support and tools from the company to help them perform well will more or less have similar experience regardless of whether they are working from the office or from home. But we also need to be mindful that when working from home, the lines between work and personal time sometimes becomes blurry. We are mitigating this by establishing better guidelines on working from home.
Companies should also aspire to continue to retain as much normalcy as possible for employees as they adapt to changes brought about by this new way of work.
To this end, Digi has made it a point to keep and continue with all of our planned engagement activities such as festive get-togethers, teambuilding, town halls, and so on, but tweaked the delivery format to virtual events.