Article: We need to rethink how we strengthen connections: Sarah Davies

Strategic HR

We need to rethink how we strengthen connections: Sarah Davies

Sarah Davies, Vice President, Human Resources, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa at Procter & Gamble (P&G) shares how the company has been managing its transition to the ‘new normal’ of work with an increased focus on employees’ safety, their mental wellbeing and adopting a culture of remote working.
We need to rethink how we strengthen connections: Sarah Davies

A company like P&G, the products of which are used daily for cleaning and sanitizing homes had to ensure regular supply chain, employees’ safety and a smooth transition for the rest of the remote workforce even amid lockdown. In a way, P&G has already been working in a physical/digital hybrid work mode, which companies from the other sector gear up to adopt as lockdown in most parts of APAC eases. 

In a recent interview with Sarah Davies, Vice President, Human Resources, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa at Procter & Gamble (P&G), we discuss how P&G has been managing the impact of COVID-19 crisis and the transition to the ‘new normal’ of work. 

The pandemic has hit almost the entire globe and affected all industries. However, there are many unique challenges for every region and sector. How has the pandemic affected business and people decisions at P&G in the diverse markets you cater to?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world and the way we work. At P&G, our commitment to protect our people, serve our consumers and support our communities remains unchanged. Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (AMA) represents two-thirds of the world’s population. During this unprecedented time, everyone at P&G AMA – and around the world – is working diligently to maintain the production, distribution and availability of all our brands for our consumers. 

Many P&G products are used daily for cleaning and sanitizing homes, businesses and other places. Other P&G products are critical for helping consumers maintain proper hygiene, personal health and healthy home environments. Our commitment to serving our consumers and communities begins with healthy employees. The safety of our people and our work environments is our top priority.

We have enabled those who can work remotely to do so by working from home. We also gave employees the flexibility they needed to manage work and personal commitments. For example, during this time, many parents had to facilitate their children’s e-learning. We work with our employees on work schedule flexibility to enable this.

For those who need to be in our manufacturing facilities, robust measures with guidance from medical professionals and local authorities have been put in place to keep employees safe while at work. We implemented temperature checks, physical distancing and shift rotations to keep our employees are safe. Many countries in the region also implemented varying degrees of restricted movements. Where needed – for example, if public transportation was not available – we also provided transportation to safely take employees to our manufacturing & distribution facilities.

HR has been at the forefront of ensuring every employee is safe and can work productively, whether they are at home or they are part of the essential operations in our workplaces. 

We are also helping our business navigate rapidly evolving local guidelines – which can vary from a country-level down to a city-level – to keep our business running. We are constantly evaluating and updating the robust measures to help our people stay safe. We partner with our employees individually and proactively to ensure they feel — and are — protected and safe to serve our consumers, customers, and communities.

As most of P&G’s product lines come under essentials and the importance of personal care and hygiene has only increased, how have you been ensuring a regular supply chain and employees’ safety amid COVID-19 crisis?

Many of our facilities are running around-the-clock with additional shifts to ensure our products are available when our consumers need them. 

With guidance from each country’s government and medical professionals, we are constantly evaluating and updating the robust measures that are already in place to help our people. This includes:

  • Access control measures such as temperature scans, shift rotations, queueing avoidance, and physical distancing wherever possible.
  • Personal protective equipment such as masks are provided for every employee.
  • Comprehensive, methodical cleaning of all production areas, including regular sanitization and surface disinfection that exceeds the most rigorous health authority standards.

Additionally, we are working with our employees to address their specific needs, such as staying at home if they are part of high-risk groups or have pre-existing medical conditions. We also understand that this crisis may affect not only our employees’ physical well-being but also their mental well-being. Hence, we have a helpline with trained professionals available for our employees or their family members 24x7. 

We have also been more deliberate about making connections with each other even while working remotely through informal video conferences. We are doing whatever it takes so that our employees feel engaged, connected and are protected and safe.

How are you preparing for the post lockdown phase? Are you redesigning your workplaces? Will you be taking a similar approach for all the regions or you have specific plans for different markets?

The health of our employees and the safety of our workplaces continues to be our top priority. As each country plans their gradual return to working from our offices & innovation centers, we will be criteria and principle-based. We have established regional guidelines but will implement detailed plans at a country level to ensure the health and well-being of our employees and compliance with local government and health authority regulations.

In general, our employees will return to the office in phases, gradually increasing to 50 percent of our capacity. We will continue to enable working from home and reduce population density through alternating Team A / Team B access. 

In our offices, we will enhance existing safety measures, such as temperature checks, safe distancing protocols, use of face masks, etc. We will also implement any specific measures mandated by each country’s local government and health authorities. Flexibility will be at the core of this criteria and principle-based approach, as are the safety and personal considerations of each employee.

How do you think the future of work will now get redefined? How can HR and business leaders prepare for this new normal of work?

This crisis has forced unprecedented rapid change to the way we live and work. Working from home is the new norm, with technology as an enabler and flexibility being a necessity.

Prior to COVID-19, P&G already enabled flexibility for our employees through flex@work. This helped our employees perform at their peak to meet business objectives while meeting their life’s objectives. Among other things, this included employees having the freedom to regularly work from home on predetermined days. Despite having this in place before the pandemic, it was also not as simple as increasing the number of times our employees worked from home from once a week to five days a week.

As we expect more people to work from home more frequently in the “new normal”, we need to re-evaluate if we are giving our employees the right support to work productively at home especially in a new dynamic where we have employees split between home and office.

This may include hardware and software so that employees have same access to information and tools at home as in the office. We also need to recognize that, when employees regularly work from home, they may have to attend to their children or other tasks. We need to ensure we are truly giving individuals flexibility in their work schedule to address their personal needs.

More than these simple changes, HR and business leaders must also be more deliberate about nurturing a sense of community. This crisis has taught us all to appreciate productive corridor conversations, energizing coffee breaks with others, and effective face-to-face meetings. When more people are working across both the office and from home, we need to rethink how we strengthen connections so that we can still have that shared sense of community.

How is the role of HR changing with the pandemic? What do you think are the core competencies the HR of the present and the future need to build?

Our role in HR to take care of our people has never been truer and more holistic than during this crisis. In companies like P&G, HR is at the forefront managing these changes for our employees. Through employee support and benefit programs, HR became the link between providing P&G people with the resources they need to care for themselves and their families. HR also enabled continued business operations by keeping people safe at work for essential activities. We would not be able to do this successfully without our skills in effective employee relations, use of data & technology, and change management.

The role of HR in ensuring employee engagement and productivity through virtual tools, effective connects & team building plus organization-wide communication done virtually is also a critical new capability. This experience also underscored the need to continually hone our skills in crisis management so that we can be effective leaders in ensuring the continuity of our business.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #COVID-19, #TheNewNormal, #ResetWork

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