COVID-19IssueJune 21Opinion

Relooking at the Way We Work

The ‘new normal’ is as applicable to the way we work, as to the way we live

Our lives changed overnight when the pandemic hit the country and the lockdown was announced in March 2020. We faced a continuous stream of challenges – devising and updating medical treatment protocols for covid, developing safety protocols for patients and staff, treating and engaging our noncovid patients, changing government protocols, managing media relations, and keeping up the employee morale, to list a few. We had to quickly change the way we functioned. This was navigating in the dark for most of us.


Change in approach
From a traditional rigid top-down departmentalised approach, we evolved into a contemporary organisational structure of multiple departments collaborating as a team on various tasks.Cross-functional groups were formed to work on critical projects. Daily review meetings were introduced in March ’20, and continue to date. All decisionmakers were involved so that issues are resolved and decisions are taken on the spot. Teams are encouraged to take risks and think outside the box to provide solutions.

Employee engagement
There was tremendous pressure on the staff – long working hours despite the lockdown, fear of infection for self and family and severe physical, emotional, mental and spiritual stress. It was critical to keep the employees engaged and keep their morale high. SAMPARK, an employee engagement programme was launched in July 2020 through which online events, talk sessions, contests were held, focusing on various facets like communication, health and wellness and fun at work. Open house sessions called SAMVAAD were conducted, wherein our leadership team shared updates, answered employee queries and spread words of gratitude and appreciation to all the front line staff. Regular email updates on covid related initiatives were from my office to all employees. Our employees had 24/7 on-call access to our psychologists and psychiatrists in case of any counselling and therapy required. Our weekly twin heart meditation and prayer sessions were open to all.

Demonstrating empathy
There has been no better time to display empathy and compassion to our employees. Transport facilities were arranged to enable the staff to commute during the lockdown. Covid care centres with ambulance services were made operational, for employees who were detected COVID-19 positive with a daily call from HR and other medical facilities. Medical expenses incurred by staff and dependents for COVID-19 treatment outside the hospital were reimbursed. Residential accommodation was arranged for staff who were staying far away from the hospital and could not travel. Special leaves with pay were given to employees who were quarantined.

Engaging patients
Throughout the lockdown, we kept communicating with our patients, through SMS, email and telephone calls. We gave them updates about the hospital covid safety protocols, started a nursing helpline for answering any queries, launched tele/video consulting so that they could reach the doctor from home, ensuring continuity of care. As the lockdown eased, we launched a campaign to get patients back to the hospital, assuring them of their safety. Despite it being the toughest year, it was indeed heartening to see the team rise to tackle all challenges, with grit and determination like never before. We converted the crisis into an opportunity. What made this happen?

Here are some of my learnings on leadership during a crisis.
1. Integrity and ethics are nonnegotiable, they are foundations of good leadership and sustainable businesses. They are tested in times of crisis.
2. Change and adaptability is the key to survival, be it the organisation architecture/design or adopting digital/ new technology for better efficiencies, or our approach to talent management
and employee motivation.
3. Ignorance is not an excuse; external expertise can be built quickly. We learnt to adopt new protocols for safe treatment, set up and launch covid testing facilities etc.
4. Communication and transparency are critical at all times, at all levels. It is equally important to listen- to your staff (regardless of hierarchy) and patients
5. Delegation and empowerment with accountability brings out the best in people. However, in crisis times, continuous monitoring is essential for execution.
6. Stakeholder management is critical but not easy. You need to gain the confidence and trust of your staff, doctors, patients, government, industry peers, and the company board.
7. Do the right thing and walk the talk. I was working long hours in the office and available 24X7 on phone and emails
8. Self-discipline and self-motivation are imperative every day, throughout the day to ensure one can lead from the front.

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly turned the paradigms of work culture overnight. The new work environments and principles have taught us to be open, agile, decisive, empathetic, get rid of departmental silos, adopt new technologies and be prepared for unexpected tougher challenges. The ‘new normal’ is as applicable to the way we work, as to the way we live.

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