Distributed Workforce Makes It Imperative To Build ‘Adaptable Culture’: STL Tech’s CHRO


By: Mastufa Ahmed

As STL grows exponentially, Anjali and her team are building an agile and culturally strong organization by running strong programs on talent, culture, values, and diversity. Anjali has handled multiple-functional excellence areas including strategic HR, industrial relations, organizational development, learning and development, corporate social responsibility, health, safety, and environment and administration. 

Anjali Byce has been named as one of the 100 most talented Global HR Leaders by CHRO Asia and currently co-chairs The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) HR & IR Council in Pune. She has previously worked with Tata Motors, Allianz Bajaj Life Insurance Co, Cummins, and Thermax. 

With uncertainty still abound, how do you see the world of work today, and how is it going to evolve in coming years?

The world redefined by COVID-19 depicts how businesses and society may evolve over the next three to five years as the world grapples with the potential long-term consequences of global contagion. Still, both people-first and remote-first are inseparable. This combination is breaking down geographical barriers and broadening the applicant pool. Moreover, because of the widespread adoption of remote collaboration technologies, we are likely to see more diverse teams distributed across the globe achieve great success while replacing the status quo of local recruitment in the future.

Proactive innovation has helped industries to survive the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 storm. Organizations recognized that rapid change was on the horizon and used technology to adapt to and overcome these unprecedented challenges. However, what was once referred to as “the new normal” has become a way of life. We will see this evolve further into a “digital or hybrid workplace” that is secure, flexible, and allows individuals or teams to manage their day-to-day tasks, self-help capability, and collaborate on projects with other groups. It will also enable them to track their life and wellness goals, understand what is going on in the world around them, and draw on whatever professional knowledge is necessary to do it well.

What should be the priorities of HR leaders with the majority of organizations embracing remote or hybrid work, as offices start reopening across several countries?

HRs play a critical role as a business partner; this became center-stage as companies attempted to regain some semblance of normalcy during the pandemic. The second way of COVID in India delayed the reopening plans of corporates. In my view, the top-most priority of HR and talent leaders is the health and safety of employees. ‘When’ and ‘Who’ returns to the workplace will need to be thought through. Even though the number of cases is reducing, caution cannot be thrown to the winds. Care needs to take that expectant mother or those caring for the elderly are brought back to work only when they feel ready. We will definitely see distributed workforces or hybrid working, as businesses seek to reduce risk and reap the benefits of remote working. Companies will need to provide convenient locations, cutting-edge collaboration technology, and adapt to changing circumstances to ensure continuity and productive output. We will see a lot more companies creating groups of employees with a common skill mix and bringing them sequentially to mitigate the risk of critical skills being impacted in case of an infection. This is prudent for both employee safety and business continuity.

As companies start reinventing their organization with new policies, practices, and frameworks in the digital world, how can leaders get work ‘culture’ right?

Businesses around the world are coming to terms with doing business in the new normal. However, the situation remains far from average, and the threat of virus resurgence looms large. Business operations have resumed, albeit many of them in a hybrid or distributed workforce format. This further emphasizes the importance of companies to ensure their company culture is adaptable to this new normal while being aligned to meeting organizational goals. A good litmus test ensures that organization values form the fulcrum for all people policies, practices, and frameworks. Anchoring on values will sustain the culture irrespective of operating in varied work models. At STL, we start every Executive committee meeting by recognizing peers on values we have seen them display over the month. What a great way to “live our values”.  

Employee Connect is another powerful approach for leaders to ensure work culture is aligned to organizational goals. At STL, we accelerated the number of town halls during the COVID lockdown; we instituted pulse checks and skip levels. Everything that could help us stay connected and navigate towards a common goal.

In the new digital world, how can organizations exploit tech innovations to reinvent and strengthen their work culture? 

Digital technologies are an essential facilitator and enabler of putting these values into action. As the world becomes more and more virtually connected, technology has become the backbone of any industry. While our lives have shrunk between video conferencing tools, but our reach and horizons have expanded. It is no longer necessary to be present at the office to complete the work. Instead, businesses have realized that employees can be equally productive from home as well. While technology empowers firms and employees to ensure business continuity, it also enables employees to deliver at scale, with speed at their best potential! There is an array of tech enablers that can be leveraged. At STL, we focused on Bots to ‘simplify’ employee transactions, gamification to make onboarding fun and inclusive, and moved online for peer recognition and wellness! Technology enabled us to hire 300+ employees around the world, including a vibrant batch of graduate engineer and management trainees. Technology helped enhance our culture, built inclusiveness, and reach for impact.

What attributes will separate highly successful companies in the transition to the post-pandemic workplace?

The ongoing health crisis has taught businesses the importance of operating with minimal resources and maximum optimization. To ensure growth in a technologically driven future, leaders will need to evaluate and reassess their people strategy. Agility and flexibility will be the key mantra for success. As organizations transition to the post-pandemic workplace, the ability of employers to hire, develop, and retain critical talent will continue to determine organizations’ success in the future. A critical differentiator, however, will be having policies and work practices that are agile and meaningful to a cross-section of working models. No longer can policies and practices be “one for all” but instead need to be “something for everyone”. 

How are you building a culturally strong organization, and what initiatives are you taking to make a people-centric culture at STL? How do you measure the impact of your initiatives?

People Centricity is at the heart of STL’s purpose of transforming billions of lives by delivering digital networks. Our culture is an embodiment of this sentiment. 

We focus on the 3 C’s – Connect, Care, and Capability. Staying meaningful and relevant to a rapidly changing context is at the core of our people strategy. We use a multitude of approaches to stay connected with our employees ranging from town halls, to skip level meetings, quarterly reflections, and pulse checks. With a move to mass remote working, we leveraged technology to stay in touch. Care is another element at the heart of our people strategy aligned to our values. During the pandemic, we honored every commitment and virtually onboarded more than 300+ STLers (Stellars as we call ourselves!) around the world. Health and mental well-being too became paramount. The lockdown did not deter us from building future capabilities and empowering employees to perform at their best potential. Building people-centric culture also anchors on our pride of becoming ‘multipliers’- enabling others.

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