How HCL technologies prepares for the new normal

Varre Appa Rao, CHRO, HCL Technologies in an exclusive chat with HRKatha mentions how the company plans to resume working from office in the ‘new normal’ from work-from-home, in various stages


With their farsightedness at the very onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the management at HCL Technologies had begun taking certain precautions as early as January 2020. This has paid them good dividends, and now, they are all set for the new normal.

Resumption of operations in the ‘new normal’

“Now that the workforce is coming back to work, all our office spaces have been deeply cleansed. We have mandated a distance of six feet between each employee, to ensure social distancing,” claims Varre Appa Rao, CHRO, HCL Technologies.

“We have reduced the number of gates so that we can keep a check on the number of working staff and also ensure that they sanitise their hands every now and then,” states Rao.

HCL is not in a hurry to get its entire workforce back in office. Hence, in Rao’s words, “We are working only with four per cent of our staff in offices or customer location offices, while the remaining 96 per cent have been asked to work from their homes. “So it’s not business continuity for us, but more like business as usual. Though we can easily accommodate up to 50 per cent of our workforce if they return to office, but we don’t wish to force our employees to come to work,” explains Rao.

The four per cent returning to work have been clearly demarcated into three sets.
“The first set will comprise those who are dependent upon our labs for engineering and R&D services. These employees will need to visit the labs to test a TV, laptop or washing machine, as the necessary testing equipment are available only at the labs. The second set consists of those catering to customers who may not be comfortable with the force working from home, because of data privacy and security issues. The third set of people is made up of those working from customer locations. If the governments in their countries permit them to work from their offices, then they will do so.”

Precautions prior to lockdown

Talking about employees’ safety, Rao talked about how the process began in the month of January itself. “We had actually planned and prepared ourselves for this scenario as we believed that there was no harm in being prepared and cautious even before such a crisis is upon us. So, we started a 24×7 healthcare helpline for our employees across the globe, in association with our sister company, HCL Healthcare,” reveals Rao.

Varre Appa Rao

“So it’s not business continuity for us, but more like business as usual. Though we can easily accommodate up to 50 per cent of our workforce if they return to office, but we don’t wish to force our employees to come to work”

In February, the Company began restricting its employees’ travel, avoiding any country where more than 15 cases were reported. The management marked those countries as red zones. The employees, as well as their families, were instructed to avoid flying to the countries in that zone. Those who had travelled back from those countries were asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We had also stocked sanitisers, thermometers and masks in big numbers, in case of emergency, and as a mandate to maintain proper hygiene for our employees,” discloses Rao.

Engagement post imposition of lockdown

Post the announcement of lockdown, employee engagement became a very important point of concern for the management at HCL Technologies. They understood that it would not be easy for their employees to sit at one place and work for nine hours consecutively.

An internal communication microsite was launched, where necessary survival guidelines were given on a daily basis, on how to use sanitisers, face masks, and so on.
“Employee connect activities began at a global level, with daily 10-minute Zumba fitness sessions for all our staff members. We made the employees’ families indulge in various activities, with specific programmes for kids as well. In the month of April alone Microsoft Teams software recorded 100k plus users with 100 million minutes. We also conducted surveys in terms of what was working and what wasn’t, and to our amazement, 90 per cent of the employees claimed that they were very happy,” claims Rao.

The remaining 10 per cent had issues with internet speed in India, and socialising in Europe. “In India, we sorted the issue of internet bandwidth and even initiated the reimbursement of the usage up to a level, which was almost double of what was being reimbursed under normal working conditions,” says Rao.

He further adds, “We also created separate databanks that employees could rely on in case they exhausted their daily limit.”

Being aware that work from home could be troublesome, the management provided the employees pandemic leaves, wherein, if the family members needed care and attention, the employees could avail of 14 days of pandemic leave.

Shift towards virtual hiring and onboarding

For the past two and a half years, the management has been enthusiastically working on virtual hiring processes. While the walk-in mode still continues — with people being asked to come to our offices for interviews — the focus has been more on virtual interviewing, wherein there are panels sitting and interviewing potential candidates from any location.
The entire process is captured on video with the help of tech, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Hence, “if someone tries to cheat our system, we will get to know immediately. This measure did pay us good dividends during this COVId-19 menace and has also helped us roll out offer letters within hours. Alongside, the virtual onboarding process too has been pretty seamless for us,” explains Rao.

Throwing light on the need for updated skills within their workforce, Rao states, “When new skills initially pop up in the market, there is bound to be a scarcity of people possessing specific expertise in those skills. Hence, to combat this issue, we have been running learning and training programmes within our organisation to upskill our internal staff, to make up for the shortage of such skills in particular locations.”

This helps in fulfil HCL’s internal needs. “We keep training our people in domains, such as cyber security, data sciences and cloud computing. Therefore, today, our internal fulfilment — which was merely 30 per cent two years back — has touched almost 70 per cent. Also, we have saved on the average resource cost, which would have otherwise been much higher than our internal costs.”

Rao further went on to summarise the ‘new normal’ in three points: First, customers’ responses would be unpredictable unless they get used to the new ways of purchasing. Second, governments will gradually be mandating up to 50 per cent workforce to work from home, as it will be a challenge to maintain social distancing otherwise. Lastly, the need for commercial building and spaces too will come down if work from home becomes the new normal. This may pose a macroeconomic and socioeconomic problem for governments. In the worst case scenario, if the need for commercial real estate vanishes, so will the need for unorganised jobs.

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