If you have ever walked into the IPDC Head Office in Gulshan after 6pm on weekdays, you will realise that the lobby looks more like a playground than an office.
There are multiple tables set up for people to play table tennis, carrom, chess, and other board games, with a seating arrangement for spectators. On crisp winter evenings, if you go up to the roof of the six-storey building, you will find teams of two playing badminton.
There is no distinction during these games, the CEO, management, and all employees including the support staff, gather to play in groups and cheer for one another.
That is the kind of place IPDC Finance is, a place where everyone stays true to the company tagline, "Jaago Uchhashe", and its brand color, magenta.
On March 19, when it was first declared that employees would be sent home with their laptops and only essential employees would be coming in on a rotation basis, it faded the warmth of the magenta spirit that lives within the IPDC employees.
The lobby was now empty, and an air of panic loomed on the office premises.
While everyone was trying to set up their makeshift offices at home and digitising all previous practices and procedures, the IPDC management team was trying to figure out how to keep the employees, who are the heartbeat of the company, engaged and motivated just like before.
This coronavirus pandemic has caused tremendous disruption in lives and businesses, and human resources (HR) is the key to supporting companies and catalyzing changes in the workplace.
Organisations must rethink, reimagine and reconsider how they can foster talent, deliver services, and strengthen themselves through a forward-thinking HR strategy.
Communication and Creating Awareness
We realised that communication and creating awareness were key. Thus, we started off by making it a point to stay connected with everyone, keeping track of their mental and physical state in real-time.
All employees started getting calls from the HR Team on alternative days to check up on their health and their families, generating a daily report submitted to management on the present conditions of all employees, which helped management to stay updated on the employees and support them, when necessary.
We realised that it was time to digitise all the events we use to have in the pre-coronavirus world, including "Townhall Meetings," which now takes place in our private Facebook Group.
In these Townhall meetings, our CEO and other members of the Management Committee communicate the business updates, strategies and priorities and assure employees that IPDC is keeping its head up and racing with even more momentum to combat the pandemic.
The HR Team continued their "HR Hour" online, an initiative where, all employees are welcome to reach out to the CHRO about absolutely all kinds of issues. This way we can constantly keep up with the magenta heartbeat and make sure it is still beating.
Allowing all employees access to the top management increases transparency and gives a sense of assurance and safety for those in need. Multiple online sessions were conducted on Covid Awareness covering 100 percent of the employees to raise awareness on vital safety measures, both at work and home.
The IPDC also arranged a "Sales Summit" for sales employees all over Bangladesh to help them understand the implications of physical immobility amid the pandemic and how to be a better salesperson regardless.
The previous processes have become somewhat redundant, and now newer and more unconventional methods of conducting business and selling a pitch need to be detected and trained so that there is no impact on the business itself.
Employee Engagement Activities
While there is a fear of job/salary cuts everywhere, ours roared with virtual celebrations and employee engagement activities.
You can tell how vibrant the employees are if you ever enter the company's virtual celebrations, which include Pohela Boishak and Eid Reunion Programmes till date.
These virtual celebrations are conducted in our Facebook group, where approximately 900 employees are actively present, watching our programs from their homes with their families.
Apart from the physical ailments that the coronavirus carried, there seemed to be mental health fallout for the masses. Mental health repercussions regarding what is happening during this pandemic, is bound to cause stress behavior for many, and that reduces morale and productivity.
Then there are the physical implications of being sedentary and suffering from pandemic related stress. To top it all, there is the absence of a social life within and outside the workplace.
Virtual meetings and virtual socialisation cause more burnouts and can feel very overwhelming, inducing anxiety for many.
Thus, we continued our "Mental Health sessions" to prepare employees for the mental health implications that this virus carried, where renowned psychologist talked about stress management, self-care, etc. IPDC also conducted online sessions on "Parenting During the Pandemic" where employees with children were given guidance by a professional on how to balance work and children while working from home or battling the virus itself.
The process of coming up with initiatives for the employees during shutdown is rather imaginative and needs unconventional thinking, which was absent in the pre-coronavirus world.
We eventually came up with "Stay Home – Stay Fit", a two-month campaign, where all employees were formed into teams and asked to compete against one another. A panel consisting of senior management was given the responsibility of judging the competition.
There was a total number of three challenges, the first requiring them to submit different iftar/meals during Ramadan, which was judged based on calorie count, food value and presentation points of the meals.
The second challenge was on mental wellbeing, so we brought in a professional psychologist who took online sessions on mental health and asked employees to share their hobbies, allowing us to find hidden talents among them.
The third challenge was a physical fitness challenge, where employees were asked to submit a report on their step-count and calories-burned on a regular basis through an app to keep score of which teams secured the highest number.
This campaign allowed a significantly high employee engagement as everyone was constantly connected online. Afterwards, winners were recognised and appreciated during the Townhall Meeting.
Employee development initiatives
Realising the seriousness and likely long-term effects of the Covid crisis, the IPDC made it a priority to start looking for employee development alternatives such as e-learning and virtual trainings and meetings.
Online video conferencing platforms were utilised to its maximum capacity. Teams have also resorted to having daily virtual meetings to discuss all pending matters and future strategies, ensuring smooth operation of the business, but we try to give them a break on weekends, of course.
Online training by internal and external resource has been exhausted to make sure no one is sitting idle. Learning has never stopped at IPDC, thanks to the combined efforts of the HR Team, internal trainers and experts and our tech-savvy employees.
An extensive number of trainings have taken place in the past three months, covering more than 90 percent of the total employees through almost 6,000 total hours of training.
And on an average, each employee attended at least three training programmes in the last three months and these trainings covered the development of both functional and soft skills.
Talent Acquisition and Reward
One of our main focuses during this pandemic was to keep employee morale high, and we started off by paying everyone's salary a couple of weeks ahead, including festival bonus before Eid.
We also paid performance bonus for 2019 and implemented annual increment and promotions in the month of April 2020 just like every year. We continued sales incentive for the sales force too.
Furthermore, the headcount at IPDC has not stopped growing even during this pandemic.
Those who were given offers right before and during the lockdown were all brought on-board online, and their orientations were digitised, leading to a smooth transition of the beginning of their journey at IPDC.
All these practices played as a morale booster and gave a sense of security to our employees.
After the shutdown was lifted, the management still discouraged employees from coming to the office unless absolutely necessary because of the rising number of COVID cases, which is why less than 10 percent of the employees came back in rotations, who were absolutely essential and needed to work from the premises.
In addition to sick, aged and expecting employees, employees with new-born or toddlers were given priority to work from home. Multiple steps and precautions have been implemented to guarantee the safety of those coming into the head office and all twelve branches.
The IPDC has both the technical ability and progressive mindset to understand the magnitude of the pandemic and keep their employees safe, happy, and healthy even amid a crisis. The procedures and practices in the organisation were already so digitised and ahead of its time that the IT Team was able to smoothly transition all employees into working from home.
There are more lessons to be learned than taught during this pandemic. The biggest one we have learned is that we human beings are capable of coming up with an infinite number of ideas on survival.
While we sit in the comfort of our homes and wait to be reunited with those we use to see every day, we can only keep coming up with more creative and unconventional ideas on how to stay happy, healthy and connected. Until then, we can watch the undying spirit of the IPDC employees living unbound.
The article was written by Sharmeen Annie, chief human resources officer at the IPDC Finance Ltd and Saiyara Mahmud, assistant manager of the Brand and Corporate Communication.