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A year ago, offering flexible working was seen mostly as a company statement to attract and retain employees. The most common types of flexible work arrangements included telecommuting, condensed workweeks and flexible working hours. However, since the pandemic, the situation has evolved rapidly. Hybrid working has become particularly pervasive – accompanied by the rapid uptake of work-from-home technologies – and now represents the way forward for many businesses.

Three global companies Verizon, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Mars Wrigley share how they ensure that business runs as smooth as possible while meeting the healthcare needs of their workforce during these turbulent times.

Safety first

Verizon first announced on 12 March, 2020 that it would be shifting to remote work. Within a week, 70% of its 132,000 global workforce started working from home. By the following week, nearly 90% of its total workforce was working remotely.

“We’re currently engaged in a phased return to our office plan. While the specifics vary by global region and local regulations, we’ve designed a process with protocols in place that put our employees’ safety as our number one priority,” says Betty Wagglen, head of human resources for Verizon Asia Pacific.

When the pandemic first erupted, the telecommunications company set up an HR command centre with its HR business partners across the world to answer calls from employees on a daily basis, ensuring that the company was giving rapid responses to the employees.

It also put up a public resource centre where senior leaders delivered video updates to employees every day.

“It was clear that it was really important for people to see our leaders and hear from us in times of uncertainty,” Wagglen says.

Additionally, Verizon identified areas of the business that needed additional support and made arrangements accordingly. The company introduced a ‘Premium Pay’for employees who needed to visit customer sites or a company site and supplied them with personal protective equipment (PPE).

To safeguard employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, every employee had access to 24-hour counselling service, daily webinars from the CEO, an employee assistance programme, a Covid support team set up by HR, meditation and mindfulness sessions and mental health webinars.

Shifting priorities

Since the start of the pandemic, confectionery manufacturer Mars Wrigley has taken proactive measures to limit the spread of the virus and ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees across its global workforce.

All office-based employees are given the flexibility to work from home. If they do decide to go to the office, they can check the office status on an app in which the company manages the capacity of various offices around Asia to ensure safe distancing at work. For employees working in factories, the company makes sure all health and safety regulations are in place, and additional precautions have been taken in some markets that are above the local legal regulations.

“Our priority is the mental and emotional wellbeing of our associates (what Mars Wrigley calls its employees) so at the height of the pandemic. This was an easy decision to make,” says Patrick Gantier, general manager at Mars Wrigley Asia.

“We are planning to continue the flexible working policy for our office-based associates in the future.”

“The lockdown has created the biggest shift in human behaviour since the Industrial Revolution and has challenged many assumptions that we have previously held. We are in the process of creating a roadmap for Mars, but it will be guided by the principle of flexibility and putting the health and wellbeing of our associates first,” echoes Dana Hafeed, VP for people & organisation at Mars Wrigley Global Emerging Markets.

To help its team stay motivated and engaged, Gantier cites technology as a huge help. A memorable initiative for him is an intra-region cooking challenge.

“We knew that strict lockdown measures across Asia meant that many of us were cooking more than usual. So we used the opportunity to run a mini competition, encouraging associates to submit photos of their homemade culinary masterpieces. This might have been a simple engagement activity, but it tapped into the region’s shared love for great food and generated a lot of buzz and connectivity among different teams,” he says.

Cutting edge approach

Prior to the pandemic, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) already had a flexible work policy in place where as much to 60% of its global workforce could work with their leaders and teams to take on some work-from-home arrangements.

In response to the global Covid outbreak, with consideration of each local government’s social-distancing guidelines, the company encourages employees to work from home as a default, while adhering to local office and government guidelines to determine if and when employees should come to the office.

“At the outset of the pandemic, we rapidly activated our country and global crisis management teams, which ultimately act at the direction of our C-suite. Our ‘Reconstitution and Recovery Plan’ thoroughly details all environmental health and safety protocols, and is revised on an ongoing basis to ensure it reflects the latest known research and dynamics of the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Rohini Sachitanand, the Asia-Pacific HR leader for HPE.“

Additionally, our robust Covid plans are informed by the expert guidance and advice of HPE’s in-house public-health nurse and outside medical consultants who ensure our protocols follow the latest advisories of global health officials,” she adds.

The company’s internal workforce survey conducted in 2020 found that 72% of team members did not want to return to a physical worksite full time. In light of this, it introduced a new programme called ‘Edge to Office’ in a bid to maintain and build company culture and employee experience that drives collaboration, innovation and company values beyond the traditional site-centric approach.

Under the programme, those who are able to do their work remotely ‘Edge’ will continue to do their work outside the office most of their time and only need to come into the office when needed by their teams. They will receive a one-time payment to optimise their home setup. Those who have roles that require their presence on site ‘Office’ will have to work at an HPE site.

Once the pandemic has run its course, physical sites and offices will turn into collaboration and culture centres where Edge workers can connect, collaborate and socialise with colleagues.

In Hong Kong, to keep the Edge employees engaged, the company allocated budget for team leaders to organise regular face-to-face team-building activities such as hikes or barbeques. It has also increased communications and engagement activities among all employees, virtually or in person depending on the situation. For instance, hosting recognition and festival celebration events, all-hands meetings, monthly happy hour Fridays, and fortnightly teams meetings.