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Reimagining Work (Remotely)

The disruption was abrupt and global. And the pandemic decisively changed the odds in favour of working from home. This story has reflections from our employees on how they are rewiring their approach, rearranging their homes and rejigging their schedules for remote working. From dressing formally, to creating a corner office, to growing and using potted plants, everyone seems to have finally adopted the new.

“Initially we were in denial” confesses G.V.R.K. Raju, Vice President, HR, HCCB. He was not alone. Most would have thought that the stay-at-home and do-your-work phenomenon was a blip.

“But then days turned into weeks and weeks into months and it started to dawn that we are in for a long haul. Life had to move on. We needed to find our ways,” adds Raju.

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G.V.R.K. Raju

COVID-19 cases have since been on the rise. And like all other responsible employers, at Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB), the priority has been employee safety. The two-part prescription at HCCB includes, (1) ensuring the safety of people who need to be on-site (factory, market, partner premises) and (2) create the infrastructure and support system that can keep as many employees home. Easier said than done because human beings are social animals. Bandwidth, pipes and computers are only a small portion of the work-from-home story.

Abhishek Gupta, Vice President, Operations, HCCB, lays down the contours when he says, “Our senior leadership team became live examples of how to adjust to the new normal. They took it upon themselves to individually reach out to their colleagues and enquire about their well-being. They also indulged us to an extent. Even while HCCB has some of the best digital infrastructure in the country, the leadership made it appear totally normal, should there be a black-out, bandwidth failure or poor connectivity.” He adds. “Suddenly, we started to find these things normal too. Irritation gave way to humour and candour.”

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Yoginder Grewal

“It was now our turn to return the favour”, says Yoginder Grewal, Chief Technology Officer, HCCB. “There was a sudden surge in virtual meetings. People were collaborating across all functions and levels to ensure nothing suffered. But there was one big challenge. We were never designed for mass workings from home. Never mind the tolerance at the senior most levels but still, my team had to ensure that the IT systems were maintained round the clock without any staff being in the office. Our team members working remotely responded with alacrity taking on different responsibilities to meet the evolving needs of our employees, customers and suppliers in real time.”

Gradually, work picked up. And so did the work styles. “What was once a cause of dejection when I had to cancel all the physical meetings with our external business partners, turned into joy, when I started connecting with those in the remotest corners, digitally,” discloses Saba Sharma, Chief Procurement Officer, HCCB.

“I am not sure I would have been able to travel to meet our partners in those remote locations that I am now regularly connected to, online.”

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Saba Sharma

The pandemic has triggered deep changes beyond hierarchies and structures in ways no one imagined. “No longer are we pausing our relationship building processes and waiting for ‘good’ times. I find the virtual meetings to be much more effective. The talking points are sharply defined, and the interactions are more meaningful and purposeful,” shares Saba. She is now meeting at least one top official from a supplier partner, every week. Add to this the fact that we are all saving a lot of time and money that we would otherwise spend on travel.

Preparation for online meetings is of course the key. Saba in fact urges everyone to be empathetic towards business partners to win their support especially in times of current economic turmoil. “We need to approach our business relationships with long-term perspectives,” she surmises.

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Many others in HCCB have deployed similar practises and routines. The Finance team for instance have been closing their month-end books without anyone having to go to the office. Something that they thought was unimaginable! Similarly, the Georgia tea and coffee team has honoured all service requests from its customers, during the lockdown. Likewise, HCCB factories have successfully managed all the critical operations by working in small independent groups to prevent the potential transmission of the virus. Even the factory audits are now being carried out remotely.

The new ways and routines have busted many myths about efficiency and productivity around work from home and Raju has many stories to share. “What began as a compulsion is fast turning out to be a blessing for most. It took us a global pandemic to realise that we don’t need to be in the same room to have a conversation,” he says. “We are still learning though, because now that the traditional boundaries between personal and professional space is blurring, a sense of balance needs to be re-restored.”

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So not without reason does HCCB CEO Christina Ruggiero share her own tips, tricks and wisdom on remote working, in every monthly townhall. In the most recent one she spoke about how to be empathetic and caring in a virtual set-up. She herself staggers her day and keeps taking breaks in between meetings and plans her day keeping in mind the needs of the others.

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Abhishek Gupta

Abhishek on the other hand – a leader of a very large team – focuses on starting and ending the day at a scheduled time. As a rule, he avoids calling colleagues on weekends and holidays.

Raju emphasises on creating a semblance of office environment at home. Setting up an exclusive corner with proper table and chair makes him feel more comfortable. And so do those pots and potted plants. Calendarising the day is another trick that really works for him. This also helps other people plan and prepare well in advance.

In fact, HCCB has shared several of these learnings with the larger community and stakeholders by publishing DIY videos on the topic on its YouTube channel.

Dressing up formally, on the other hand, works for Saba. “It is my way of announcing to my toddler daughter that I am at work and not available to play with her,” she says.

Other teams have resorted to online yoga sessions, musical talent shows, Pub Talks, Family Days and Tambola to keep themselves connected and lively. People are still discovering many more of these. Even online staycations are being tried.

“When we finally do, we will need to go to the office only for Coke breaks, gossip and print outs,” concludes Abhishek, rather cheekily.

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