Hybrid work, skills that go beyond certifications, digitisation... The work environment evolves constantly. Juela Lutchumun, our Human Resources lead in Mauritius, discusses changes in the working environment with Business Magazine, Mauritius. *
Q. COVID-19 has changed the world of work. Since employment opportunities are becoming scarce, new types of jobs are emerging, people are willing to reskill themselves and working from home is becoming common practice. What is your assessment of the prevailing situation?
JL: Like all of us, I have certainly not imagined the challenges that COVID-19 would bring to us. The uncertainty has crushed the economy, employees are in stressful situations, and as HR professionals, we are trying our level best to keep everything in perspective and aligned.
The sudden shift in the work culture has brought new challenges. I believe the top priorities are our employees' wellbeing, how we help keep employees engaged, and providing the right communication channels and tools for remote work.
The COVID 19 outbreak has brought the employees' mental health to the fore. When we have the team working in an office environment, it is easier to understand their pulse and sensitivities, and that helps us address their issues. But for employees working remotely, communication routes have been significantly compromised and managers need to be really sensitive to finding out how their team members are feeling.
Without the right communication channels, it becomes difficult to manage a work force. Though tools like Zoom or Teams are commonly used to meet the needs of our people, it is certainly not enough to get everyone on the same page. COVID-19 has led us to rethink the way we operate. We now place much more emphasis on the importance of informal communication and soft skills, for instance.
At Ocorian, keeping abreast of changes and upskilling our workforce have always been a top priority and hence keeping us resilient during this pandemic. We have a very motivated and adaptable team, who despite all the challenges, has been able deliver a seamless service to our clients while at the same time we ensure that they are safe.
Q: Most businesses have had to focus on restructuring their teams and acquiring new talent because of the crisis. What are the current trends?
JL: Against all odds, there has been an increasing demand for people in the financial sector because of both growth and mobility within the sector. At Ocorian, we welcome the opportunity to tap into this talent pool. Our recruitment team targets the best talent which means recruiting people with the right attitude as well as the right skill set. We value team players and people who wish to grow and develop with the company.
Ocorian is a fast-growing company with global expertise and reach. Candidates joining Ocorian play an important role in a highly collaborative and dynamic team. Support is provided and our in-house learning and development team provides all the training and development an individual will need to succeed. We ensure our new recruits have the latitude to use their initiative and make their mark.
Q: You have recently been appointed as Head of HR of Ocorian. How will your role contribute to developing a new work culture that takes into consideration the evolving needs of the company?
JL: Since my appointment in March this year, I have contributed towards reinforcing the work culture at Ocorian, one that fosters meritocracy and the belief in and the growth of our people. I wish to highlight that the global business industry is a service industry where people should be at the forefront â€“ it is a people- led business. I believe that employees today care about competitive pay and benefits, but they also care deeply about flexibility, meaningful work and choosing an employer that is a good corporate citizen. By promoting flexible environments, investing in people, connecting to positive changes in the world, we will continue to grow and remain attractive for the younger generation.
I am a firm believer of employee development and always encourage open dialogue between employees and managers. Open dialogue helps to create bonding, mutual respect and most importantly working together on a development plan that helps employees meet their personal and career-growth goals. We value our people and invest in their success with the right training, mentorships, and opportunities for learning.
The pandemic has also made us even more aware of the importance of mental and emotional wellbeing. Many of our people have been working very hard and very long hours since the pandemic began and we are placing a lot of emphasis on taking a break in the working day and taking time off. Our aim is to create an even more flexible and conducive work culture at Ocorian, one where our people feel comfortable and safe.
Q: Covid-19 has changed the rules of the game. Whilst some firms are making redundancies, others are finding it challenging to recruit the right people. What are the strategies put in place to meet such needs? Do companies, such as Ocorian, struggle to recruit these days?
JL: Many jobs today, and many more soon will require specific skills to make the most of the many economic opportunities in today's dynamic and complex labour market. For anyone who wants to have a meaningful career and just not a regular job in this evolving and disruptive environment, it is not enough to have an education or even relevant job-related training. He or she needs to have the right employability skills as well. These are the general skills that make someone desirable to a hiring organisation. They go beyond qualifications and experience and are the core skills and traits that are needed in almost every job. For me, a candidate to stand out of the crowd should have a good mix of social behavioural skills both in terms of communication and teamwork, cognitive skills not only to be solution driven but also to be able to make decision and self-management skills be it for time management or emotional intelligence. We have witnessed that with a remote working program, these skills are indeed a must to have.
At Ocorian, we welcome all job applications. That said, we recruit wisely. We have recently embarked on streamlining our processes, delivering a leaner Ocorian 2.0. This entails a greater visibility on processes for our staff and making promotion opportunities "visually"clearer. The new management team has several ideas to engage Ocorian on new avenues of growth.
Q: Remote working is likely to shut down open spaces. As Head of HR, how would you maintain your employees' readiness to transition to the office? That said, is it important to encourage them to work at the office again?
JL: The health and safety of our staff is our top priority. We strictly abide by all local health and sanitary protocols advised by the Ministry of Health. At the moment we continue to encourage our teams to work from home as far as possible. Return to work is on a purely voluntary basis. We are highly flexible on this. We recognise that work is not a place, and our results should be measured by demonstrating collaborative ways of working and delivery of the right outcomes. We are committed to designing a workplace that provides a progressive, flexible working environment for our teams whilst balancing client needs, business outputs and meaningful team interactions in the office. We appreciate that circumstances are different for every employee and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
We keep our employees informed about the prevailing situation with regular communications. In addition, we have a robust business continuity plan in the event members of our staff test positive, and positive and offer psychological support to anyone that needs it.
Q: How about your role? Do you prefer working from home or is it essential for you to be at the office to manage the human resource department?
JL: I personally prefer a blended approach, with a mix of both work from home and office work. This is because I find exclusively working from home detrimental to both my physical and mental health. This is very personal; at home, I have the tendency to get hooked up on work, thus often finding myself working after hours. I regularly miss lunches too and find my posture at my home desk is poor!
Working at the office allows me to have social interactions. The mere fact of leaving the house and being outdoors is a definitive boost to my morale.
The work from home is embedded in our culture, but for sure, we need to consider a holistic approach. While work from home is practical, nothing is more enriching to be socialising at the office with the colleagues and peers.
Personally, I would like a blended approach, whereas I have my routine going to office and also working from home on some days. During the past months, together with the HR team, we have agreed on the WFH practices, set expectations and trust within the team, ensure that the team members have the support and equipment they need in the exercise of their role, keep the rhythm of regular one to one meeting or team meetings.
Q: What else will change in the work culture once the crisis is over, besides adjusting to working from home? Will some habits live on once everybody is back to the office?
JL: At Ocorian, we strongly believe that there will be long-lasting changes once the pandemic is over. And we fully embrace that. We need to try new things, take new approaches, listen and respond to feedback and see what works and what does not. Doing things differently will contribute to enhancing operations and processes.
The workplace is also expected to become more collaborative and more socially interactive. Online video calls during the pandemic have shown us how unique face-to-face interactions with people outside your team are, to gather valuable insights.
We are now also more conscious of the relevance of informal communication within the workplace, be it checking on your colleague or having a chit-chat with someone from another team. Video call software is more than a way to get work done; they help us connect across the Ocorian network. The video collaboration platforms are here to stay.
Q: What are the initiatives put in place by Ocorian to create a healthy and flexible work environment for its staff?
JL: The wellbeing of our people is of paramount importance at Ocorian. Our Chief People Officer, Paul McAvoy, has spoken about mental health publicly, in a bid to get our colleagues to accept to talk about their mental wellbeing. Our Executive Committee, including Robert Hovenier, the Managing Director of Ocorian in Mauritius, host regular, informal listening sessions where employees from across the group can speak openly and share honest feedback.
As part of our wellness programme, we have hosted online yoga sessions, taken part in a fitness challenge, and appointed dedicated Mental Health First Aiders. In Mauritius, we also recently delivered cookies and muffins to employees' homes with personalised notes as a gesture of our appreciation of their work.
We embrace diversity and inclusiveness and host open conversations. We recently held a webinar with Gareth Thomas, during which the openly gay Welsh rugby legend shared his experience of fighting stigma. At Ocorian, our people can be open about their identity and be happy and proud about it.