Be the first to know about every new Coronavirus story

The post-pandemic workplace is going to be a very different place, and managers and leaders in all organisations will have to navigate extraordinary, new and difficult situations.

In our monthly series, Leaders’ Lessons, CEOs and top executives share insights from their own leadership experiences during the pandemic — and their plans for the great workplace reset to come.

For this second instalment, we asked:

How are you making sure the positive — and accelerated — changes of the past year are embedded permanently?

Tell us

Please share your own reflections on this question with other readers in the comments section below. Our intention is that this series will build into a useful reference source for anyone in a leadership role in 2021 and beyond.

Nikhil Kamath, Zerodha and True Beacon

The writer is co-founder and CIO of the brokerage and trading platform and the wealth management group, based in Bangalore, India

As it is Covid-mandated, we had a company-wide assessment of each and every process. We have relied on tools such as Slack and Zoom for our communications and continue to make these permanent in our post-pandemic culture. We had a daily company-wide call to check in on all employees working remotely, a practice we have continued as it has bolstered communication and encouraged employees to be more collaborative and reach out for help where required. 

We also offered non-essential staff the right to continue working from home after lockdown was lifted. Though we encourage coming in for team meetings, we understand that people have diverse working styles and might work better when they are at home or working remotely in a café. 

Leaders’ Lessons

A global panel of CEOs and leaders offer insights into their pandemic successes, failures — and future plans

Wealth management is an essential service and we were allowed to come to the office even during the lockdown. However, we knew that employees had additional obligations, and could not work long hours. We instituted a hard stop at 5pm. When the rationale was shared with True Beacon clients — that we were trying to increase profitability for them, but not at the expense of our employees’ wellbeing — they were mindful to reach out to their relationship managers and the investment team within working hours. 

By building clear processes for what clients could do if they had a query post 5pm, clients were open for us to continue this mandate. We have observed an increase in productivity internally and intend to continue this 5pm stop.

Donna Morris, Walmart

The writer is chief people officer at the retailer, based in Arkansas, US

At Walmart, our associates — our term for our employees — are at the heart of everything we do. The experiences of 2020 underscored that people are our most important asset. As we look ahead to a post-pandemic world, the people-focused approach to navigating the past year will continue as the foundation of our strategic priorities.

Across the company, we’ll continue to create future-focused, tech-enabled jobs at all levels. For example, after having just a few hundred personal shoppers fulfilling online orders a few years ago, more than 157,000 personal shoppers handled pick-up and delivery orders this past holiday season for customers in the US.

We will maintain a relentless commitment to the physical, emotional and financial wellbeing of associates. This past year, we implemented a Covid-19 emergency leave policy, raised wages for hundreds of thousands of people, and provided resources to build physical immunity and strengthen mental resilience.

We’ll take additional steps to confront systemic racism and inequality to build a Walmart for everyone. We intensified our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion after the tragic killing of George Floyd last year. Our immediate steps included a move to twice yearly reporting of our minority representation, and committing $100m over five years to create a centre to address systemic racism in society head-on.

We’ll remain supportive of our associates’ growth and help them unlock potential. Walmart training academies across the US will continue preparing them for current roles and for the future, while our Live Better U programme provides US-based associates with access to degrees in business-related subjects for $1 a day.

Our success is dependent upon on how we engage, empower and equip associates to serve our customers and communities now and in the future. If we continue to focus on those four strategic areas (digital, wellbeing, inclusion and growth), and get them right, our associates will continue making a difference and they will remain key to our competitive advantage.

Aisha Pandor, SweepSouth

The writer is co-founder and CEO of the household services platform, based in Cape Town, South Africa

Last year was a very challenging time, as during the first stages of lockdown our SweepStars (contracted cleaners) weren't able to work. With the help of investors and customers, we set up a SweepStar fund and raised over R12m (about $800,000) to help support domestic workers.

As a team, we used that time to work on extending our core service offering, which now includes outdoor help such as gardeners and painters. After expanding SweepSouth’s core offering, we saw a 25 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of men booking the services of gardeners, pool cleaners and help with heavy lifting in the home.

Our SweepSouth Connect platform also broadened its professional listings to offer freelance services, from web developers to tax and accountancy services and graphic designers. The platform got AI enhancements, too, and now features a chatbot capability that allows customers to connect directly with professionals. It has an image recognition feature enabling users to take a picture of a household area or broken item so the system can identify which service is required to fix the problem.

In a bid to scale beyond the South African market, we launched SweepSouth in Kenya and are looking at further potential moves across Africa. From an employee perspective, last year boosted our resilience and bonded us even more as a team. No one predicted the hurdles we'd face in 2020, but we couldn't allow ourselves to get despondent. We kept morale up, regrouped and replaced a sense of deflation with creativity and innovation.

We have kept that momentum up in 2021, which has led to a new campaign for our SweepStars in which top performers will be rewarded with shopping and entertainment vouchers, and customers can be part of a monthly fundraising campaign to meet a SweepStar's pressing needs. This month, for example, we are raising funds to buy a wheelchair for a someone whose daughter is physically disabled.

Empathy, and using the platform to enhance the good that our network can bring to others, will continue to be central to how we operate.

Lee Ranson, Eversheds Sutherland (International)

The writer is CEO of the global law firm, based in the UK

Clarity, communication and culture — these are the three Cs of how we are making what felt like “business unusual” in 2020 very much business as usual in 2021 and beyond. 

Setting a clear vision, redefining what the future of work means for us — and then engaging the whole business in the debate is critical. Ensuring we hear everyone’s voices, not just the loudest, is also vital as we create a new normal that reflects and respects the cultural nuances of a global organisation such as ours.

Our shadow board of junior colleagues has been a fantastic resource for this, in particular for testing ideas and gathering feedback as our thinking evolved. 

Experience has shown us that our people don’t fear change per se, they fear loss. My job is to not let change come as a surprise but to excite everyone about the future for both the business and them personally, encouraging them to become the advocates for the change we want to see.

Communication is key. Screen fatigue has loomed large for all of us at times, but the ubiquity and ease of video tech has been a fantastic enabler. Being able to speak to people directly, and often, means we are able to drive change with greater speed and ambition than seemed possible even a year ago.

Ultimately, embedding successful change comes down to culture. Our people have been very clear that any change programme must prize, protect and enhance our organisational culture. If you can establish the connection, people will not only embrace change, they demand it. This is music to my ears.

Our culture is why I have spent my whole professional career at Eversheds Sutherland, and why our purpose and values-led approach to doing business is at the heart of our strategy. Culture matters, now more than ever. 

Next month’s question for the leadership panellists: How do we fix the fallout for women and minorities after the pandemic? 

Tell us . . . 

Share your own reflections with other readers in the comments section below. Our intention is that this series will build into a useful reference source for anyone in a leadership role in 2021 and beyond.



Get alerts on Leadership when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article