‘Digitization is the key to future’

Yuvraj Shrivastava is a Chief of Human Resources and Administration Officer at Ncell Axiata, Nepal’s leading telecom company. The HRM talked with Shrivastava on impact of Covid-19 on HR management, new HR practices and lesson learnt from the pandemic.

Yuvraj Shrivastava


What has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the most for HR professionals? What are the areas of concern that employers might be called upon to address going forward?

While many HR professionals have struggled through difficult times with the changing landscapes of any business, the rapid spread of the coronavirus globally brought a troubling twist. Unlike floods or earthquakes, the virus doesn’t hit once and goes away. It lingers as we have experienced in the last 18months, leaving business leaders and employees “uncertain” about what could be next.

This uncertainty of not knowing the endpoint has made HR’s job harder. The pandemic has exponentially expanded the role and scope of HR – as employees are experiencing more disruption in their professional and personal lives than ever before. HR is carrying the mantle of being the voice of the company daily, guiding the leadership and employees to adapt to the new normal effectively and efficiently. HR professionals are literally keeping the companies and their employees together while everyone has been physically forced to be apart.

With moving business targets, employers are now bound to rethink, reimagine and reconsider how they can foster agility, promote flexibility, adapt digitization, deliver services and strengthen the organization through a forward-thinking HR strategy – which includes but is not limited to delivering the most compelling work experience, employee well-being & mental health, leadership development, cross-skilling & upskilling, internal communications, shifts in benefits and building strong/sustainable strategic partnerships.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has been stressful for organizations overall, it has been even more stressful for the HR Managers and the employees. What would be your advice for the HR Managers and employees to ensure that the office spirits remain high?

My advice for all professionals (HR and all employees) is that “It is principles, and not processes that should be front and center” during these unprecedented times. And principles should be to deliver against these four core goals: safeguarding our business, protecting one another, serving our customers better, and supporting our communities.

An organization is resilient only when it has welldefined culture and clarity of purpose in times of crisis, which invariably requires a re-orientation on the part of both employers and employees to strengthen their commitment.

Every crisis brings opportunities also. What, according to you, are the biggest opportunities that Covid-19 has brought forth when it comes to HR management in Nepal?

The Covid-19 pandemic has become the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. It is imperative to prioritize and strategize for the future by accelerating digital transformation and adoption in as many areas as possible. Investments in digitization across verticals & especially HR will streamline the processes which not only allow the workforce to stay engaged and continue to be productive virtually but also reduce administrative burdens and lower costs of operations. Technology-enabled tools that provide real-time metrics will help decisionmakers to spot trends, manage the workforce more effectively & prepare to compete globally.

“Digitization” is the key to the future and one of the biggest opportunities to focus on which cannot be ignored by any organization.

Due to the pandemic, new practices such as remote working and telecommuting have emerged as new normals. Is this an indicator of the things to come in the future? Will we see big corporates like Ncell opting for more remote working practices in the future?

The introduction of new practices as the new normal among corporates clearly indicates there is no “waiting for a better time.” The time to start humanizing the future of work is now. In this effort, many more new things are bound to come which will help organizations thrive in the future (not merely surviving) and creating resilience to manage instability.

Currently, Ncell is practicing remote working for the whole organization with exception of the need to be physically present, which for now is something which we are advocating to reduce the risk of spread as much as possible. Thus the far existing model is working well for us, but again, is that the option to go for in the longer-term run? It is something too early to mull over at this point in time.

Suffice to say we are committed to getting the best out of the forced and mandatory remote practices and we are well prepared for adopting any work practices depending on the circumstances. From this vantage point, we think reverting to working from the office is a likely scenario when we believe it is safe to do so.

The Covid-19 outbreak has pushed almost all businesses to strengthen their digital transformation efforts. What are the major changes or strategies that Ncell adopted in the last one and a half years in terms of digital transformation when it comes to work culture, office management, and HR management?

The pandemic has taught, in fact, forced the need of going and being digital and its preparedness.

In 2019 at Ncell, we began our journey of creating M.A.D. organization (Modern workplace. Agile workforce. Digital culture). Our digital transformation journey which is ongoing and is a continuous process includes the use of tools and platforms extensively as a work routine that helped us well in swapping through the situation and adapt to the remote working immediately after the announcement of lockdown across the country in March 2020.

Early adoption of Axiata’s Digital maturity framework at Ncell helped us to remain focused, to engage and educate departments about their current state in terms of leveraging digital capabilities and identifying possibilities/ opportunities for digital to play a role. It helped assess a function’s digital readiness and identify digital capabilities and critical success factors across.

I am happy and proud to say that in the Digital Maturity Index of Ncell, HR is the top scorer on the leadership board for the last two years.

The health issue, the safe working environment became the major issue post-Covid. How has Ncell managed on this front in the last one and a half years? How do HR heads like you manage employees’ well-being and helping them achieve their work-life balance?

We are proud in sharing that we maintained Workfrom-Home for most of the time and even now for the majority of our staff other than customer-facing, fieldwork, and critical business projects. To categorically mention few initiatives which we believe helped us manage our employees and ensure their well beings are:

Unlimited data to support working from home

  • Continuous engagement with employees via digital platform i.e. Microsoft Teams
  • Continuous conversation and dialogue with front liners, team heads, and other employees from critical units to know and understand their situation amidst the pandemic
  • Implementation of Admin 24*7 hotline.
  • Free PCR tests and Doctor Consultations
  • Placement of O2 Concentrators for the emergency use of employees and their family members.
  • Hospital tie-ups for emergency and MoUs for Isolation Centers
  • Emergency Response Team l Home delivery of medicines and other essentials for employees
  • Vaccination to employees in support of Ministry of Health and Population
  • Launch of employee safety tracker and pulse checks to track the wellbeing of employees and their family members
  • Multiple holistic and wellbeing sessions including Yoga week, stress management sessions, mindfulness sessions, meditation, and breath workshops among others
  • Multiple interactive sessions with doctors, pediatric and consultants to understand about coping with the pandemic, knowing about Covid-19, dietary, dos and don’ts among others
  • Development of company level SOPs and guidelines in coping with the pandemic
  • Employee handbooks
  • Strict adherence to Covid safety protocols in all Ncell premises
  • Regular disinfection of office premises, working stations, vehicles and all

Turbulent times demand emotional resilience. Layoffs were the major issue that many organizations across the world faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. And, there were major layoffs in the Nepali corporate world also. What was the case with Ncell? How you as HR head managed this crisis?

“One Company, One Family”, is one of the five core values of Ncell, which we firmly believe and stand for. There was not a single layoff, or any remuneration cut for our employees during this period. In fact, we had embarked on an extensive traineeship program for over 50 trainees, which is still ongoing, to continue to provide a platform to nurture an opportunity for would-be graduates to be exposed to a corporate and professional environment during these times.

Ncell is not spared from the impact of this pandemic – our business was also been materially impacted since March 2020. But as one Ncell family, this team has worked tirelessly to even be more cost-efficient – save on our expenses, cut down our wastes, and shared our increased workload. It was not HR alone which led from the front but each Ncell colleague, guided by our CEO and Executive Committee Members and People Managers, joined hand together to face the crisis. I would also like to appreciate NETU (Employee Union) too for playing the positive role during this period.

What differences do you find in the field of Human Resources over the years in Nepal?

HR is no longer a support func – tion. It has become an integral part of the organization structure like sales, finance, or marketing. In my interac – tion with professionals across Nepal, I have seen the change in their outlook towards the HR function.

Especially when the Covid-19 pan – demic has disrupted global econo – mies and businesses, HR has been at the heart of it, leading from the front. With many organizations struggling for recovery, the role of HR is even more important than before. Organi – zations who have still not recognized this need and with HR lagging, will take even more time to adapt & suc – ceed in the post-pandemic era.

I have come across many active HR forums and there have been various conferences for the upliftment of the HR fraternity in Nepal. While brows – ing through the LinkedIn page of the organizations of Nepal, I can see the tremendous amount of work being done by the HR professionals in their own organization. There are positive changes and it can get on the right trajectory it deserves once HR profes – sionals themselves will come out of the mindset of just being a support function doing recruitment, payroll, or events/engagements.

What is the most challenging part of talent acquisition in the context of Nepal?

Nepal is full of talents. While in – terviewing the candidates, interacting with the trainees, job seekers, and col – lege graduates, I am always left awe – struck getting to know their perspec – tives and thought processes. What I think is missing here is a centralized/ common system/ information-sharing platform which can bridge the GAP between the required skill set put forward by an organization and the re – sources available – essentially match – ing the right person to the right job. In absence, it becomes arduous to identify the right talent for the job and at the right time which creates an im – balance in the job ecosystem, thereby frustrating both job seekers and employers. Otherwise, I believe Nepal has a lot to offer and I have been lucky to work with many such talents in our company.

What advice would you like to give to people who want to start their career in HR?

As a profession, HR has consis – tently ranked high on the lists of best career options. The US News & World Report ranks the role of HR specialist at 17 on their list of Best Business Jobs and as one of the 100 Best Jobs over – all for 2020. People aspiring a career in HR should first understand the pri – mary reasons why a career in human resources stands out:

Make a difference: HR is respon – sible for organizational outcomes and managing the most valuable business asset — people. Working in HR can help shape the employee’s work ex – perience at every stage and create an organizational culture. You may have access to insider views on how the entire organization works and the op – portunity to participate in its growth and development.

Challenging: Finding, hiring, de – veloping, and retaining talent is an art. The stakes are even higher depending on the sector, as new norms emerge with the entry of the millennial gen – eration along with new expectations, leading it to be a truly strategic func – tion.

Endlessly interesting: The func – tion combines many attributes to create value, such as a combination of academics and skills on one side, psychology, emotions, behavior, and finance on the other. Each day brings in new activities, tasks, and people to interact with.

If the interest, reasons & objec – tives regarding an HR career is clear to oneself, then HR is the function for them. Changes which can be sig – nificant are inevitable, and by being in HR you can be in the best place to catalyze transformation and motivate shifts that will reinvent organizations.

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