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Human Resources Magazine spoke with Rob Wells from Workday, a leading global cloud-based enterprise technology solutions provider, about how the business is supporting its employees, customers and partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q&A with Rob Wells, President, Workday Asia

How have you been helping to support the global workforce in this time of crisis?
We, and our customers, see Workday as an essential business platform and especially so during the current crisis when the world is changing so fast. 

Since we were founded in 2005, our objective has been to reinvent the whole enterprise application system and enable businesses to be more agile. Back then, companies were buying HR systems from traditional vendors and deploying them in their internal IT infrastructure. However, owing to the length of time it took to deploy, the systems were out of date as soon as they were ready to use and HR teams still did not have the tools they needed to engage their workforces effectively and elevate the talent and skills for the future.

Our early decision to adopt cloud technology, as well as our initial HCM toolkit, means we can deploy our software quickly and constantly update our platform and tools to reflect the changing needs of our customers. As a result, we now have well over 3200 customers, with 46 million employee users, using Workday round the world.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated companies’ urgency to change and to be more flexible and agile. Since the start of the pandemic in January, there has been approximately a 30-fold increase in the usage of the workforce and financial planning capabilities in Workday, as organisations respond to the challenges that COVID-19 presents. This reinforces that we took the right decisions when we developed designed the platform when we first launched.

Can you elaborate a little on what Workday has done to support its employees under a working from home environment?
One of the first things we had to do was to work out how to effectively run the business and support our employees while they were working from home. Being a cloud-based business, this was less of a challenge than it was for many organisations, but we wanted to go further and offer our workmates all the support they needed. Therefore, we launched the COVID-19 Care Kit within the Workday platform.

The COVID-19 Care Kit is a set of tools and guides that look different for each employee depending on their role. One of the benefits of Workday is you can craft the user experience around the needs of each person. When I go into the Virtual Care Kit as a business leader, I get a view of the behaviours of our teams, and tips to help me look after our people’s wellbeing.

For example, my Hong Kong team has been working from home since January and many have children, live in relatively small flats and have enormous pressures on them. Therefore, we built a tool within the Virtual Care Kit to help managers assess the optimum length of online meetings so they can focus on their work, without neglecting their other responsibilities.

 We’ve also adapted other tools within Workday to support our customers during the current crisis. In the retail industry our mobile tools are being used in distribution warehouses to monitor the movement of people and implement appropriate social distancing measures so the workplace does not get overcrowded.

To ensure we continue to meet the changing needs of our customers and provide accurate new tools through the R&D process, we also have an initiative called Workday community. So far, we have taken around 100 different suggestions and quickly incorporated them into our products. This includes a new reporting tool that allows our customers to get a better view of their employees’ work status in real time, for example, when are they working from home or on emergency leave.

How do you think HR in Hong Kong is embracing digital transformation?
I gave a talk in Hong Kong about six months ago where I presented the results of a survey that showed that although executives in Hong Kong recognise the need for digital transformation, very few were delivering it successfully.

No doubt, the situation has changed enormously since then, but it will be interesting to see the winners and losers from this, in terms of how agile companies have been during the current environment (the so-called new normal) and the game changing examples from some of our business leaders.  

What can HR do to ensure they stay in touch with their employees and ensure that they remain engaged while working remotely?
I think it’s the responsibility of all managers, not just the HR team, to keep engaged with their employees. It’s a learning experience for all of us to work out how to do this in a remote working world.

 We are all getting accustomed to online meetings, but we need to think about the way we manage them. We need to ensure meetings are both effective and enjoyable. I might suggest shorter meetings or, when longer meetings are required, build in plenty of breaks.    Fun is important too. We had a meeting last week where everyone turned up dressed in a theme representing where they would like to go on vacation after COVID-19!

HR can also help by encouraging bonding activities. So instead of meeting in the cafeteria at work, our Southeast Asia team decided to invite everyone to show off what was in their pantry. It’s also important not to forget social responsibility during lockdown.  For Pride Week, we organised an all company celebration when everyone wore pink for the day.  

But the work doesn’t stop. Our customers, partners and team have really demonstrated great agility delivering a range of activities remotely, including design workshops, discussion cafes, and user acceptance testing. We also have customers around the world who are continuing to deploy Workday and we’ve managed to transition with relative ease from delivering around 60% of implementations remotely, to almost 100% today.

How can HR ensure data security when employees are remote working?
Security is incredibly important. This is a key focus area for us and we have a responsibility to protect our customers’ data at all times.

Workday was designed as a security first, cloud-based solution. The data in Workday is always protected and so from point of data entry and throughout the journey to and from our data centres it is always fully encrypted. It is therefore an incredibly secure environment and we are proud that our customers continue to entrust us with their data.