There is a quiz circulating on social media currently that asks who led the digital transformation of your company? Was it the MD? The IT Head? The Communications Head? Or #COVID-19? No prizes for guessing which got the most votes! Indeed, the global pandemic has introduced changes more than anticipated forcing companies to re-think their ways of working, their adaptation of technology and their methods of connecting with employees.
I was already sitting at home on March 16 due to proactive ‘work from home’ measures announced by Bayer when news of the virus trickling into different countries and regions after China started gaining public attention. Back then, I imagined that this was a problem for others, not me and the situation would soon be under control (within a few weeks) and somehow humanity would find a way to defeat the virus. Never in my dreams would I have seen myself so far away from my office desk where I spent around 8 hours a day.
Soon each team was already on an action plan to salvage the situation within their areas of expertise. The IT team was working overnight for a solution to expand the IT infrastructure so that maximum employees could access key business applications within the comfort and safety of their homes. The Crop Science colleagues were reaching out to productions sites and farmers to see how they could speed up the delivery of crucial seeds and agri-inputs for an upcoming Kharif season. The Pharmaceuticals colleagues were reaching out to doctors offering their support through digital platforms and providing them with much needed protective gear.
With so much happening, we as a Communications team had a bigger role to play not only in reinforcing our Bayer commitment to our employees and the rest of the world but also in amplifying the good work being done. Our CEO had set three promises: First, to protect the safety and well-being of our employees. Second, to ensure business continuity in our operations. Third, to use our expertise to support governments, health authorities and communities with urgently needed medicines, supplies, and financial support. How do we, as communications, make those promises come alive?
In the first few weeks, we focused on the promise to our employees. In order to safeguard the health and well-being of employees, many were asked to work from home wherever possible. For us in India, staying at home or working from home was a bit unusual. With a traditional belief of ‘work is worship’, our mindset was designed over the years to associate work with being physically present at the workplace. We had to ask or rather order employees to stay at home in the days before the Government enforced lockdown was announced. For this we started with a #StayHome #StaySafe campaign that employees could customize by adding their photographs and share it on their LinkedIn pages or other social media handles. Over time, we encouraged them to share their #WorkFromHome experiences, positive moments with the family, work-life balance tips, ideas to improve health and hobbies, etc.
With employees now working remotely from home, we had to re-look at our communication plan and platforms. Earlier we worked on multiple platforms that catered to an age-diverse geographically-spread and technologically-graded target audience. But with the lockdown restrictions in place, we had to make a choice or rather we had to let the employees choose their most preferred and comfortable medium. Although the BayerNet – our official internal communication channel (app and desktop version) was an all-time favourite, employees had turned to Microsoft Teams for connecting with their leaders and colleagues as well as for business calls. So, we temporarily adopted this channel to communicate and interact with close to 4000 employees across the country. The result - we saw close to around 2000 actively engaged users over the last month. As they say, necessity is the mother of all adaptations (or inventions) and all though there were some employees who were more comfortable with traditional mediums earlier, they began exploring and trying out the online platforms.
We first started with posting small stories of how each one was coping through the initial weeks. As popularity and participation grew, we began hearing stories how some employees were stepping up to make a personal contribution and to help neighbouring communities during these challenging times by providing them with home-cooked meals, home-stitched masks, etc. We were so overwhelmed with these warm gestures that we began calling them our #BayerHeroes and started sharing these stories not only internally but also externally with family and friends on social media. This turned out to be quite a hit (witnessed by an increase in social media engagement). You can follow our Bayer India Facebook page to find some of these inspirational stories.
Next, employees wanted to hear about how Bayer was helping in the fight against the pandemic. Of course, the global communications team had set up a web-based corona ticker (click here to view), but our employees wanted specific details about our India efforts. We didn’t just applaud the big financial contributions by the company in India, but we began showcasing the smaller efforts undertaken by various sites and groups as they teamed up with healthcare workers, doctors, police personnel, gram panchayats, farmers and distributors in their network to learn about their problems and provide them with the solutions or expertise to overcome those challenges. We gathered beautiful stories of how our field teams approached Post India to set up temporary kiosks for farmers with no access to liquid funds in order to continue essential agricultural operations and how colleagues from our breeding sites were helping to sanitize the neighbourhoods.
Amidst all of this, it was important also to focus on business continuity efforts and we highlighted our office heroes who continued to play a crucial role while working from home or at the production sites today so that as an organization we could grow #StongerTogether tomorrow. And that was the basis of our next campaign where we picked examples of how employees were working to ensure salaries and invoices were paid on time today so that employees and business partners could better support their families and occupations tomorrow. How the Site Services team was enforcing stringent safety and hygiene protocols at all Bayer sites today, so that our colleagues could continue to benefit from a safe working environment tomorrow. How Crop Science colleagues were continuing to provide farmers with a steady supply of crop seeds and farm advisory through digital and audio platforms today so that they could achieve good crop productivity and farm incomes tomorrow.
The new invisible, unexpected and unprecedented novel virus presented everyone with a new and unchartered territory. While this entailed different degrees of struggles for everyone, we wanted to remind our colleagues and friends that they needed to take a break and have some fun. So, we put together a Bayer Bingo Challenge where you could tick off activities completed during this time and we also put together a #Stayhome playlist on Spotify by collecting recommendations from employees.
Like many other offices and organizations, we too had to embrace the changes with almost no time to transition. We didn’t have the answers right away, but it was those constant dialogues, regular updates and posts that kept employees, customers and other stakeholders connected and engaged along the way. For me as a communications professional, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to work on new channels, connect with colleagues at a more personal level and experiment with engagement ideas. And quite frankly I am not sure whether the changes induced by the pandemic will be permanent, but they definitely have changed the way employees and friends now connect with each other for the better. It has shown us that we need each other and even more, that we need to communicate to survive!