In an exclusive interaction with Human Capital, Dinesh Ramamurthi, CHRO - OYO Hotels & Homes, shares his views on managing people and business amid COVID crisis.
Hospitality has been hit hard by the current COVID-19 pandemic. How it has been with OYO?
The current situation world over is deeply concerning to each and every one of us. The hospitality industry has been deeply impacted because of the lockdown and travel restrictions. This is an unprecedented crisis and something that has impacted companies that have been in existence for as many as 70-90 years. OYO is not immune to it either. While this means a huge impact on our occupancies and revenue, we at OYO, stand committed and united to do everything in our control to assist our asset partners, guests and employees in every way possible.
Globally, we’ve taken multiple measures to reach out those in need. We have supported healthcare workers and offered them safe places in India, USA, UK, Malaysia, Indonesia and Latin America. We reached out to 15+ embassies, in order to support the Ministry of Tourism in efforts to secure shelter for all travellers in need across the country. In Japan, our hotels and apartments are available at special costs for those who need these safe spaces and we will continue our efforts with the aim of helping anyone and everyone who needs our assistance in these testing times.
In order to mitigate COVID-19’s impact and ensure long-term success and sustenance of the business, we are taking all necessary actions, like reducing controllable costs, voluntary salary cuts accepted by leaders, and more.
Ritesh Agarwal, the Founder & CEO of OYO has decided to forego 100% of his salary for the rest of the year effective April 2020. OYO’s entire executive leadership (CXOs) team, including myself, have taken a voluntary pay cut, starting at 25%, with many opting for an additional uncapped amount, and some going up to 50% to enable building the runway for the company. The company is taking a difficult but necessary step for India, whereby we are asking all OYOprenuers to accept a reduction in their fixed compensation by 25%, effective till July 2020 payroll. We’ve ensured that all other benefits remain unchanged and the action is planned in such a way that post the proposed pay cut, the fixed compensation for any employee is not less than INR 5 lakhs per annum. This ensures a large percentage of our colleagues at lower pay scales see no impact.
These developments have not been easy for us, and we have ensured that we stay true to our values. We have deliberated, discussed and debated on what’s the best we can do for our employees and the business in the environment we are in, to arrive at these decisions.
You’ve recently announced leave with limited benefits. Can you share more details?
Currently, our key priority is that our people keep their jobs and we are doing everything possible to ensure that. We continue to stand by our commitment to minimizing job losses despite a deep impact on the business and have announced the onset of voluntary leaves with limited benefits (LwLB) for a certain number of employees in India, effective May 4, 2020. This is a part of the global exercise announced by the Founder & CEO on April 8. At that time, we had confirmed that there will be no furloughs/leaves related actions in India until the 21-day lockdown ends. I would like to reiterate that there will be no people actions in India during the extended lockdown period and these voluntary leaves with limited benefits announced on April 22, will be effective from May 4, 2020.
While we have taken this hard decision, we have ensured that those going on this leave will avail benefits such as the continuation of medical insurance and parental insurance, school fee reimbursement and ex-gratia support. In addition, to our colleagues on LwLB, in case there is an unforeseen medical emergency, we will support beyond the insured amounts if the need so arises. Under medical insurance, employees will continue to be covered under OYO’s medical insurance coverage benefits. Employee's Corporate Mediclaim Policy, Personal Accident & Term Insurance will all keep continuing during the LwLB period and their spouse and kids will also be covered as well in case they have been enrolled.
We are deeply committed to see all OYOpreneurs through this situation and bring as many of them back to work as soon as possible.
How did you manage the entire process? What has been the kind of reception that you would have seen internally?
Our priority has always been to be empathetic and compassionate, especially in the execution of these decisions. At every stage of the process, we’ve ensured transparent communication and the message was communicated to all employees through a town hall. This was followed by eight team-level town halls by various OYO leaders. Keeping the circumstances in mind, we conducted one-on-one video interactions with our impacted colleagues. These were led by 450+ panellists, who received adequate training over the past few days to manage all possible scenarios. If an impacted colleague required additional discussions to get their questions answered, especially from leaders, we made provisions for that as well.
I have personally received messages from many OYOpreneurs who have stood by us and accepted these decisions and we are ever thankful for their hard work, support and perseverance in making OYO’s mission a reality.
Here are just some of the examples that have given us hope that we will emerge stronger and more resilient when this crisis is over.
How are you protecting employees at a junior level, probably sole bread earners?
We are cognizant that many of the junior level OYOpreneurs would probably be the sole bread earners in their family hence, employees with the salary slab of INR 5 lac per annum and below have been excluded from this exercise. They will not be subjected to any salary cuts and this ensures a large percentage of our colleagues at lower pay scales see no impact. As mentioned above, we are fully committed towards the welfare of each and every OYOpreneurs and that they sail through these difficult times.
Do you anticipate job cuts in the future to ensure business continuity? What are the steps you have taken to sustain momentum in the business?
Currently, the situation is dynamic and evolving as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic. These are unpredictable times. As an organization, we have taken many steps to curb controllable costs across the board when we saw the disease spread to multiple countries around the world. We started by reducing all non-essential travel a little over a month back until it was put on complete hold to ensure the safety of OYOprenuers. This was followed by reducing all kinds of other controllable expenses, including future investments. The entire leadership is committed to ensuring that we exhaust every possible option before considering job cuts.
Options like leave with limited benefits give us the opportunity to do what is right for the business while ensuring that the employees are protected from job cuts, despite the economic pressures. We are confident that with all the actions we are taking, we will be in good shape to take on the opportunities that the post-COVID world will have to offer.
It is indeed an unprecedented time and we are sure you would not have witnessed anything of this sort in the past? What are some of the key learnings you have had personally and what do you think is the best way to tackle such a situation from an HR point of view?
The Coronavirus pandemic has left with a distinctive challenge where not only are we facing unique tests but also devising solutions that stand the test of time. These are unprecedented circumstances and hence, standing strong with each other becomes extremely important. Some of my key learnings include:
1. Communicate authentically
2. Do what is right for the people and the organisation
3. Always be open to constructive feedback and change course quickly. Stay agile
4. Be respectful and build trust by open and transparent communication
5. Exhibit resilience and ensure this is instilled in people
6. Always be available and accessible for everyone
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