Technology has emerged as a catalyst for us to embrace our new way of functioning: Flipkart CPO
The buzzword to fixate on right now to help explain where we find ourselves in the 2020s is the “new normal” — which requires putting a “re-” into everything to reset, reassess, reimagine, redefine, and reboot the way we work and live.
The organisations that will thrive will be those that adapt quickly, like Flipkart, which turned its transformation into its best advantage. Krishna Raghavan, Chief People Officer at Flipkart, shares how, with renewed rigour, Flipsters handled relentless surprises that came their way in the last few months and how teamwork, collaboration and agility are at the heart of the e-commerce giant's success.
One of the key sectors to talk about in light of the pandemic is e-commerce, which has been seeing accelerated growth in the last several months. From an HR standpoint, how did Flipkart overcome the novel challenges in the initial days of the crisis, such as dealing with a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions?
The pandemic presented us with an unprecedented crisis that needed to be managed both personally and professionally. Over the past year, our efforts have been focused on ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees and supporting them with the tools to stay productive and inspired to go the extra mile during these tough times.
During the initial days of the pandemic, we faced several uncertainties. We were categorised as an essential service, which meant that our business and employees had to embrace several changes during the different stages of the lockdown.
Our teams across the organisation (such as catalogue, fulfilment, seller platform, and customer service, to name just a few) had to make rapid changes in accordance with the evolving regulations to ensure that our customers and seller partners continued to experience our services without disruption. On many occasions, this meant making several changes to the platform per the latest government guidelines.
All of this was achieved in a completely different setting, with all teams working from home. What would previously have been a whiteboard session among team members now had to be done through a virtual meeting. We learned quickly and made the necessary changes during the first weekend of the lockdown.
Our supply chain and logistics network comprises more than 120,000 people, and we had to undertake extensive measures to ensure the well-being of these employees and the safe delivery of products to consumers.
We organised more than 4,000 awareness sessions across all our facilities. These were focused on how our employees and partners could minimise their exposure by taking simple precautionary measures. The programs were conducted in multiple regional languages to pass on best practices and safety guidelines. We also revisited the current coverage of insurance schemes and added additional benefits to shield our employees and delivery partners from the impact of the ongoing pandemic.
Our people-centric approach has enabled us to prioritise the safety and well-being of our employees while ensuring business continuity. I am proud to say that during this period, our employees have risen to the challenge and demonstrated the character, compassion, and commitment that are so necessary in such times.
There have been growing discussions about culture, which was typically built around in-person experiences in an office, and how organisations can nurture it from afar. How does Flipkart’s culture enable its employees to live the ‘Flipster Way of Life’, even while they work remotely?
We foster a people-first culture at Flipkart, and our employees – ‘Flipsters’ as they are fondly called – are at the heart of all our initiatives. As we’ve built our teams over the years, we’ve deepened our understanding of the role that organisational culture plays in boosting morale and building camaraderie among employees.
We took a proactive approach to rethink, reimagine and nurture the employee experience and communication during this ‘work from home’ period. As an organization that is built on collaboration, it became imperative to enable employees to stay connected. We adopted an always-on employee engagement approach to ensure that we engage Flipsters on a daily basis and encourage them to remain connected in a positive spirit.
As a purpose-driven organisation, we also wanted to ensure that the employees continue to remember Flipkart’s core values of being customer-first while displaying integrity, audacity and bias for action in all that we do.
We ensured that all employees had the right tools at their disposal, at all times, to stay connected and be productive while managing personal and professional priorities. We also ensured continuous and transparent communication to help address employee apprehensions.
Technology has emerged as a catalyst for us to embrace our new way of functioning.
Enabling collaboration across various teams like business, technology, supply chain and customer experience, through digital toolkits, has paved the way to solve real problems. Flipsters continue to bring their best ideas to the table and are finding new ways to solve for Bharat while staying true to the Flipkart culture.
Working from home is a mode of operation in today’s digital world, but our location or physical presence doesn’t come in the way of our daily commitment to living the ‘Flipster way of life’.
Despite all the good press about working from home, many organisations are grappling with issues of building cohesion within teams and keeping “human” connections going. What steps have been taken at Flipkart to ensure that connection and collegiality are built within remote work teams?
In this work-from-home scenario, it is easy for people to feel disconnected from the organisation and their peers. Therefore, the adoption of an always-on approach to employee engagement has become key to ensuring that teams collaborate not only to deliver quality work but also to foster a sense of togetherness. It is important to reinforce the camaraderie between employees and nurture mental health. With this in mind, we have introduced several engagement activities for Flipsters to connect and have fun online.
We have regularly been sharing guidelines with our employees on how they can manage their personal and professional priorities while working from home.
Even while we adjust to new ways of working, it is important to spend time with the people we love – our families and friends. Recognising this, we introduced engagement activities that involve not only Flipsters but also their families and friends. We have initiated group activities such as family quiz nights, yoga sessions, arts and craft sessions for children of Flipsters, and more. All these activities have been carefully designed to enhance the work-from-home experience for Flipsters and engage their loved ones.
Maintaining a consistent open channel of communication with all leaders continues to be a key priority. We organise connect sessions regularly where leaders address all employees directly and give them visibility into the organisation’s larger priorities.
We have organised several webinars on topics such as self-care, meditation, workplace ergonomics, and ways to manage stress and anxiety to help employees boost their mental wellness.
Further, to foster a sense of togetherness, we have been encouraging employees to continue engaging with one another over ‘Digital Chai Breaks’, online pet workshops, virtual communities, and remote workspace tours.
These initiatives have strengthened the bond between Flipsters, enabling them to stay connected and remain positive.
What approaches have you adopted to keep employees motivated and productive during this period of upheaval?
Remote working can take a toll on us at times, and having an empathetic approach makes a world of difference. Every employee’s experience is unique and determined by multiple factors. Everyone is currently balancing priorities between work, home and family.
We are equipping employees with effective tools that enable them to focus on their mental and physical health while working from home. Guidelines are frequently shared with everyone on how to engage teams and manage priorities effectively.
Learning never takes a backseat at Flipkart. We believe that it has become all the more vital now for employees to stay ahead of the curve. We have customised digital learning sessions to include topics such as tips to conduct a great virtual meeting, managing time effectively and strengthening resilience for success. We have also initiated knowledge-sharing sessions with subject-matter experts. These sessions have seen higher levels of engagement during the current period.
Working from home is not a deterrent for upskilling and contributing meaningfully. We want our employees to emerge from this period with a feeling of personal and professional growth.
How is Flipkart supporting employees to integrate their work and personal lives in a way that enables them to do their best work every day?
The lines between personal and professional life have blurred for many. We’ve been enabling employees to have the flexibility and freedom to create their own work-life balance.
We are supporting employees in planning their priorities throughout the day, whether personal or professional. We have also crafted our employee engagement activities to be inclusive and involve Flipsters’ families.
We designed several programmes considering the various age groups involved, such as crafting sessions and a pet party for children of Flipkart employees, virtual concerts, and organic farming classes for the whole family. Many activities saw the participation of Flipsters’ flatmates and friends, too. This enabled Flipsters not only to unwind but also spend meaningful time with family and friends.
How do you keep morale upbeat for the on-ground teams across your supply chain and delivery networks?
Our supply chain and delivery executives continue to display tremendous commitment during this period. From the lockdown to the current festive season, they have ensured that consumers were able to receive essentials and fulfill their festive shopping needs seamlessly.
The safety of our Wishmasters and supply chain executives who continue to work at various Flipkart facilities has been a top priority for us. We believe in a “Culture of Care,” and continue to ensure safety and hygiene at all our facilities while making masks, sanitisers, and doctor consultations available to all employees at major facilities as and when required.
We continue to keep employee spirits high through various online engagements. As the employee interactions have been moved online, more employees across the organisation, including the onground supply chain staff, get the opportunity to be part of the fun sessions.
Even in the present scenario, learning & development continues to be a strong focus for us, and we continue to create upskilling opportunities in a safe and secure manner with the help of digital training tools. All supply chain employees, including new hires, benefit from these robust learning programmes which include modules on contactless deliveries, refresher training, COVID awareness, safety training, and more.
The training programmes ensure the right learning and skill development opportunities for the employees, which will not only enable them to work efficiently but also help them grow in the organisation.
What’s something outstanding that Flipkart has achieved during this period of extraordinary challenge?
Even in these challenging times, Flipsters continue to work with renewed rigour, which is inspiring. This period has also paved the way for deeper collaborations between teams, resulting in cutting-edge innovations that not only have ensured successful business continuity but have also catered to the varying needs of our consumers.
One of the most ambitious projects executed in this period was the expansion of the vernacular language interface, which is one of our efforts dedicated to making ecommerce more inclusive. During this period, our teams launched three new vernacular language interfaces – Tamil, Telugu and Kannada – to enhance accessibility and enable an effortless groceryshopping experience for customers.
In the run-up to the Big Billion Days, our teams collaborated to launch five new video shows and gaming constructs, including BBD Muqabla, which gained popularity among the audience. This idea was turned around in a short time. The teams worked with the help of dedicated chat rooms and online whiteboard sessions to fine-tune it, taking it to the execution stage in time for the Big Billion Days.
Another mammoth task during this period was keeping the wheels of our physical, labour-intensive supply chain moving amid social-distancing restrictions during the initial period of the pandemic. Teams worked around the clock to ensure that we maintained high levels of safety and hygiene in the warehouses. We also saw several partnerships forged in this period that enabled us to ramp up supply chain operations and keep serving millions of Flipkart customers across India.
Flipsters strive to innovate and build solutions that enable an inclusive, effortless and enjoyable online shopping experience. Remote working has been no different for us and, in fact, has only accelerated this spirit. As we work remotely, we will continue to solve for Bharat. We reflect on all that has happened this year with a sense of pride and gratitude.