Elena ZARA is Director of HR Technology and Innovation at Lease Plan
What was the level of digitalisation in your centre before COVID-19?
Before COVID-19 the level of digitalization in our center was fairly high as our teams were working already cross functional and geographies, so the impact was not dramatic. The laptops strategy is a 1:1 approach, so with the Microsoft Teams in an incipient stage just before crisis, it was easy to make transition to the Work From Home that quarantine imposed.
We had to completely change our working practices, moving employees to home working or making tough decisions about how to keep going through this challenging situation. The top priority was always their health and wellbeing. We had already in place a policy of working from home, people were already used with using technology, we have unique systems and system of reference for them to perform their jobs.
How did COVID-19 impact digital transformation of your company?
Business continuity is our responsibility toward our employees and their families, but also to the communities that we serve. The infrastructure that we provide, starting from the systems to the laptops and the processes supporting both, enabled us to be quick in implementing Work From Home. Another quick step we took was the security of data to protect the company against the potential cyber-attacks. In order to keep close contact with our external and internal customers we also made steps in creating webinars, information and induction meetings, global updates to keep everybody hooked into the new normal. Through a leaner process we managed to create an agile environment with electronic contacts, e-signature and shorter paper-processes.
There is the famous quote of Churchill saying “never let a good crisis go to waste”, the lockdown in our field suddenly seems to be able to do everything or seem to be accelerating.
We reinforced our Human Resources digital processes, speeded up processes that were supposed to happen in the near future and are now already used by all people in the organization as the adoption was done at incredible speed, due to the thirst to adapt and be proactive in the digital business community. All our meetings and conference were virtualized and we made sure that our company is embracing virtualization in employee and customer activity by frequent surveys in order to understand from the employees what would they like to have, what they do want to alter or change or what is difficult for them in the “new normal”.
We digitalized quickly the employees experience enabling them to have online yoga classes, mindfulness breaks with professional psychologists, interviews with our senior executives through channels for our regional teams, as to ease the burden of “loneliness” or “uncertainty” that Work From Home brings along. As more personalized and custom content is definitely needed in conversation with our employees, we are drawing the sketches of the bot pilot already, and we expect a roll-out soon.
What type of processes did you digitalise in the last 2 months?
In many areas as well as in Human Resources, we are bringing most of functionality in a unique place in order to have holistic views, perspectives and real-time response, both for our employees and for the customers. In order to properly use the unique source of information, an education scalable system has to be in place, and this is the module that we are developing now with high level of accessibility for our employees.
As digitalization is based on data, process flow and cross departmental inferences, we started to take a deep dive into managing data to enable a quicker transfer to a solid data driven organization. This is actually the answer to quick business decisions. We have lots of information at hand and we initiated programs for people to better understand how to prioritize the real opportunities in a short timeframe, in order to become proficient in information literacy and make their work as scalable as possible.
What helped you the most during this period? And why?
Like all over the world, the Microsoft Teams was a life saver, and surely now we ask ourselves how we could live without for so long. The fact that we are in meaningful conversations with more than 20 people in a meeting, that can last even 2-3 hours made all of us aware of our enhanced capabilities to share and be creative. The live meetings before were not so performant. The agility of switching from meeting to meeting without asking for free conference rooms, without the hassle of getting teams together from abroad enabled a higher quality of conversations, more productive decisions and happier employees. Ideas and inspirations from so many productive meetings increased the morale of majority of teams.
What was the hardest thing to do? And why?
One of the hardest things was the first presentation in front of more than 20 people, where the screen was the only conversation partner. That was weird and it took time until one gets used to engage the screen in conversation. Losing physical contact with people, jokes at the morning coffee corner, togetherness at lunch time was difficult as it was replaced by too few things: more time with family, time with kids during daytime and finding incredible games that make children laugh. We are social human beings and being in close contact with people is very hard coded in our DNA so the transition to being non-social is difficult to educate.
Do you think COVID-19 is a turning point in digital transformation?
Yes, the pandemic is a turning point in digital transformation, and it is the “accelerator pedal” that will bring people together in spite of social distancing. But now business models change completely in same pace our professional life will change due to digitalization. We will be freer in a way but more hooked in another way, we will move quicker in all ways, we will consume media at phenomenal speed while ingesting data and being friends with robots. The pandemic is truly a life changer.
How did the employees adapt and embrace digital transformation during the lockdown?
Of course, the complete lockdown came as a surprise to most of us, and in less than 2 weeks’ time, 95% of our employees were working from home. Then we started to build up communities to offer them support, Teams groups, take care of their equipment needs in working from home.
Do you have a story or an image regarding this forced digitalization that you will remember or tell when someone will ask you about this period?
I have a positive feeling when I remember that my big boss created fun Fridays for us all, creating challenges with “walk the talk” examples. The image of my boss doing plank with his 13 years old daughter in a global challenge will stay with me forever.
What is the next step in your company digital transformation?
The next steps in our company’s digital transformation is strengthening the collaboration and sharing information processes, while building a data driven excellence nucleus in our organisation. Another stream of digitalisation will be built around founding a cross functional workplace of the future: mobilize teams across Human Resources, Finance, Technology, and Information Technology to reshape the future of work.
Concepts that used to be Sci-Fi some years ago are on the agenda of our future plans to enable Machine Learning, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence to become the topics of the day in Lease Plan.