Report from Kolkata – HR under COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan

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The resilience, flexibility, and good humor of our people have been a credit to them, Capgemini, and to a city that over recent months has seen major challenges.

In a recent series of articles, some of my colleagues have written about the commercial effects of the global pandemic. We’ve heard about the impact on business in general, and in particular on the supply chain, and on HR. We’ve also heard from China, and from Poland. This time, I’m going to describe something that’s perhaps more specific. It’s the effect on HR operations of an unexpected double-whammy. It concerned one particular city, but as you will see, its ramifications were global.

The COVID-19 lockdown began in India on March 23 this year. Capgemini has a significant base of operations here in Kolkata, and almost two months later, the city was beginning to plan its return to a more regular way of life, when news came of an impending and major weather event.

Super Cyclonic Storm Amphan – known for short as Cyclone Amphan – hit Kolkata on May 20. It was the first of its kind to strike the Bay of Bengal in over 20 years, and according to CNN, it caused over $13 billion in damage, making it the costliest cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean.

In Kolkata, the disruption was significant. For a time we lost power, as well as landline connections, Internet access, and also mobile connectivity, because the cellphone booster towers were down.

Priorities

Our first priority was the safety of our team. It took a while for us to get in touch with everyone and ensure they were OK, and it was several days before basic services were resumed. During this period, our people showed great dedication by plugging devices into their cars, as it was the only way they could recharge their phones and laptops. This really highlights their ability to innovate and be agile in trying circumstances. The Indian spirit of jugaad was at the forefront.

The next priority was business continuity. Our team provides HR support to several major clients in North America and Europe, and we also serve the Capgemini Group. One of these US-based clients relies on us for payroll provision – and we were rapidly approaching payday. We had already reviewed and prioritized those processes that were critical in regulatory and compliance terms, but the need here went beyond the rulebook. People’s wages depended on us.

Room service

Kolkata’s major hotels have their own generators, and hence they still had power and wi-fi – so we booked our key team members into those hotels that were also COVID-certified, and arranged safe transport. It meant people would be leaving their families in doubly difficult times. It was hard for them, and of course challenging for us to ask, too. It was a position that no one wanted to be in.

It was only for two days, but it was a crucial two days, in which we were able to complete the client’s bi-monthly payroll run. Other team members were on standby in case anyone needed to drop out, and also in case of equipment failure.

Throughout this whole period, we continued to communicate effectively with our clients. There was no noticeable change in the service we provided, although they of course knew how very different the circumstances were for us. Their sense of appreciation and deep concern for the team members was a big boost for everyone involved.

Thankfully, the worst and most immediate effects of Cyclone Amphan are behind us now, and lockdown, too, is gradually being eased. However, nighttime curfews are still being imposed and there are recent rises in COVID-19 cases, so there is still a need for caution.

Staying safe

We’re certainly being careful at Capgemini.  Capgemini’s own Namaste app has enabled employees to self-declare their health status. 90% of us continue to work remotely where possible.

As you’d expect, safety measures at work are rigorous. Social distancing is practiced not just in office spaces, but in washrooms, the cafeteria – and individual workstations, door handles, and other areas of frequent physical contact are being sanitized regularly.

It’s going to be a while before things return to a semblance of pre-cyclone, pre-pandemic working life, and even then, we can expect to be living in a new normal. In the meantime, we’re checking with our team to ensure they remain happy with how their safety is being handled – and we’re also of course thanking them. Their resilience, their flexibility, and their good humor have been a credit to them, to Capgemini, and to a city that has over recent months has seen such major challenges.

To find out more about how Capgemini’s Digital Employee Operations can provide critical communication management and effective remote service delivery, as well as enable your workforce to operate at the right level of performance during crisis, contact: deep.b.chakraborty@capgemini.com

This blog was written by Deep Chakraborty, Global Head of Offshore CBS HRO, Capgemini’s Business Services.

 

Deep Chakraborty leads the strategic management and overall operations of the HR Shared Services team for Capgemini. This includes systems design, maintenance, reporting, global HR generalists stakeholder management, vendor partnerships, and project management for the HRIS system, in addition to HR transactional and compliance processes.

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