They say life goes on until one day it doesn’t.
2020 began with great promise. Global economic growth is projected to rise from an estimated 2.9 percent in 2019 to 3.3 percent in 2020 and 3.4 percent for 2021. Gartner had forecasted that Global IT Spending would grow by 3.7% in 2020. Effectively, the numbers were very promising, especially for us at Jade Global, where we have seen robust growth in the past year with a steady flow of interesting projects and great customers.
Then it all started to change around the 14th of February, when I came back from my usual quarterly visit to our offshore office in India. We were still almost a month away from the coronavirus outbreak that would be labelled as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. In the following month after my return home, the situation took a turn for the worse. Travel bans began and the high infection rate of the novel coronavirus brought most countries to declare a shelter in place, forcing our lives to drastically change. Businesses came to a standstill, with reports showing that the resulting economic recession caused more people to lose their jobs than in the last 10 economic recessions combined.
The circumstances quickly took a turn for the worse! But our true nature reveals itself not in the challenges we face but in how we overcome those challenges. This becomes especially crucial for leaders; with a team looking to us for guidance. In fact, prominent writer and orator Robert Ingersoll once famously stated, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”
In these trying times, here are some of the things that we have been trying to do at Jade Global to ensure that we can lead our customers and employees confidently through this crisis. I have often mentioned that COVID-19 is not just a health crisis. It is an economic, social, and emotional crisis and we need to keep that in mind when dealing with people. This crisis is like none other and the measures taken to deal with it will have to be exemplary.
Our leadership team and I have thus come together to create guidelines to follow for the entire company based on below 5 key points:
The 3Ps Approach: This was one of the first actions that I encouraged all our employees across the globe to take, in our first virtual town hall after the pandemic began. All Jade Global employees have tirelessly exhibited these qualities even in the face of harsh conditions:
Protect: All decisions and actions taken must prioritize Protection of Employee health and safety, with no disruptions to our Customers’ business.
Preserve: We must preserve what Jade Global stands for. We will preserve our ethics, integrity, morals, and highest standards towards customers as well as employees.
Promote: Promote Jade Global by being resourceful and compassionate not only to our customers and employees but also towards the community around us.
In compliance with the points stated above, Jade Global declared a work from home policy in our US Offices and India offices at least two weeks before the Government of India announced its first lockdown. Our employees have continued to preserve and demonstrate the same work ethics as they did during the pre-pandemic days. In fact, we have seen a surge in employee productivity and each one of our employees has displayed great dedication in promoting the spirit of Jade Global by coming together and donating generously towards the Feeding America fund in the United States and the Prime Minister Cares fund in India. We managed to raise ₹1,000,000 in India and $15,000 in the United States to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Communicate Consistently: I believe that there is no such thing as over-communication when we are confronting a moment of crisis together. Keeping this in mind, my leadership team and I had all hands-on deck and were constantly in touch with all of our team members all over the world. We urged all managers to reach out to every team member so that we had an open line of communication between all employees. We were able to gain insight into the challenges of all employees and take the appropriate steps to solve these issues. In a pandemic, many people are fighting various anxieties and uncertainty regarding their professional and personal lives. Knowing that the company is with them through it all has brought a deep sense of relief to many. After all, people remember both how we helped each other during happier times and how we offered support during a moment of crisis. To forge long term relationships, all leaders must display behavior that team members can recall with fondness and appreciation long after this crisis is over. We also moved as many events as we could to the online format in order to reach out to greater number of teams. Our much-hyped annual sales kick off was held in an online format this year with just as much enthusiasm as previous years.
Technology: As an IT Services company, we often preach Digital Transformation to our customers without understanding how well equipped our own teams are on this front. However, it makes me extremely glad to report that we have almost unknowingly been preparing for this period over the past few years. We went on to become a 100% remote workforce almost overnight without any glitches. This was possible because all our employees had company issued laptops and secured VPN Access; everything was on the cloud, including our office collaboration suite, time and billing system, and network security. So, all our employees were able to plug in at home and continue being in the same productive environment as the office.
Inclusion: It is a common human mindset that everyone wants to be a part of the decision-making process and everyone needs to have the choice to decide what they want to do. At Jade Global, we are always doing our best to keep all our employees included in the decisions we take. At the same time, I also feel that a leader must take the first step to bear the brunt of any crisis before it passes on to others. Thus, when it became necessary, like all other businesses in the industry, we will also need to preserve our cash reserve. My executive team and I have volunteered to defer 20-25% of our salary for the next 3 months. As a necessary step that we have taken before during the 2008 subprime crisis, I believe that rather than causing pain to just a few, we should all share the financial burden so that we do not have to let go of any employees. We gave all employees the choice to voluntarily defer their salaries for the next three months. This voluntarily salary deferral program was not binding upon any employee in any way and we requested that only those who felt they could afford should take part in the program.
We were simply amazed at the response. A whopping 74% of our employees worldwide volunteered to take a salary deferral of 10-25%. Now that’s what happens when every member feels that they are a part of the family. We are happy to report that we have had zero layoffs and we have yet to implement the salary deferral program. But we know that should the need arise again in the future; we have immense support from all our employees.
Transparency: Following an open line of communication, transparency is key to enduring crisis situations. A leader needs to not only communicate consistently in terms of crisis, but also state their own vulnerabilities. Facts need to be stated as they are without creating a panic. Businesses need to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best, and this should be transparently stated to employees in all communication. At the same time, leaders need to strike a balance so that they do not create unneeded stress for employees. Facts need to be followed by necessary assurances and reassurances so that employees know that the whole team is in it together. Read relevant blog here: Managing Business Disruption during the Covid-19 Crisis
Though this crisis is far from over, people all over the world are realizing that we will have to learn to live with this virus until a vaccine or cure is found. While that could still be months away, world economies are already taking staggered steps to return to normalcy, and we are optimistic about the future. Personally, I feel that there will be a huge demand for Digital Transformation Strategies in all organizations. Realistically speaking, we do not know what awaits us in the future and whether pandemics like this could become more frequent. However, being as resilient and perseverant as mankind is, government agencies and businesses have realized that next time something like this comes along we cannot be as under prepared as we were this time. Technology and Digital Transformation is the key to preparing businesses to better manage such operational disruptions.