By Debjani Ghosh
The second wave of Covid-19 will go down in history for the devastating impact it had on India. The sheer depth of suffering and loss is something most of us have never experienced till now. It also shone a shining light on the power of humanity and kindness. It was truly inspiring to see communities of selfless volunteers come together to support families needing urgent assistance and go out of their way to help strangers. Strangely, our collective grief brought together strangers like never before and demonstrated the true power of compassion and kindness across India.
The technology industry in India has always been known for its cutting-edge innovation and its global success. However, in the last few months, it stood for one thing above all — its people and the resounding message from nearly every CEO was that we need to do all we can to ensure the safety and wellness of our employees and their families. That was job one.
And hence, began a marathon effort to provide 24×7 support to employees — testing, information, doctors on call, isolation centres, oxygen concentrators, insurance, mental wellness, partnership with healthcare providers and vaccination drives. Leadership in a crisis is about resilience and agility and I saw another key trait being overlaid on this — Empathy and Flexibility.
Circa back to same time last year when cases in India had just started rising and stringent lockdowns were imposed, the industry had rapidly transitioned to a remote working model while keeping employee safety as its foremost priority. Over the last 14 months, the industry has continuously invested in strengthening the remote working model. Almost everything is virtual — hiring, onboarding, sales, collaboration, delivery and even M&A. The industry has built world-class practices on remote working and the current lockdowns have not led to any hardships. Companies were at 90 percent work from home in March 2021 and have rapidly transitioned to 98% work from home. The model is extremely fungible and there is constant investment in technology and process infrastructure. When you think of a distributed work model, you normally do not envisage a distributed model over 150+ cities and towns in India and many internationally, but that has been the tech industry model for the last year.
A question that sometimes crops up — does focus on people impact business? As employees take time off for medical reasons, does it impact global clients that are running mission-critical processes in India? I strongly believe it does the exact opposite. We are a knowledge industry and talent is our biggest competitive advantage. Our people build our differentiation vis a vis competition. Hence, focusing on the well being of our people has always helped us emerge from a crisis stronger than before. Our customers understand this too and they have stood by us every step of the way through the crisis. If anything, I would say that the trust and partnership between companies in India and their global customers or parent organizations have only strengthened in the crisis.
I do believe that everyone understands that the Covid second wave is not an India phenomenon — US, UK, Europe, Brazil, South Africa multiple countries have been dealing with this pandemic and lockdowns are a necessary measure to break the chain. Secondly, as the data from these countries show, this phase is temporary, cases will peak and start declining as we are already seeing in some parts of the country, though we cannot let our guard down and need to follow Covid protocols. Thirdly, companies in India have invested in sophisticated business continuity plans and risk management practices to address scenarios like this, and have been very forthcoming to proactively discuss the situation with customers who have all asked companies to prioritise the health and safety of employees. Where necessary, work reprioritization is being done, employee reallocation is undertaken for critical projects and new hiring is being fast-tracked. Covid has been the ultimate stress test for the industry’s Business Continuity Plans. Strong BCPs, backed up transparent communication and robust partnerships is the way to navigate our way through the crisis.
What’s heartening is that the demand environment for technology and digital continues to be very healthy. As the quarter results from leading companies have demonstrated, the deal pipeline is very strong and the pandemic is only accelerating the need for every company to be a technology company. Investor interest in Indian tech startups is at an all-time high and more and more businesses in India are building their online + offline model. Demand for technology and digital talent continues to outstrip supply and rapid reskilling efforts by the industry in India are helping to address this shortage.
Empathy, resilience, agility and adaptability is what continues to define the technology industry in India and the learnings from this phase is only connecting the industry closer to its most important asset – its people.
I end by saying that I am indeed proud to be part of an industry that truly cares for its people and for the country. With a foundation built on empathy, trust and resilience, I strongly believe we have the right building blocks to rebuild stronger and better. Every crisis forces us to rethink who we are and what we value. I do believe that the pandemic has brought to light one of the biggest strengths of our industry — the power of empathy and compassion. And I hope it becomes a badge we forever wear with pride.
(Debjani Ghosh is the President of NASSCOM. The views expressed are the author’s own.)