The latest episode of the HR Spotlight Interview series saw us talking to Ana-Maria Andrei, HR Manager at Provident Financial Romania. We found out what are the biggest challenges of an HR Manager in the Personal Finance sector, and also, how the #futureofwork looks like for all those involved in this industry.
- What do you consider to be the biggest challenges for your HR department in this new future of work?
We believe that the greatest challenge for our department is to make sure that our people are safe, happy and that they have access to the resources, support and information they need.
Now more than ever, we need to pay closer attention to the personal aspects and to create an environment where family life and professional life are balanced and we need to be proactive when it comes to helping them achieve this balance.
To summarize our main concerns were to make sure our client interacting employees had the protective equipment and protocols in place and to make sure that all our employees have the support needed to adapt to the current situation.
As we have merged our homes with our offices, setting up new boundaries is a must. Even though before the pandemic our team members had the possibility to work remote one day per week, having all the support functions work from almost exclusively from home was something new.
On the other hand, many of our colleagues are field agents, as one of the services we provide is delivering the loan and collecting the installments from the residences of our customers. As these roles require a physical presence, we had to make sure that they have the protective equipment, hygienic-sanitary items they need and that our work protocols were adjusted to ensure both their safety and that of our customers.
We strongly believe that if our employees have a predictable working schedule, which allows them to deal with their personal and professional duties; they will achieve better results with positive effects for them, and at the same time, for the company.
We have a big team, with over 2,000 employees, thus we are constantly enhancing our feedback mechanisms, which are helping us understand our employees’ needs and, in return, provide them with the necessary support.
On the long run, I believe that the companies that are rapidly adjusting to the context and find ways that allow them to adapt to the changing needs of the employees will attract and retain the best candidates on the market.
- How did your organization manage to balance the increased workload of employees, both in the HR department and company-wide?
First and most important, we intensified our communication efforts: as we entered a period filled with uncertainties, we needed to make sure that our colleagues were always connected, even while worked from home.
We provided open communication channels between field agents and team leaders, as well as for the messages of the company CEO to the entire organization.
I would say that through communication we made sure that everybody had the information required to do their role and we avoided increased workload caused by confusion; managers were always connected and aware of the needs of their team members and they prioritized the tasks efficiently. We do not encourage working late hours, as we strongly believe this would cause negative effects on the long term, both over the private life of employees, and by extension over the company.
We started seeking solutions that would help us make sure that our employees are well. We provided the employees with digital-wellbeing activities, such as sport sessions, yoga, parenting and mental health workshops, and added extra days off for situations when they or their children were sick.
As psychological support is very important to help people cope with all the changes in what we all knew as normality, we set up group sessions with therapists.
Even prior to the pandemic we were offering a flexible schedule, but we decided to add up 2 more intervals during which people could conduct their working hours, this way allowing them to juggle better the household activities, this was benefic especially for parents that found themselves looking after children as well with schools and kindergartens closed.
While when schools and kindergartners were open, we avoided setting up meetings at the beginning or the end of the regular working hours, so that the employees with children could drop them off or pick them up from kindergarten/school. Kids were also in the spotlight during National Children’s Day – they even have their on book filled with their drawings, painting, poems or stories from the lock-down period which we’ve printed and mailed, Halloween and Christmas, when we organized virtual parties, sent Christmas gifts and made sure they also got to virtually meet Santa Claus.
- Has the use of tech alleviated the workload of your HR team?
Technology can be a very powerful ally, especially when you are facing an unprecedented period, such as we are now. The greatest change we made in 2020 was related to processing the documents, as we started signing most of the documents online.
However, the first steps towards digitalizing our activity were taken in 2016 with the implementation of an integrated HR management system that covers all the main areas of activity. Some HR tasks can be repetitive and time consuming, so we needed a little help, so in 2019 we “hired” Arya, our first digital HR assistant. Arya is a robot (RPA) and helps us save around 3.000 working hours a year, which is a lot of time that can be used by our employees for productive, creative and innovative tasks.
What Arya actually does is taking over some of the repetitive tasks like centralizing recruitment data, preparing different documents like contracts, offers, letters and forms, perform reporting, updating information in our data bases and scheduling candidates for the mandatory employment medical checks .
She does not get the final saying in terms of hiring, but she helps us deal with the non-value added tasks that before kept us from focusing on our main customers – candidates an employees.
Overall, Arya will need only 2 to 5 minutes to do what for a human would take 20 to 30 minutes.
- Are there any specific tools/platforms used by your HR team which significantly improved productivity and helped keep things manageable?
We are quite passionate about using all the solutions available to ease our efforts with anything that does not create value, but needs to be done as it helps us keep things compliant and organized. We started by implementing an integrated HR system with customized functionalities for areas like: payroll processing, employee administration, performance management, time and attendance, training, recruitment, onboarding and self-service for employees. We continued by automating internally with the help of our MI department colleagues different recurrent reports and analysis we needed, in 2019 we added robotic process automation in the mix and developed Arya, our robot HR assistant and this year we will finish the implementation of a chatbot that will also help our employees perform easier different people activities.
- How did you replicate recruiting and onboarding from traditionally office to hybrid working arrangements?
As the pandemic stroke and the perspectives were not too clear, we were cautious by hiring people only for essential roles, while freezing roles that we could do without for a period.
Of course, it has been harder to adjust at the beginning of the pandemic, mostly to change the mindsets that you can perform a qualitative recruitment process even without being face to face in a room with the candidates, but there are always solutions.
For us a solution represented to involve more the organization in the recruiting process, so that they meet their potential future colleagues early in the process. We had a team of trained volunteers that act as our sparing partners, their role being to assess the cultural fit of the candidate with the organization.
A team needs chemistry and this way they could help us find out from the beginning if “it’s a match” or not. The results surprised everyone, as the process developed extremely well, and the satisfaction rates increased significantly.
We take pride in our onboarding process, which provides people with a clear perspective over their role in the company. Managers have a crucial role when it comes to integrating new people and we made sure we gave them a framework to do so in the most impactful way.
Another reliable partner is the “Buddy” of new employees. Once again, we asked our colleagues from all departments within the company to help us make sure that new joiners have a support system in place. A new comer is not always comfortable reaching out to the manager for trivial questions, and we all know that when you start a new jobs there are a lot of things you still need to discover, assigning a buddy to each new colleague allowed us to ensure an easier and friendlier manner to get to much needed answers.
We are also proud of the fact that at Provident people find a real career succession path and those interested in getting a management role or develop themselves as experts have the option to do job shadowing.
People are provided with access to tools and trainings for professional and personal growth, as we divided our development offerings into induction/onboarding, development needed on the current role and further development in accordance with their carrier aspirations. A big plus in motivation is seeing the success stories of employees that started as specialists and that today are in senior management and even director roles, so they get a firsthand example that climbing up the chain is accessible.
- What programs/rewards/benefits have you implemented in order to keep spirits high in your company? As the months have passed since the beginning of the outbreak, have you seen an improvement in employee morale, team cohesion, etc. even as many of them might still be working remotely? How did you manage to keep a good level of engagement among your teams/departments/employees?
As I mentioned above, one of our main concerns is to make sure that our people are happy. Apart from getting together with trained professionals to talk about their concerns, we designed a calendar called 30 days of happiness, with a daily challenge meant to boost the happiness level. And it actually worked better than we expected. We’ve had lots of colleagues joining the challenges which were different every day – in one day they had to take a 20 minutes walk during working hours, in an other day they had to listen to their favorite song or call a friend with whom they hadn’t talk for a long time etc. Even our CEO accepted the challenge of cooking one of his favorites dishes – chicken curry. I know these seem like small things we can actually do by ourselves without the company telling us to but working from home has changed the mindset and we didn’t want people to slip in mixing their personal life with work life.
Also, to each month of the year was assigned a topic – health month, nutrition month, volunteering month etc. Beyond the different activities we organized, we also had prizes at the end of each month. Everybody was aware that 2020 was not the best year for being financially ,,wild” and this is actually the reason we’ve reinvented the rewards. I think people have appreciated more the care they have received from the company in such difficult and strange time.
At the same time, we’ve had a really nice campaign for celebrating our 14 years activity in Romania. We’ve created our Provi ID card and almost 400 of our colleagues have generated the ID card. The funny thing is that even people outside the organization have made their Provi ID but also former colleagues. As a reward, we organized a raffle and selected three of our colleagues to be spoiled – they came to Bucharest and after receiving a full make-over they also had a professional photo session.
We believe a lot in sharing experience and we have a peer-to-peer training programme so that colleagues who have outside work zone skills can share them with others – coaching, working at home tips & tricks etc.
If you would ask our colleagues, and we did, the big majority of them were really happy with how the company helped them go through the pandemic and has offered webinars, contest, challenges which made them feel as part of the team even from a distance.
As per communication channels we’ve consolidated the strategy as to keep our colleagues informed in a vivid manner but without becoming aggressive and stressful. Just in the beginning of the pandemic we’ve implemented an app called My News which allows us to send targeted communication to the desired audience. We can send to three people, 20, 50 or to all. This way, we made sure we didn’t spam all the employees with unnecessary information. The catch with this app is that you have is on your phone and the information in structured as to give you the essential. This is of high importance for our people in the Field especially. I can say My News was gold for us during the lock down is it was the only way to reach the sales representatives directly – every process change, every regulation change was one click away. We also have Coffee with the board members every week, the video newsletters, and I must say we do communicate a lot through video because now it’s more important than ever to actually see each other.
- How prepared is the Romanian workforce market in adopting the latest HR technologies, seeing the latest surge in workload?
I would say that today it’s more prepared than it was this time last year; if you are looking for good things that the pandemic brought I would say that digitalization was one of them. I think that there are still out there big companies that work with the “holy” excel file; when considering decisions to invest in technology only factor in the extra cost it brings on the spot without thinking of all the free time people would get. Time that would be better spend focusing on strategic priorities, innovation, truly listening to their employees, paying attention to their needs and identifying solutions for their satisfaction.
I have seen however a shift in mindset in this regard, a lot of conversations on implementation of systems, applications, communication tools, robots, automations and more recently digital signatures. If the government will support the change in mindset as well and adjust legislation, the future can be almost paperless, which would be great for the environment, but also very effective for quick access to information and improved compliance.