Against the backdrop of a watershed year, where individuals, businesses, educational and religious institutions, and social and sports clubs had to reimagine their entire fabric as social distancing and the move to remote working and learning became the defining weapon in a fight against a global pandemic, it became ever more challenging – and critical – for organisations and their leaders to support and nurture their people, notes Jasmin Pillay, HR Director at Microsoft South Africa.

Every year, the Top Employers Institute – the global HR authority on certifying excellence in employee conditions – chooses and certifies the companies that best nurture and develop talent, and strive to continuously optimise employment practices.

For Microsoft South Africa and its leaders, to be recognised as the number one Top Employer in South Africa and leader in the IT industry sector for 2021, we are truly grateful for the acknowledgement.

Because 2020 was a year like no other. To say adapting to new norms and ways of doing business was a challenge would be an understatement: navigating these changes took a toll socially, mentally and emotionally.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 40 percent of employees reported feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion and burnout, and that two-thirds experienced symptoms of depression at least some time during last year. An online survey by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) also found that 55 percent battled with anxiety and panic, and 40 percent battled depression.

Microsoft’s own Work Reworked research found that employees view time spent in the office as a powerful way to maintain bonds with their colleagues. In the move to working from home, it was imperative that organisations were able to support the wellbeing of their people and provide the resources needed to adapt to this new way of working and continue to make them feel connected and unified even when they were apart.

This is where the power of culture came in – specifically a strong, connected culture of innovation with the employee experience at its centre. Culture is the glue that holds a business together – and people are the glue that holds culture together.

Culture is the ability to make employees feel connected to the values of the company, as well as the leaders and other employees holding up those values, in order to create a common goal that each and every person works towards. It also means creating an environment centred around a growth mindset that ensures that all employees have the opportunity to constantly learn, grow and develop critical digital and work-related skills, while providing an environment that fosters collaboration, diversity and inclusion.

In the evolving remote and hybrid work environment, which combines working remotely and from an office, this has meant offering more flexible ways of working while simultaneously ensuring teams continue feeling tight-knit, valued and connected to the pulse of a company’s culture.

A connected culture that combines face-to-face interaction and digital collaboration

The key to combining flexibility with a unified team culture in a remote workplace required striking the right balance between face-to-face interaction and digital collaboration to keep our people connected, show we care and keep them engaged and productive.

Even when it wasn’t possible to meet or connect in person, that connection was simulated through the video capabilities and multiple apps and functions of digital platforms to make meetings or calls more interactive. Leaders also used video functionality to regularly check in on the well-being of team members and colleagues, as well as to coach employees through this new way of working and provide the support and guidance they needed to navigate these changes.

Our Leadership Team has used Microsoft’s collaboration platform, Teams, to connect and engage with employees regularly, which helped drive team culture by reassuring our people that the company’s leadership truly cares about their wellbeing as well as reminding us that we are all working towards a common goal and motivating us to deliver successfully on it. This approach permeated down to other leaders in the organisation, who stayed connected and ensured that their teams had the support they needed.

This support, both in terms of looking after employees’ overall wellbeing and in ensuring that they had access to the tools, resources, and solutions that they needed to be as productive, creative, and secure as possible from any location and on any device, is and will remain an entrenched part of Microsoft’s culture to empower every person and organisation to achieve more.

To be recognised as a top employer in South Africa as a result of our dedication to create a better world of work for our people and by empowering them to truly reach their potential is testament to our commitment to them. We are grateful for and acknowledge our leaders for putting our people first. It’s our people-led culture that carried our employees while they were working from home and continues to support them.

There is a reason that “people are a business’s greatest asset” is a cliché – because while it may be overused, it is true and without a people-led culture, organisations will fail to reach their strategic objectives in the long-term. This is why Microsoft will continue to prioritise empowering, enabling and supporting our people to help them – and the organisation as a whole – achieve more.

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