Microsoft SA HR director Jasmin Pillay on embracing the hybrid work model 

Jasmin says the company has put a huge focus on helping people feel connected when working remotely.

Globally, more than 20 percent of Microsoft employees are working in a hybrid environment and in South Africa, they are currently still advising employees to work from home. 

Microsoft SA HR director Jasmin Pillay says, “Health and safety – covering physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing – are our top priorities, and so we continue to monitor local health data and track government requirements to determine when our campuses can safely accommodate employees onsite.” 

She says the company believes that hybrid work is the future. “Moving forward, we believe every organisation will need a new operating model for hybrid work – one that doesn’t rely on old norms, like the eight-hour, 9-to-5 workday.  Employee expectations have changed for good and extreme flexibility will define a post-pandemic workplace.” 

How the makers use their own technology

Naturally, the navigation has been technology-led and Jasmin says, “We regularly make use of Microsoft Teams, Yammer, and Microsoft Sharepoint to bridge the gap, and make sure that people feel as connected as possible.” 

She explains that the hybrid work journey means that as a company, they will need to leverage technology and science to provide them with a whole new layer of intelligence to explore behavioural data. 

“The purpose of this is to provide insights that will help us understand and support employees and the business as a whole in ways that we never have previously.” 

Earlier this year they introduced Microsoft Viva, the first employee experience platform to bring tools for employee engagement, learning, wellbeing, and knowledge discovery, directly into the flow of people’s work. Microsoft Viva is designed to help employees learn, grow, and thrive, with new experiences that integrate with the productivity and collaboration capabilities in Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams. 

Jasmin says, “Our own CEO, Satya Nadella, uses Microsoft Teams live events and Yammer to stay connected with us – and locally, our managing director, Lillian Barnard, also connects with us regularly through Teams, to drive team culture and reassure our people that we truly care about their wellbeing.”

Designing a system for success

The company’s goal is to offer as much flexibility as possible to support individual work styles while balancing business needs and ensuring they live their culture. “We recognised there is no one-size-fits-all solution given the variety of roles, work requirements and business needs we have at Microsoft. To address this, we provided guidance to employees so they could make informed decisions.”  

Jasmin cautions that while they’ve shared that the company will challenge long-held assumptions and seek to be at the forefront of what is possible leveraging technology, they have also communicated that they are not committing to having every employee work from anywhere, as they believe there is value in employees being together in the workplace.

“In a hybrid workplace, striking the right balance between face-to-face interaction and digital collaboration is essential. Our role as leaders will be to bridge the gap between digital and physical worlds to keep our people connected, show we care and keep them engaged and productive,” says Jasmin.      

An evolving workplace culture 

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. 

“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.” 

She says, 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 wellbeing 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.”

Leaders set the tone

Microsoft’s leadership team has used its collaboration platform, Teams, to connect and engage with employees regularly, which helped drive team culture by reassuring its people that the company’s leadership truly cares about their wellbeing, as well as reminding employees that they are all working towards a common goal and motivating them 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. 

Jasmin explains that 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. 

“We were recently recognised as a top employer in South Africa because of our dedication to create a better world of work for our people, and by empowering them to truly reach their potential. 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,” she says.