Jul 15, 2020

Magali Four: “employment and employee investments matter most”

Teaching & Learning 4 min read last updated on: Jul 23, 2020

In the fourth installment of our talks with senior HR professionals, Magali Four, VP Human Resources at PerkinElmer talks us through her thoughts on dealing with remote training, the new overlap of professional and home environments and where priorities should lie.

Magali Four admits that she has a passion for developing talents and transforming culture. Over a 25-year career in HR and other positions, she has often been confronted with challenging situations. The covid-19 outbreak is a very particular one for her – and all people working in HR positions.

The race to secure their staff and at the same time enable business continuity has led companies on a twin path. Almost overnight, millions of people were introduced to remote working and at the same time their employers started deploying measures to maintain engagement. Many people adapted quite easily to teleworking, with its attendant sessions of video-conferencing and remote learning. But Four wants to ensure the others are not forgotten. “[Some people] are not comfortable,” she notes. “There are obviously two sides: whether they have the space to actually work from home, whether they're equipped properly etc. But I'm talking more about the mindset, the mental shift that you have to do when you're not exposed to live connections, human connections.”

Global pandemic, local communications

The challenge for global companies is that the situations varied so widely from one country to another. “In India, one of my team members lives in a building where they found a case,” she says. “They locked it completely. She couldn’t even put a foot outside. She could not get groceries. They had to be brought to her. Then you take another country where you could still go out. Okay, just one hour per day - but you could still manage.”

What are the implications in terms of employee engagement? “I just attended a webinar where companies were invited to speak about what they've been doing. And everybody's doing the same things, meaning really increasing the level of communication. So global communications, but also very local communications as the governments have enforced rules that are different.” This includes more contact between managers and their teams.

Remote training: catching up on lost time

Four’s current employer, PerkinElmer Inc., has a broad training program that covers the foundation of soft skills.They also have a commercial learning function which is a blend of the technical skills about the products and solutions that they want sales and service people to acquire. Their customers, distributors and agents also receive training. They had plans to expand online learning for the beginning of the year. The crisis forced them to go entirely virtual. “And customers love it,” says Four. “Employees love the idea of on-demand learning as well. It's interesting because we in HR were actually pushing for more of that, especially towards a management population. We’ve followed through on this endeavor and look forward to seeing its impact.”

There were of course doubts. “People kept expressing that they prefer classroom learning,” remembers Four. “But again, the crisis demonstrated that [distance learning] actually works pretty well and is a good way to reach a lot of people at the same time. Moving forward, I think it's going to help us accelerate virtual learning versus the classroom. But we're not saying that classroom learning should disappear as it does bring additional connections and new networks.”

The future of work – revisited

Before the crisis, there was much debate about the future of work. “The talk was about automation, artificial intelligence, chatboxes and all that sort of thing. Quite a few HR people feared them,” says Four. “My impression is that the future of work is now a broader terminology that embraces all these different behaviors that we're seeing now and some of them will actually stick. I mean, the future is always in the future, right? We're making progress towards certain things. Some trends that were limited so far will be expanded - online learning being one of them, of course”.

Across PerkinElmer, the HR organization was so focused on how to manage the crisis and keeping employees safe. Now, we are resuming our activities to advance our own function and modernize it where it is needed.”

The overlap between work and home environment

Videoconferencing brings colleagues literally into each other’s homes, which Four finds to be “the interesting part. People getting to know a lot more about personal lives of their colleagues is introducing a really different dimension of people caring for each other.”

How will things develop looking forward? “I do have a crystal ball because my team offered me one two years ago,” she laughs. “But I can't read anything into it. Things like more frequent homeworking could be on the list. For companies, the cost that they have in infrastructure can be pretty heavy. Even before the crisis, we had started looking into other solutions to have more modern workspaces and really try to keep the fixed offices for where the job really is meant to be office-based. We tried to expand the home working more so that we wouldn't put too much money in infrastructures that are either underutilized or even not really suited for today and the years ahead.”

The other side of this coin is that this would free up resources for other functions. “We can really invest in things such as development and learning as well as more frequent enhanced employee engagement opportunities. We started looking into that before the crisis. There’s a growing awareness that employment and employee investments matter most and then come fixed asset investments.”

 

 

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