As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Medidata, a New York City-based technology company that develops software as a service for clinical trials, prioritized meeting employee needs as the "lines between at-work and at-home lives have blurred," according to Naveen Bhateja, the company's executive vice president and chief people officer. Bhateja leads all of human resources including recruiting and workplace solutions as well as diversity and inclusion teams, globally.
Bhateja has managed teams around the world at startups and large companies for more than 20 years. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he understands that "it's more important than ever to be authentic," as he told HR Dive in the following Q&A. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What approach has Medidata taken to help employees navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in their personal lives while still performing at work?
Bhateja: Medidata's response to the pandemic has been to prioritize our people and evolve to meet their needs while still working to meet our goals as a company and making progress on our mission. We're all experiencing the same thing, but in vastly different ways. The lines between our at-work and at-home lives have blurred, so it's important to be as understanding as possible.
The three steps we've followed since the beginning — plan for the transition, safely re-engage with our teams and progress with purpose. As the situation has evolved, we've updated our plans to accommodate employees.
I'm responsible for our workplace solutions and global security teams, so when the pandemic hit, we were in good shape from a business continuity and infrastructure perspective. But we recognized that there was still work we needed to do to address other areas. The emotional impact of the situation became an important element.
"Remotians," which is the name of the business resource group for our remote employees, are making themselves available via office hours to provide their expertise and support for colleagues who are navigating working from home for the first time. ("Remotians" is a fun play on "Medidatians," what we call ourselves as Medidata employees.) We also launched a manager survey to get a pulse on how our teams are managing the situation, among other tactics.
In addition, senior leaders have been conducting virtual check-ins with their teams more regularly to ensure that all is well. We've also established a "no internal meetings on Fridays" policy during the summer and gave staff an extra floating holiday on the Monday following July 4. This was done to help give our staff a bit of a rest after working remotely during such a challenging time.
How can leaders facilitate a company culture that engages employees, creates belonging and allows them to bring their authentic selves to work?
Bhateja: To build an authentic culture, you need to bring people on board who believe in your mission and feel equally passionate about it. The mission of Medidata is to power smarter treatments and healthier people, so the people team has employed smarter practices to cultivate a healthier culture.
Employee engagement is more important than ever and has always been a critical part of our culture, but we've expanded our employee support even further. We anchor expected behaviors through hiring, continuous performance check-ins, as well as rewards and recognitions. We've broadened our reimbursement policy to include wellness apps and home office equipment. We've reimagined and revised some HR processes like virtual onboarding, new-hire orientation, and more. Plus, we make sure to incorporate fun programs like virtual happy hours, wellness activities such as yoga and memorable moments like having musicians perform live via videoconferencing.
Nearly 20% of Medidata's employees work off-site exclusively, and most staff worked remotely from time-to-time prior to COVID-19. But we've encouraged employees to share best practices and lean on each other's experiences so we can all come together as one company — even if that can't be in-person yet.
In addition, our co-CEOs have been holding "fireside chat" style town hall meetings more frequently to stay connected to employees and help support them through this unprecedented time.
Creating a place where all people feel like they belong is core to our values as a company. Like most organizations right now, we are taking a close look at ourselves to ensure that, in every team and in every corner across the world, we're creating environments and opportunities that continue to foster that sense of belonging.
As a leader, how do you bring your authentic self to work?
Bhateja: Especially right now, as a leader, it's important to be a human. Vulnerability is an asset, not a threat, and it helps engender trust that ultimately creates a better work environment for everyone. Throughout my career, I've learned it's OK to not have all the answers — but it's never OK to stop asking questions. Keeping an open mind, caring about others and being genuine are traits that are equally important to be able to be your authentic self at work.
Every day I strive to bring my authentic self to work because calling on my own diverse experiences can help me understand what others may be going through. I've worked for 25 years with startups and large companies, managed teams across the globe, lived and studied abroad, sat on a nonprofit board and, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I celebrated on July 15 when the U.S. Supreme Court protected our rights against workplace discrimination.
These days, it's more important than ever to be authentic because we are writing history each day by how we live and react to the challenges of our time. The future of work is unfolding right now, and it's important to build a future in which everyone can participate.