During the pandemic, we had to teach our employees that it's okay to take a break - 1st part

Interview with Sabrina Dick, SAP HR Director for Central and Eastern Europe

We are delighted to bring to HR News an extensive interview with Sabrina Dick, SAP's HR Director for Central and Eastern Europe. The interview was conducted as part of the SAP Human Experience Summit 2021, where Sabrina Dick gave a presentation on Leadership Development and the Role of People Managers in the New Normal and Employee Wellbeing and Work-Life Fit in Remote-Office Times. The interview was conducted by our colleagues Michal Kankrlík, IVITERA Sales and Marketing Director, and Tomáš Pospíchal, IVITERA Project Director.

Sabrina Dick, SAP

What does the term "employee first" mean in detail from the SAP perspective?

Some people may think it's just a catchy slogan we've chosen, but when you think about the fact that employees are the ones who keep the company going, who make us successful, who make the company grow and function, it's not a random slogan. We have a lot of tools and processes that we automate which help us be more efficient and perhaps faster and more accurate, but ultimately it's people who bring creativity and innovation towards improvement.

It's crucial that companies realise the people who work for them are the ones who should be at the centre of their attention. If people are happy in their jobs, they will do a bigger and better job.

Many studies also show that in companies where employee engagement is higher and people feel comfortable and at home, they work better and are more successful. And that's why we say we need to put employees first. In HR at SAP, we think about what a person needs and what we expect from them. We define their job as if we were in their shoes and also in a way that makes them feel as good as possible.

Has anything changed in this approach during the pandemic?

I would say that we are focusing even more on our employees, even though we already had, let's say, the ability to work in a very digital and automated way with the focus on employee satisfaction. Suddenly the pandemic put us in a situation where we sent employees on home office, so all at once they were not in their team and work environment; instead they were very often either alone or at home with their whole family, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We are saying we put the employee first, but in the pandemic I can clearly state that at the centre of the story is the individual. We had to take into account the overall situation people were in and keep that in mind when designing processes and implementing ad hoc company policies, especially in the form of remote working.

During this time, we have created various support and information sessions on how people can better organise their day or better balance work and personal life. I think our focus has become even more concentrated on putting our employees and people first.

During the Human Experience Summit, two sentences of yours struck me. The first was that with the advent of the pandemic, you have gained momentum to move quickly to online communication and the use of technology. And the second, that communication from managers to people has changed and perhaps become more direct. Is it fair to say there has been an improvement compared to the situation before the pandemic? And how has this communication helped or how will it help also in normal mode?

SAP as a company has operated and operates on its own software, so anyone who chooses to work for SAP chooses to work in a very digital environment that is becoming more digital at every turn. When the pandemic suddenly struck and we had to close offices in all countries, we can say that we really coped with staying at home from one day to the next and working remotely. We have the necessary infrastructure, equipment like laptops and other tools that allow us to work seamlessly from home. Still, day-to-day tasks had to be restructured and client meetings arranged via video call to fit in with the time. It also brought changes to the way and structure of our work.

If we talk about communication between managers and employees, in normal life you see each other almost every day, or at least a couple of times a week, and you have the opportunity to clarify something, to agree within 30 minutes. Which is great and efficient, plus you don't have to plan the meeting. But what's often forgotten is that it's good to sit down and talk from time to time. For example, even about how the employee has been feeling throughout the year or how I can further develop them as a manager and encourage them to reach their goals.

SAP has many tools to measure a positive employee experience. Can these tools recognise the impact of organisational change on employees and how employees themselves have experienced it over the last year, year and a half?

As you said, we have a lot of tools and we have access to artificial intelligence that helps us evaluate situations much better and much more effectively. We do employee surveys where we ask employees how well they know the processes, how the changes affect their work, whether they are satisfied or how they feel. But almost every large company does this to find out how they can develop as an organisation, what they could improve.

In the past year, however, we've increased the frequency of these surveys and we don't just do the big ones but also smaller follow-up surveys from time to time, where we really find out how people feel, what they need. And we can afford to do them frequently because we have processes that analyse the data much faster, of course. What's even better is that we can analyse not only in a one-to-ten style, but also through comments that people make based on, let's say, keywords.

The tools can also analyse employee sentiment in a much better way, and that really gives us a better insight into how people genuinely feel, how they perceive the current work situation, and how we can continue improving as a company and improve the employee experience as well, without employees having to tell us directly. Because sometimes, until they tell us directly what they're not happy with, they're already very frustrated.

You've been with SAP for 16 years and held various positions. From an HR perspective, what do you think is the biggest change to happen in the last 10 to 15 years at SAP, especially in terms of HR policies, HR processes or the implementation of new technologies?

Yes, I haven't worked in HR my entire career, but my assessment would be that HR has always been there when I needed it. When I joined, we had just built our then so-called HR shared services centre in Prague, where we concentrated highly administrative processes across Europe. We took the first step towards having HR business partners who would be much more strategic supporters of the business.

Over time, and of course technology has also enabled this, we have brought in much more standardised services such as consulting, and now we also provide services remotely via video and chat. I'm currently the HR Director for Central and Eastern Europe and, in a conversation with the Managing Director of our Market Unit when I joined, I told him I didn't want to be the kind of person who would just execute decisions that were made, but that I wanted to be involved in those decisions and be part of the discussions around them. And I believe that is accepted today.

Could you be more specific?

HR at SAP has made a really big step in managing the organisation along with those in sales and other functions. Therefore, people like me needn't burden ourselves with worrying about administrative processes and so on because we can access data from any device.

This means that when we sit in a meeting and focus at once on topics that I would otherwise say I'd produce a report on and present in two weeks, I can now open the data immediately and get an up-to-date overview.

That's definitely where technology has helped HR grow and become much more professional. We are no longer working on a general level, but really as strategic partners talking about trends in HR that we would like to implement. I think that's been a huge shift in our field over the last 15 years.

Does SAP still see the corporate office as a crucial place where work is done? Many companies say that at the beginning of the pandemic it seemed as though employees could work from home forever, but recently they have been moving away from that view. What is SAP's position at this point?

When we asked employees how they would like to work in a post-pandemic situation, we found that they don't see it as completely home office, but also not 100% works office, so it's more of a hybrid model. People would like to be flexible and they'd like to choose, but they still miss the social factor in this home office era, the interaction with colleagues, meeting for coffee and talking without having to schedule it and looking at each other through screens.

We're moving towards some hybrid world where we enable a flexible working model wherever possible. We have learned that we often have to intensely work with employment law. I believe we will see changes on the government side as well because they have realised during the pandemic that change is needed also on this level. But certainly our goal is to allow employees to work in the way that is best for them, to thrive and be as creative as possible. I'm sure in the development area at SAP, where colleagues rely on lively teamwork, people will work from the office a little more than those in sales. They have always been with customers anyway and were or are used to working in a more remote mode.

But I think we'll be somewhere in the middle. Two or three days in the office and the remaining days on home office. From an employer's point of view, we would certainly like to enable this in accordance with local labour law and regulations in the country concerned.