In a time when employees are largely working from home and face-to-face interactions have been minimised, Gilead has been stepping up its employee engagement virtually. Andrew Hexter, Vice President and General Manager, Asia 5 Gilead Sciences, tells Priya Sunil how the biotechnology firm created a platform to encourage employees to keep moving, all with a bigger benefit in mind - the desire to give back to the community.

Q Tell us more about the employees' role in the Creating Possible for our Communities programme, and how they were motivated to get involved.

Let me provide some context on the concept of Creating Possible and why it resonates with our employees. For more than 30 years, Gilead has pursued breakthroughs once thought to be impossible with the mission to create a healthier world. For example, we transformed care for people living with HIV by developing the world’s first single tablet regimen for HIV treatment and later with the first medicine for HIV prevention. Similarly, we Created Possible in viral hepatitis including the first cure for HCV - and most recently, we became the first company to have a treatment in COVID-19.

The spirit of Creating Possible shows up in everything that we do - from scientific innovation to getting involved in the community. That spirit underscored the Creating Possible for our Communities programme, a virtual giving back programme in response to COVID-19.

The programme had three initiatives, including the Gilead StepUp Challenge (Challenge). As we know, COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges to remote working, ranging from emotional and mental isolation to lack of motivation to keep up with physical fitness. We felt that we needed to address this proactively as a company and could do so by bringing together employee engagement, physical activity, and the desire to contribute in a tangible way to the communities impacted by the pandemic.

The Challenge focused on, first, getting everyone physically moving. As motivation, each office competed against other offices for a donation to be awarded to the winning office’s chosen charity. The Challenge drew strong interest from employees. Participation was viral.

Q How did this help with the engagement rate?

We were inspired by near 100% engagement rate across our offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. Collectively, our employees clocked an average of two million steps a day!

By the end of the campaign we recorded a total of 43 million steps. To put that in context, that is the equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 757 times!

Beyond the numbers, a true milestone of any successful campaign is when it achieves that ‘flywheel’ effect and becomes employee driven. The Challenge saw employees initiating walks amongst themselves and even arranging mini-challenges between intra-office teams. Our senior leadership team also joined in and shared photos of their participation in the Challenge.

The Challenge provided an avenue for employees to engage with each other in a way that otherwise may not have been possible while working remotely. All of our employees were working tirelessly across multiple time zones to maintain operations and address the big medical and humanitarian needs created by the pandemic. And while the Challenge was in addition to their core work, they appreciated a platform to raise their spirits and support their physical health.

In fact, many of our employees said that they felt re-energised following the Challenge. It was a simple concept that touched on many aspects of employee wellbeing – physical, psychological and emotional - and that’s really the sweet spot of building team morale.

Q What was HR's role in the process?

Since the beginning of COVID-19, HR was a strong partner in rapidly mobilising initiatives to support our employees. As a member of the crisis management team, our Human Resources partner contributed insights and ideas to ensure employee health and safety for the Challenge itself but also other engaging activities for employee wellbeing.

These ideas include distribution of masks and hand sanitisers, care packages and return-to-office welcome packs to provide better protection while our employees were working from home and transitioning back to the office. We also implemented flexible leave, childcare support and work-from-home benefits to help our employees create appropriate workspaces at home.

Together with the StepUp Challenge, we also tried to inspire our employees to find ways to stay healthy through online resources, such as fitness, yoga and nutrition videos, as well as stress reduction and mental health resources to support their physical and mental health. HR has been a critical partner in our ability to prioritise activities during this period to let our employees know that we are on this journey together as ONE Gilead.

Q On the business front, what was the impact of these initiatives?

Any strong company understands, business success depends on the strength and engagement of its employees. Gilead is focused on supporting its employees. We will continue to measure the ways that policies and initiatives put in place support our employees and keep them healthy and productive during these challenging times.

While most of the feedback at this point is qualitative in nature, we are encouraged by the strong sense of morale and engagement we are witnessing across the region.

What this translates to for the business is increased and sustained energy for our goals and objectives including key deliverables. For example, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we have been able to successfully deliver the first treatment for COVID-19 in Asia including rapid regulatory approvals.

As we continue to look at recovery, virtual workplace initiatives, such as the Gilead StepUp Challenge, will be crucial to supporting the collaborative spirit and ensuring that our employees can continue to deliver their best work and pull together in our collective goal to Create Possible in Asia 5.

The impact of COVID-19 in the workplace has been unprecedented. Gilead was a first-mover in understanding that certain employee engagement initiatives are no longer a 'good to have' but a must have if we are to continue to Create Possible for our patients.

COVID-19 has changed many industries, including healthcare, requiring collaborative effort across all functions – including HR leadership – to ensure that the business continues to operate with minimal disruption. While we never lose focus on delivering life-changing treatments to patients worldwide, we are also focused on our employees who are making this a reality.

Gilead has always put employees at the centre, this new reality requires us to do so through maximising the use of technology and platforms to ensure success. We need to think differently to Create Possible once again in our culture, performance, and communications.

Photo / provided

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