Keeping the Human Touch in a Virtual World

In April I started my first rotation as part of the Global HR Early Talent Program 2020/21 at SAP. Throughout the program I will have the opportunity to rotate in three different HR functions – one of which was going to be abroad. For my first rotation, I joined the HR Advisor organization, which is taking care of over 6500 managers globally by providing services that help the leaders at SAP to make well informed, fair and people-centered decisions. When transitioning into the Early Talent program in the beginning of April, I was of course excited to get to know my new colleagues, fellow Early Talents and various leaders here at SAP, in person as part of the Early Talent experience. However, as you can recall beginning of this year everything was different…

Whole cities were in lockdown. My return from vacation entailed a two-week quarantine. Work from the office was impossible. International or at times even national travel was prohibited. In these times of uncertainty, as it has been labeled so many times, I started my journey in my very first job after graduating university. One could say this was the beginning of the virtual world regarding work, virtual collaboration and work relationships. As someone who highly values human interaction, some of my initial questions and uncertainties were: What’s going to happen with the human touch of work? How will the fully virtual setting affect me, my work, my onboarding and my development? Let me give you a spoiler up front: it worked out pretty well!

Let’s go back 4 months, when my work equipment arrived via UPS and my “we will meet you in the lobby and show you the office” was a MS Teams call from my manager. It was great to see the effort put into onboarding us during such a difficult time and how well it worked. We have weekly calls to stay in touch with our fellow early talents and definitely feel connected. Nevertheless, everything was different. Having worked at SAP prior to the program start it was interesting to see people switch on their camera immediately as they join a call. If we take ourselves back a year or two this would be almost unimaginable. This was a great change, which made it possible to build relationships in an otherwise unfavorable environment.

One of my personal biggest success stories is the buddy system. For me it was crucial to have a great start in my working life. My buddy and I have daily check ins most of which are work related but almost always have a personal and private section, too. Combined with daily team calls, with cameras enabled, I almost felt like sitting in the office face to face. Taking past experiences into consideration I would even argue that this fully virtual setting leveled the playing field for international teams. It doesn’t matter if you are part of the majority of the team who is in one location – everyone is tuning in from their home now. In turn everyone is more understanding and puts in more effort to have a meaningful relationship. It is amazing to see what happens when we break down silos and start working with mutual understanding and empathy.

By nature of the HR Advisor job, I was able to pull my own work packages from the tickets that managers raised and, in a way, influence my learning curve directly and autonomously by challenging myself with new topics and processes.

“WAIT – you said Tickets? Where is the Human touch you value so much in that? Don’t you think at least HR should keep the H(uman) part of their work?”

I can see why some people might think it is controversial to have the word “Ticket” and “Human touch” in the same sentence. Having worked with the HR Advisor Team for almost 4 months now, I can reassure you we value human interaction and building a meaningful relationship just as much as you. It is correct that our interactions almost always start via a ticket, but they are usually resolved via personal interaction in meetings. For our customers it is more important for us to be there when they need us and not to be there just to be seen. We like to use the analogy of a restaurant when explaining our services. With that in mind we take on the position of the server. As the guest you want the server to be there when you are hungry or in need of a new glass of wine, but you don’t need him/ her to sit or stand right next to you at the table throughout your dinner. Similar to a restaurant we offer a variety of services which range from assisting with standard HR processes to counseling, conflict or performance management and sparring. If a Leader needs support, he will have a whole team of professionals behind him to resolve an issue. For me it was great to be a part of an amazing team, to see the level of efficiency and quality of their work and as result to experience the appreciation from our leaders at SAP firsthand.

 To sum it up, here are my three key learnings from the ET program so far:

  • You own your carrier! Challenge yourself daily, stay curious and don’t be afraid to call a colleague and ask questions.
  • The importance of the human touch: if you put effort and ambition into it, make a call, switch on your camera, and stay in touch it is absolutely possible to build human relationships in a fully virtual work environment.
  • We are blessed with a great HR model which provides quick and professional support to all leaders across the globe in a human way.