For Aparna Gupta, customer success lead at Microsoft India, things got personal when one of her team members was found to be COVID positive and reached out for help when the second wave had just started hitting New Delhi.
'We were scrambling for an ambulance at 2 a.m. and the first ambulance that came didn't have oxygen. The second one had an oxygen cylinder but there was no nurse. We spent hours trying to find a hospital bed for her. Her situation deteriorated very quickly. You read about these things in the papers, we realized how bad things were on ground,' Gupta says.
'Everyone was feeling anxious and helpless,' Irina Ghose, executive director of cloud solutions, Microsoft India, recalls.
In response, they initiated the setting up of local support groups composed of Microsoft employee volunteers. 'Some of our senior leaders decided to get together, pool our resources, and start engaging at the ground level. Until then we were resolving issues individually. If someone approached us, we'd drop our work, get on a call, and address it. What we needed was an engine to be set up with urgency.'
'We saw that several of our colleagues were in dire need of help. There were some who were living alone or didn't have a support system,' says Himani Agrawal, the chief of staff for Microsoft India.
At around this time, Agrawal lost an aunt and an uncle with whom she was close. On the morning of her aunt's passing, she got a call for help from a colleague. 'Knowing that the disease had taken someone close to me, made me want to fight back even more badly.'
But to do this in an organization that employs more than 13,000 people required more than just noble intent. 'As the numbers increased, we asked ourselves what else could we do?' she adds.
'It started as a scrum,' recalls Mithun Sundar who'd joined Microsoft India as chief transformation officer barely a month before the second wave hit. 'At first we were reacting more than being proactive.'
For most part, everyone's initial response was to just roll up their sleeves and do it themselves. Then one weekend, as the situation started looking grim ahead, calling for far more and structured, focused, and co-ordinated.
The local support group identified centers of activity where the company has offices and a significant employee presence-Delhiand its neighboring cities (Delhi NCR), Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Mumbai. They assigned team leads for each center, who knew each of these cities well and were well connected to source emergency resources there.
A 'rest of India' group was also created. It ensured that even those employees who had gone back to their homes, due to remote working, or those who had immediate family anywhere else in the country, could get access to the same level of help.
But as cases increased, it became apparent that more volunteers from within the company were needed; people who'd be willing to go beyond their call of duty and help out other colleagues. This was a tall order given the severity of the pandemic, but when the call for help went out in late April, more than 850 employees offered to volunteer almost immediately.
Some of the volunteers served as pillar leads for each city and would be responsible for a specific resource like oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, medicines, ambulances, or anything else. The others would help secure those resources from verified leads and serve as 'buddies' to employees in need of help by staying in touch with them over group chats and ensure they have everything they need.
If an employee was looking for any resource, all they had to do was write to a city-specific email address for help.
While buddies were reserved to help employees and their immediate families, it was decided right at the beginning that the verified information about resources would be made available to all employees, irrespective of whom they were helping, say a friend, a domestic help, or an acquaintance so no one would be left behind.