Employees helping employees amid India’s COVID-19 waves


3 ServiceNow employees who stepped up to help fellow employees in need when COVID-19 hit India: Jeba S., Swaroop T., and Arun S.

When India’s two waves of COVID-19 capsized colleagues' lives, a group of ServiceNow employees in India rushed to their aid.

“When these things come and someone needs help, you go above and beyond. That is the right thing to do,” explains Swaroop T., senior staff software engineer in Hyderabad.

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It’s a remarkable story of compassion, tenacity, and the power of technology. There isn’t room in this post to give credit to everyone who volunteered their time and talents to help, but they’re represented by three exceptional individuals: Swaroop, Arun S., and Jeba S.

Pushing forward, even through loss

Arun, workplace services (WPS) lead, was part of a crisis management tiger team set up in Hyderabad when the second wave hit earlier this year. One idea quickly came to fruition: the creation of a community Slack channel where employees could get information and ask for help. Sixteen volunteer moderators handled the hundreds of requests that immediately poured in at the channel’s launch.

Arun and others also received personal pleas for assistance. One volunteer received as many as 500 messages in a day. Even after her brother died of COVID-19, she never let up helping others because she felt his death was a call to do as much as she could. Arun, too, lost close family members to the disease, including his father.

For three months, Arun constantly fielded frantic calls from employees. There was the employee looking for an oxygen concentrator for a family member and the sick employee stuck in lockdown in Bangalore—which was not his home—and scared about what would happen to him, among others.

Although it wasn’t his job, Arun felt he had to help. “It was a big responsibility because I didn’t have these kinds of contacts. And if something went wrong…I just tried and tried and used the resources I had,” he says. WPS and global talent volunteers also worked their contacts to find resources.

"When these things come and someone needs help, you go above and beyond. That is the right thing to do." Swaroop T., senior staff software engineer, ServiceNow


Bringing medicine and technology to the fight

Once COVID-19 vaccines were available in India, the tiger team launched an initiative for a one-day vaccination clinic for employees and staff at the Hyderabad site. With assistance from employee volunteers and workplace services staff, more than 700 people—including family members—were vaccinated. It was so well coordinated that the entire vaccination process, from arrival to departure, took 10 minutes.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of developers and others, the volunteers had a tool to help them get information fast: a bot called PRIME, which stands for pandemic response and incident management for emergencies.

It was built to help volunteers find and provide accurate information to employees on available hospital beds, medical equipment, medicine, COVID-19 tests, and other resources. Volunteers accessed it through the ServiceNow employee portal or added it as an app to the Slack channel.

Jeba, senior director of software engineering management, along with members of his team, conceived, architected, and built the core framework and enhanced the bot with help from other volunteers. Swaroop played a key role in building the architecture and integrating the bot with Slack.

The bot was built over two weekends using ServiceNow and partner technology. It pulls the most sought-after information from various online sources (such as Instagram, Twitter, and state hospital and COVID-19 websites), assimilates it, and then presents it in an easily digestible format.

The bot even verifies the phone number given is valid and that someone answers the line. So, for example, a volunteer could use the bot to find an ICU bed for an employee’s relative at a hospital near them and, within seconds, receive a list of hospitals (and contact numbers) with the highest probability of having an available bed, as well as the date and time that information was verified.

Jeba is convinced the bot saved lives. “During the peak of the pandemic, it sometimes was too late to get help to people because information was not available at the right moment or information would disappear. And searching manually was very difficult. It took me 36 hours to find a bed for a family member,” he says.

Forging strong bonds

The Slack channel and PRIME bot are still active and may again become critical avenues for helping employees should new strains of COVID-19 appear in India.

The COVID-19 employee volunteers have built strong connections with each other. As one says, “Adversity builds comradery. We are all in this together, and you could really see that happen. No one hesitated to ask for help, and then they would say, ‘Please tell me how I can help.’ It’s the kind of circle we rendered.”

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