This is Part 1 of our Best Practices during COVID-19 Series. Stay Tuned for more!
We reached out to our clients (in technology and financial services) and interviewed them to learn what their best practices and biggest challenges have been during this global pandemic. Specifically, we were interested in this forced digital transformation many have had to undergo as they move to remote work, and if there were any technology changes that were perhaps made for the better. We found that many firms have let go of misconceptions and concerns regarding remote work within their companies, and most were open to having exclusively remote workers in the future. We also found that empathy driven responses have been key in order to build morale and loyalty for employees, and maintain and increase productivity. While presenting many challenges, this moment in time has opened countless doors for firms globally, and may well be the beginning of a new era of work.
These Last Two Months Have Debunked all the Myths of Remote Work
Many companies had misconceptions about remote work and have delayed adopting policies that allowed for flexible working. Flexible work policies are often associated with women and mothers, perhaps leading to a common belief that those engaging in flexible work are not high performing and high contributing employees. Many reported long standing concerns regarding productivity, engagement, and security when it comes to working from home. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies across the globe to move virtually 100% of their employees remote and give them the tools and access to work from home.
This forced move to a remote workforce has helped debunk myths about working from home. Nearly every company we spoke to reported above average productivity by their second or third weeks of remote work. Once they moved past technical hiccups and logistical issues, productivity was higher than ever. In addition to that, despite having no contact with one another in person, several leaders have reported to us that they have never felt more connected to their employees and their teams.
The firms that fared well respected flexibility to begin with
The companies who have fared the best in this fast transition period are those who had existing flexible working resources and policies and thus some or all of their workforce already had the capacity to work remote.
“Flexibility is one of the core values of [our company]. It helps us be more attractive to young people and people at different stages of their life (...) Flexibility is how we’re going to make it through this-- we’re acknowledging that times are hard- there's issues of wellness, mental health, childcare, elder care, and we’re supporting our staff by being flexible about working hours and projects because we know our human capital is our greatest asset”
As noted above- several companies we spoke to have adopted flexible working policies not just to be attractive to women but to young people as well. Another company had adopted work from home policies so they could create a “neighborhood seating” set up in their office- allowing about 1.6 employees per seat. In order to support this, virtually every employee had the ability to work from home and would do so one to two days a week. These companies had much more seamless transitions than their peers who had resisted the work from home move in the past.
Suddenly in March as companies around the world moved their workforces remote, monitors and laptops and other supplies were in high demand. Companies who needed to find them for a portion of their workforce fared better than those that needed to find them for their entire workforce. In general, firms that had existing flexible working practices were back up and running within a week from lockdown. Those who did not or who had extensive outsourced or vendor networks took a bit longer. When asked how leaders were addressing individual and team productivity, one leader noted that the majority of their team was offshore, and that getting remote work capacity for them had been delayed, forcing the few onshore team members to triage work and try to cover the work for the whole team. This situation has caused them to reflect on the benefits and challenges of having an offshore workforce.
Remote Working - here to stay?
On the contrary, the success of remote working during Covid-19 has also allowed many to realize that they don’t need to have a workforce that works exclusively at the office: “With Covid we realized we don’t really need to be geography specific going forward in our hiring. We used to make hiring location specific but then you’re limited by a certain talent pool. We’ve realized we can recruit people all over the world once this is over. There’s no reason they have to be in one place”
This sentiment was echoed across companies, and while many of them hope to return to the office once this is over and work in person again, the doors have been opened for a remote workforce or select remote employees. To be able to hire outside of one’s geographic location could potentially allow for a massive increase in capacity and innovation.
Every representative we spoke with indicated that they had never felt more connected to their company, their leadership, and their teams. Companies have been engaging in an array or creative activities including team lunches/breakfasts, drawing competitions to engage employees’ kids, recipe sharing, check in apps, weekly meditations, yoga, company wide town halls, and much more.
“This has been a big leveler for all of us. I am sharing recipes with my team which I’d never imagined I'd be doing. It’s taken away a lot of the barriers of manager versus staff. We’re all stuck in the same predicament, scared of the same things, we feel connected and really feel like a team.”
This pandemic is not just impacting teams in one locale, but globally. One company noted that 100% of it’s workforce was currently working from home, a workforce that is spread out over Asia, the United States, and Eastern Europe. They were now engaging in company wide town halls weekly, when before they had exclusively done meetings within locations. It has allowed a new level of connection firm-wide, connecting teams and individuals across the globe.
Another company had assigned employees into groups of tens, with one manager-level employee as the “head” of the group. These groups acted as a space for employees to meet one another, connect, and check in. They shared recipes, articles, extended support, etc. The head of each group reported to a different high level employee so these groups could act both as a connection tool for employees as well as a managing tool for the company to get a gauge on the general mood of their employees.
Several companies have started apps. In some cases, they’re an opportunity for HR departments to continue their work of supporting employees with different programs (meditation, yoga, counseling, etc.) In other cases, these apps are a way for companies to gather data. One company had actually created several apps. One was intended as a productivity tracker, employees could log in all the work they’d done that day. Another was a wellness tool, it asked questions such as “How am I feeling today?, Where am I working from?, Is my health okay?, What is my mood like?” and aggregates anonymized data and sends it to managers, so they can get a broad understanding of their team’s mindset and any steps they need to take to help. All of these allow management to take appropriate action to support their workforce.
In many ways, this unprecedented moment in time will change the way we work for good. We're talking with industry leaders to see what they're doing now and what they see in the future of their companies. Keep an eye out for the next installment of our Best Practices during COVID-19 series.
Up Next: Hiring During a Global Pandemic