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The arrival of coronavirus has forced dramatic changes to our traditional model of the workplace. Kate Rand, former Group Director of People and Operations at Beyond, outlines some key tips for companies keen to adapt quickly.
If your business hasn’t already moved to remote working, in light of the current situation, it seems inevitable that it will be at that point in a matter of days. The consequences of being unable to transfer your business to this distributed approach are dire for both the business and for our employees. There is no shortage of thought leadership being solicited on social media platforms on the topic, but for anyone still working out how to make the leap, it can be overwhelming. Business leaders are looking for tangible ways to adopt remote working, and for that reason I’m excited to be participating in NOBL’s remote conference this Friday, which is all about sharing case studies, learnings and practical tips for working remotely, from people who’ve been there, seen it and done it.
Our backstory to remote working
Beyond has been applying principle based agile working practices for just under two years, piloting it in our London studio of 100, and then evolving it across our two North America locations (New York and San Francisco) most recently. This was in response to the needs of our talent pipeline. As a founder led digital agency, it can be challenging for businesses like ours to really commit to this level of flexibility around their workforce. Due to our success, we have had a lot of people reaching out to ask how we’d made this work, so we decided to create the Belong Frameworks. These have now been used in over 29 countries, and are the beginning of a comprehensive set of people centric frameworks created to support inclusive working practices. This is because we believe at Beyond that DE&I is an imperative not a competitive advantage.
Agile working and COVID19: How to set your team up for success
Our Beyond flexibility programme may be the foundations of our remote working response, but there are other aspects we’ve considered for our group wide response to COVID19.
Refactoring facility roles
If you are no longer working in an office, what can you do with your Office Manager? Our answer was to refactor these to support with communication and wellbeing. As part of closing down the office, relocating office plants etc, we made sure we had all the details for our team members so we could contact them easily. The OM role is now so key to keeping communication flowing as we try to engage and keep morale up remotely. The OMs at Beyond are now accountable for the distribution of care packages, like fruit, stationery requests to be sent out to reduce incidental expenses and leading on wellbeing.
It’s human nature to assume that when someone isn’t responding, or being forthcoming, something isn’t being done. We’re all accountable for managing this reaction ourselves, but it is also helpful to ensure everyone is over communicating. Using Slack, G chat and video conferencing help with this. We set up guidelines for being remote, and to continue our culture, the people team created “The Beyond virtual cafe” a virtual space anyone can pop in to for a chat, at any time, and there is a higher cadence for meetings to check in. During team sessions, different team members will take it in turns to share fitness routines, run mindfulness sessions or just share a story about WFH. Individual teams are also running opening stand ups, and stand downs during the day. Our design team has gone further and is conducting their monthly team meeting in fancy dress over video chat (that's creatives for you). For our external communication, we also updated our email signatures to make sure our partners and clients knew we were operating BAU, but remotely.
“Parents dealing with mini dictators at home” (quote from one of our parents)
Sooner or later, everyone who cares for dependents will likely have them in the house. Children will be home from school, and as a business, we wanted to reassure people that we weren’t going to penalise team members for doing what has to be done. We communicated that it was ok for toddlers and children to guest star on our video calls, and for team members to run late if they had to feed or entertain children. We've also set up a "parents at work" slack channel. There is a great article from HBR as a guide for parents that we shared.
At Beyond, we’re massive advocates for wellbeing. With a large tech team, we have to be. BIMA’s report in 2019 identified those in the tech industry as 5x more likely to suffer from depression than the UK average. It’s more important than ever to keep a pulse check on our people. Working from home can impact mental health, and those who suffer from anxiety can find it is exacerbated in times of crisis. It’s important to signpost Employee Assistance Programmes. We have a trained mental health first aid team, who are active and visible for all remote employees, sharing tips, tricks and checking in with our people to make sure they’re supported.
We've even got team members who have side hustles as PTs, setting up regular remote workouts. #youdoyou
It's also useful to identify and educate your employees on how they cope with stress. This is an important differentiation from sharing generic information about stress at work, as the employee will oftentimes be by themselves, so will need to become more self aware of their emotional state, so they know when to ask for help.
During isolation, feelings of imposter syndrome, a tendency to disengage with reality as a coping mechanism, which in turn encourages use of recreational drugs and alcohol as a solution, and a focus on cognitive fusion can all be exacerbated. Helping employees to understand what the signals and triggers are, and how to overcome them will help.
Stress testing - do this immediately
The horse has left the stable on this for most of us, but if you haven’t already, your company should practice going fully remote before the decision is made for you. Test things like employee’s wifi at home, your server and VPN capacity, monitor logistics and running remote workshops. The sooner you can offer remote to your teams, the safer they will be.
The canaries - how to spot when it’s going Pete Tong
Things will go wrong, it’s about your early warning systems being set up to spot these and mitigate them. One company referred to these as “the canaries”. We found at Beyond that when we inadvertently stress tested our full remote studio in the early days during our office redesign, that quality of work needs additional scrutiny during remote working. Make sure you have senior oversight available and present and you’ve identified key measures as your early warning signs.
How not to do it
There have been recent examples shared on social media of companies sharing well meaning messages that have just landed badly. This includes remote working guidelines that scream zero trust - “let us know when you are going to the bathroom, and do not screen calls” - and companies refusing to flex their holiday accrual rollovers with statements like “Airlines may have cancelled their flights but we have not cancelled our holiday policy”. Be wary of how communications come across, and anything being sent out should be run through some key employees to check the intent follows through.
As we go into these uncertain times, it's important we all work together to ensure that our communities are able to survive. For any small to medium business looking for guidance to navigate through this, I’d recommend attending the NOBL conference on Friday and taking a look at our frameworks.