As with most businesses, March 2020 saw us looking for more flexible and robust ways for our teams to continue to work remotely so our business could continue to trade.
We had previously brought in Microsoft Office365 and Sharepoint a year or two previously, which had allowed us to step away from using on-site servers etc, but when the first lockdown hit, we moved over to video calls with Microsoft Teams, which enabled us to continue to service our clients, communicate with each other, and have minimal disruption.
While the pandemic was catastrophic for some professions, fortunately our business has seen growth due to clients recommending friends and family because of how well they felt we looked after and supported them during this difficult period. We had to recruit more team members, which included creating a new back-office support team to keep up with the business demands, but to also streamline our efficiencies with our processes and procedures.
What we did for our people
From a people manager perspective, my main task was to ensure that team members continued to feel supported, that their wellbeing was a priority and that we continued as a business to move forward.
From an employee wellbeing perspective, we introduced HEKA, which is an employee benefit aimed at creating flexibility and choice for the employee to chose what services they would like to benefit from. HEKA offers everything from fresh food meal box deliveries to life coaching, gym memberships and online yoga classes; there really is something for everybody.
We wanted to look for more efficient and effective ways of helping our team members feel supported. So we started using our employee engagement tool Culture Amp as a learning and development tool where data and information can be shared between the individuals, the team leaders and the business owners.
Each month our heads of department hold 1:1s with their direct reports. Through Culture Amp each person can answer a few questions, with a simple sliding scale (1-10 – 1 being low and 10 being high) on their work overall, wellbeing, growth, working relationships and impact and productivity, we also focus on what has or hasn’t gone well since their last catch up and what challenges or roadblocks they feel they are facing.
In addition to the monthly 1:1 tool, we also run our half-year and annual reviews, and personal and business goal settings. It really is a great tool for learning and development, as well as employee engagement.
Now the dust has settled a little, how are we doing?
As lockdown eased, we created a survey through Culture Amp, which encouraged each team member to reflect on their experiences during lockdown. For example, we asked what did they enjoy about working from home? The responses ranged from saving money and time on the commute, to being able to spend more time with family.
We also asked what difficulties they may have experienced with working from home. Common responses were poor internet connection, lack of space and having too many distractions.
We opened the office back up in June/July and since then we’ve been trialling complete flexible working.
Our suggestion is that each team member goes into the office once a week to break up the monotony of being at home, but that apart from that, people could decide for themselves how they wanted to work.
As a business it didn’t feel right for us to start demanding our team members return to the office full time when they have all done a brilliant job of working remotely during the entirety of lockdown.
Since reopening the office, we've had one day where we had only one desk left empty, on other days there has been ample space for any last-minute decisions to go into the office. As expected, we saw the younger team members and those living either at home with parents, or in shared accommodation, choose to go into the office more; sometimes for better working space, but also for the social aspects of being with their peers.
The interesting part about enabling the team to choose for themselves when, where and how they work, is that they have naturally turned to other members of their direct teams and agreed together to go into the office on the same days of the week to allow for more collaboration. But they’ve also started to increase the number of days in which they go into the office to 2-3 days a week, without being asked to.
Being able to continue to offer flexible working has enabled us to be able to save money as a business because despite having a larger team we’ve retained our current office premises. Even though we have more team members than desk spaces, we simply ask that people add their name to the desk plan for any given day and once we reach maximum capacity for that day, the team know to look for alternative availability on another day.
Employee engagement is the most challenging part we face now as a business
We introduced our 10-15-minute weekly call which we hold every Wednesday morning as a quick updating session, where we discuss what’s going on, remind people of anything important, and have quick round-robin check in.
We also hold quarterly off-site team events. Now that we're trying to find our new ‘normal’ the morning sessions will be business focused and the afternoon sessions will be team building focused. We feel it's important that although we're all working remotely at different times, that we still have those key opportunities to come together as a team.
We haven’t yet made the final decision on what this will look like going forward, but let’s hope that we don’t have any more enforced lockdowns, because for now, this new ‘normal’ feels right for us.