Since the onset of COVID-19 the world has had to undergo a great many changes and challenges in order to adapt to the new reality, one of which is the new way of working. While employees have to figure out how to successfully work from home and maintain a work/life balance, it’s less common to hear about the transformation that employers have had to undergo in order to successfully manage a workforce that almost entirely works from home.
To find out more about how the employers are dealing with new challenges that arise, such as employee productivity, mental wellbeing, and work culture, we spoke to managers and CEOs from various companies--software startups Cybellum and TravelSuit , consultancy firm Athena Advisers, and governmental agency SlovakAid.
You might assume that with employees not working from an office, you might have fluctuations in productivity, or that it might at least be a worrying issue for employers. Apparently that’s what many software providers believe as well, as many products are being marketed claiming to monitor employee productivity, but according to Zeevi Michel, CEO of TravelSuit, “I truly believe that if a company needs that kind of ‘control’, you have a bigger problem in your culture.” According to him, part of the hiring culture was to hire people that are trustworthy and dependable, and so whether it’s working from an office or working from home, Zeevi knows he can trust his employees to get the job done.
In SlovakAid, employees were so worried about working from home that they became even more attentive to deadlines and tasks, “It’s somehow made the department even more productive than before.” mentioned Lucia Kiss, Director of the agency.
In fact, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that none of the managers we spoke to were experiencing issues with employee productivity as a result of working from home. “Our team has shown incredible dedication to their work during these times, they’re actually achieving more than we might have previously thought possible while working from home,” mentioned Amanda Kendzior, manager at Athena Advisers.
Most of the companies we spoke to were used to maintaining an upbeat office culture through team lunches, happy hours, and after-work activities, in addition to regular office banter and fun throughout the day. With employees scattered over many cities and with social distancing in place, most employers found they needed to adjust their approach to keep employees engaged with the company--”one of the biggest challenges of this time” according to Zeevi.
“When the pandemic first started, we had daily meetings for 15 minutes where each employee would share something they’re happy about, and we would close with an uplifting song.” says Zeevi, “It proved a good way to keep everyone engaged with each other, without eating up much of their time.”
Some companies still maintain the habit of shared lunches, whether via zoom or in person, “it’s also a good opportunity to support local businesses during this period” Lucia mentioned “and it’s good for people in the company to see each other over lunch, while socially distant of course!”
From those we spoke to, it seemed like employees were more than happy to spend time online socializing with colleagues, even after hours of work in front of the computer.
One thing all employers are conscious of is that working from home full-time isn’t easy and it is important to make the transition as smooth as possible.
The first thing many employers mentioned was the importance of work stations. “Not everyone has a home office set up, so we needed to make sure that everyone has a proper work station--whether that meant getting them suitable chairs, tables, screens,” says Slava Bronfman, CEO of Cybellum, “You can’t expect them to work properly without that.”
Furthermore, the employers realized the particular challenges that faced the parents in the company with little kids at home. “Some parents are doing shifts to watch the kids, some are getting help,” says Slava “so right away we shifted meeting times to suit the parents who have other considerations at home.”
Meetings were indeed a stress point for most people working from home, with some employers trying to cut them down as much as possible. Amanda, for instance, told us that at Athena Advisers they wiped their calendar clean of all meetings and then carefully added back only the ones that were absolutely necessary, “it has really reduced the number of meetings we have to take which enables the employee to focus on working, more so than on meeting after meeting.”
Two key factors came up time and time again in relation to how managers are successfully managing their workforce in these precarious times: Flexibility and trust.
It’s important to accept the new changes and find creative ways of making your business work despite them. “If a governmental body can start to accept online documents and not only hard copies, anything is possible,” jokes Lucia.
Make your employees feel valued and trusted, keep them engaged with the company and with each other, and be supportive as possible. The rest will work itself out.