Unprecedented would be an understatement to name the Pandemic world we live in today. The times haven’t been easy for anyone; companies were forced to close their physical offices and make the switch to remote working. The challenge has been managed effectively by IT and Software Development companies – India’s massive US$177 billion industry has made this switch rather smoothly surprising the industry leaders and customers alike.
According to the Economic Times, almost 90% of IT employees are now working remotely from metros and small towns. HR professionals took the challenge head-on and used their existing policies to help employees make the switch. Maintaining business continuity in the technical aspect has been covered by us in a previous blog. Now, let us understand the more about remote team management from an HR perspective. Here’s an excerpt from a recent conversation with Manisha Narayanan, HR Manager at Perfomatix.
Q&A with HR Manager
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced since the mandatory work from home situation started?
We had to make an immediate decision to switch to mandatory work from home, even before a nationwide lockdown was announced. The decision was taken by keeping in mind the priorities of employee health, and our current work from home policy helped us here.
Adapting to the new normal was a challenge; first and foremost – communication with employees and amongst team members had to be encouraged while everyone working remotely. Proper communication is the cornerstone in tackling the issues that might arise from remote working. A team-based approach where each team was encouraged to have constant contact – almost all teams have daily scheduled standup calls to stay connected. In addition to that, monthly all-hands meetings and weekly employee engagement programs bring together all employees. We encourage full transparency in these meetings and invite questions or suggestions from employees regarding the remote working situation. It’s been a constant learning experience where we try to overcome obstacles together.
Maintaining business continuity and completing project sprints at the right time depends on the productivity factor. For this, we ensured all employees have an enabling workspace at home. That they have necessary gadgets, we provided their office laptops wherever possible. While having one-on-one conversations with employees, the HR team reiterated the need to sensitize family members regarding their work timings and ensure a separation of work & home as much as possible.
Q. What are the priorities in handling this situation, talking from the perspective of supporting the interests of the employees?
As I said, employee health is the priority, and we began WFH a week before lockdown. This helped our employees get enough time to reach their safe destinations, and gave us time to figure out a strategy before a nationwide lockdown began. We had to ensure trust in our employees, and we communicated the company policies to all employees that our team will remain intact irrespective of these uncertainties.
From a recruitment standpoint, the induction of newly hired employees and the onboarding process was entirely virtual. Our priority here was to ensure no one felt out of sync with the organization and maintained company values despite having no physical contact.
Q. What are some of the different communication models that helped maintain synergy between employees while working from home?
We use “Slack” for company-wide communication; the different team channels help teams have private conversations amongst themselves. We believe in a Manager-driven model for addressing team mates’ issues, where the HR team acts as enablers. We encourage Managers or those in the supervisory roles to understand the team and mangers could provide their team members with the best solutions. Certain teams have mandatory video calls; a voice call might not properly communicate ideas, and video calls prevent this by bringing in the gestures and expressions.
We have various Employee engagement programs, the “Fun Thursdays” that we had at the office with food and fun games have become virtual gatherings. We usually come up with random quizzes to take a break and have fun with everyone. This helps in low productivity of working alone or from burnout due to long working hours, essentially giving everyone a well-needed break. The HR team sets up “Pulse sessions”, an informal talk session with employees that’s quick, and helps in getting more info regarding their concerns about work from home.
To grow and adapt to these times, taking suggestions from employees is crucial. We can easily miss certain aspects of work from home – to solve this; we circulated various Google Forms to ensure an active feedback mechanism is in place. Ultimately, we need to help the employees feel connected to the organization while direct contact is non-existent and help them out when they need us. For instance, mothers in our company found it particularly challenging to handle the switch, being a mother myself we could help them with suggestions for a productive workspace.
We are closely watching the situation nationally and internationally – although there was an initial struggle where we decided month on month to deal with the situation. We came up with a new and updated work from home policy, and it helped with long term clarity for employees to address real issues like paying rent, duration of mandatory work from home, etc.
Q. Could you suggest some methods to maintain a stress-free workspace at home?
We are continually reiterating that work from home doesn’t mean everyone should be available 24×7, you need to set aside a specific time to be productive and work. Sensitize your family about your needs, and try to have a separate workspace. A workspace at home needs essential WFH equipment, and make sure you have a stable internet connection.
You need to have a to-do list of daily tasks and set aside time slots; you can use the Pomodoro technique to focus. Our results matter ultimately, and it doesn’t matter where we are working from. Having said that, you also need to give time for self-care and rest.
Task management is crucial – prioritize your tasks, reflect on everyday goals, and self evaluate what’s working and what’s not. We’d encourage employees to “over-communicate” with their managers to get clarity over expected results. Get on-call and talk to them immediately to rectify whenever you have doubts. Always ask your supervisor for an ETA for tasks; this will help you prioritize the to-do list.
Q. What activities would you suggest to make this extraordinary situation a positive experience for an employee working from home?
Find time for wellness, since you’re saving commute time – set aside those 10 to 15 mins for a light workout or yoga. Be on the lookout for burnout symptoms, and take breaks to stay stress-free. While it is essential to maintain a work-home separation as much as you can, family time need not be compromised. Spend time with your family and you need not completely avoid family time during usual working hours. We have a “kids are welcome” approach in our informal virtual meetings, this connects everyone in our organization and we’ve been getting to know more about the family members of our team mates.
We also encourage our employees to upskill during this time and find online courses for skill development. We believe upskilling has to happen from within, and once you get a productive outcome from it – this will create a positive effect on work and personal life. Upskilling should become a part of your career, and it need not be forced or spoon-fed, it wouldn’t bring a long-lasting impression if you are not self-motivated to upskill. Supervisors should point out the consequences of not focusing on upskilling; nevertheless – the choice is up to each employee.
Time management, task prioritization, skill development, and self-care positively impact individuals in these tough situations. Companies need to put their employees’ health as the priority and be completely transparent with them by properly communicating decisions. Trust building and team building need to happen with constant internal communication. Trying to find a positive side to these uncertainties to remain stress-free. From my conversations with employees, the bright side for many of them has been that they finally got to spend some quality time with family.