“In the midst of every crisis, lies an opportunity.”

– Albert Einstein

Covid-19 is by no means a crisis of gigantic portions. It permeates every part of our lives. It affects every part of our personal well-being. And in the midst of this pandemic, we have been forced into new ways of working. Companies turned from an office-centric work model to a work-from-home model overnight. Or as Caroline Schein, VP of People at Article, aptly described it to me – we got the opportunity to take on “the world’s biggest pilot in remote work”.

Now more than two months into this pilot, what can we conclude? One thing we know for certain is that remote work is not temporary. This pilot has shown many companies that remote work is a productive, engaging and sustainable way for them to operate. Companies across industries, like Article, Silver Hills Bakery, Bank of Montreal, Shopify and G&F Financial are already anticipating and planning for remote work to be a permanent aspect of how they work.

“We see one of the ‘benefits’ arising out of this time as being the proof of concept that remote work is productive, engaging, and sustainable.”

– Steve MacIntyre, VP of People & Culture at Silver Hills Bakery

So now is the time to ask the second question – what have we learned in this pilot so far that we can apply in the re-opening phase and beyond? Talking with HR leaders and CEOs from companies across various industries and drawing from insights we are seeing via Perked!’s people engagement platform, I’ve distilled three ‘lessons learned’ that I hope will be helpful to you as you plan for and move forward with the re-opening phase of your business and beyond.

3 Lessons Learned in “The World’s Biggest Pilot in Remote Work”

1. Focusing on the “Whole” Person

Remote work in the era of Covid-19 has reminded us that the line between work and personal life is really rather thin. Zoom meetings have given us a glimpse into each other’s “other” life. Kids and pets pop into video meetings unannounced. And the abrupt, unplanned, and uncertain nature of the pandemic has employees constantly dealing with the collision of multiple realities of their life. 

The benefit of this is that now we’re seeing more of the “whole” person. We see more of what their home life is like, not as photo on their desk, but in real-time, during everyday interactions. For Caroline, it is a reminder that as they start to re-open their offices at Article, a direct-to-consumer online furniture retailer with headquarters in Vancouver, they need to consider what is best for the “whole” Particle (aka people at Article). What is their home environment like? Do they feel isolated working from home? How can we help them be their best self no matter where they work?

For Diane Sullivan, Chief People & Culture Officer at G&F Financial Group, a BC-based credit union, this means adapting everyday interactions to individual needs. Flexibility is key. That may mean adapting work hours or meeting times to what works best for parents with kids being home-schooled.

Focusing on the Whole Person
  • Invite and celebrate moments where employees’ work and personal lives collide. Organize “Meet and Greet” or “Take your Kids or Pet to Zoom day” so your employees can introduce their kids/pets to the rest of team. This makes it less embarrassing and stressful the next time your personal life crosses into your work life.
  • Start team meetings by asking, “How are you and your family doing?” or “What’s on your mind?”. Steve MacIntyre, VP of People at Silver Hills Bakery, shares it as a simple and easy way to infuse team meetings with a sense of humanity and empathy.

2. Pushing through the “Regression” Phase

Were you feeling energized and focused a few weeks ago, but now you’re feeling more tired, withdrawn or even irritable? You’re not alone. Speaking with fellow CEOs at regular roundtables throughout the past few months, I’ve noticed this recurring phenomenon.

According to Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg, organizational psychologist and author of Battle Mind: How to Navigate in Chaos and Perform Under Pressure, it’s because we’ve now moved from the emergency phase into the regression phase. In developmental psychology, it describes the phase when people retreat to an earlier stage of development when faced with constant pressure and an uncertain future.

There are three phases when reacting to a crisis situation:

  1. EMERGENCY: Urgency, shared purpose, and clarity of goals energize us and make us more focused and productive.
  2. REGRESSION: Uncertainty in the future and losing that sense of purpose makes us feel tired, irritable, withdrawn and less productive.
  3. RECOVERY: We begin to reorient, revise our goals, expectations and roles and begin to focus on moving beyond vs. just getting by.

So how do you pull yourself and your team through the inevitable regression phase and into the recovery phase? Dr. Merete talks about three things that you can do:

Pushing through the “Regression” Phase
  • Keep a continuous pulse on your teams’ emotions and energy levels. In Perked!’s employee pulse we include this question to measure vigor: “When I get up in the morning, I am excited to work at CompanyX.”
  • Create a new “Day One” and give team members new roles to stretch their abilities. If you can’t give team members new roles, keep them stretching their limits by learning new skills and knowledge. At G&F Financial Group, team members adopted a divide and conquer approach to absorb new learning and share it back with the team.
  • Aim beyond business as usual. Go beyond the survival-first instinct and spend time thinking and planning how the company can help solve bigger problems. This is called “reorientation”. Start by changing your questions from “How can we handle the crisis?” to “How can we move out of the crisis?

3.  Listening to the Voices Within

Continuous listening during a crisis is a Win-Win-Win situation for employees, leaders, and organizations. Employees want to be heard. Leaders can show they care by listening to their employees’ ideas, acknowledging their feedback, and acting compassionately based on what they hear. Organizations strengthen their “muscles” to become more agile and resilient to fast-changing conditions. In a time when “best practices” may no longer be relevant, listening to the ideas of people working within can give you ideas customized to your organization.

At Article, Caroline and her team adapted monthly surveys to stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first month, the survey was focused on understanding Particles’ basic needs as they transitioned to remote work. In the second month, the focus shifted to understand how best to support Particles’ well-being.

At Perked!, we’ve also observed a few things:

  • Participation rates in surveys and pulses have increase the past two months. This indicates to us that employees want to be heard more than ever.
  • There is a shift from companies traditionally doing an annual survey to monthly pulses to capture a real-time moving picture. When asked why, leaders tell us they feel the need to move faster to respond to working environment changes and market conditions. 
Listening to the Voices Within
  • As per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after focusing on basic physiological and safety needs in the fast few months of the crisis, it is time to move up the hierarchy and refocus on higher-order needs around self-esteem and self-actualization.

Now, more than ever, agility, adaptability and a strong company culture will be your company’s competitive advantage as we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. Let’s make the most of this crisis and build on the opportunities we’ve uncovered for new ways to work within our organizations.

Key Learnings

  • “The world’s biggest pilot in remote work” has shown us that remote work will become a permanent way of how we work.
  • 3 Lessons Learned from this pilot (so far):
    • Focusing on the “Whole” Person
    • Pushing through the “Regression” Stage
    • Listening to the Voices Within