People or budget: keep the right priorities during a pandemic

17 June 2020
After seven official, and for many nine or even ten weeks of emergency evacuation of the business to a remote format, we are summing up the results and starting to build scenarios of a possible exit. The business left offices on an emergency basis - there was no time to look around, adopt effective practices and adapt them to their corporate standards. Companies and their leaders have developed their own recipes to maintain the effectiveness and motivation of teams. Let's see how they did it.

Evacuation to stress

The first stage was quite reactive. After working out the technical issues of remote functioning, without pauses, questions arose about ensuring the physical security of employees, the legal basis for making decisions and new operating models, instant training and adaptation of personnel. At the same time, it was important to maintain control over the processes and work efficiency. This step required the mobilization of all resources and an incredible effort from the leadership teams. The move to remote mode has taken the topic of employee trust, transparency, and management support to an impressive new level.

At the next stage, companies began to adapt their management and business practices to the new reality. According to a RosExpert survey, 70% of executives rate their personal stress levels as lower than the stress levels of their team and employees. However, most executives believe that employee motivation has not diminished during this difficult period. Success factors were not only and not so much gradually resolved technical issues or clear links with management, but also entire networks of deployed support programs.

Companies supported employees in setting up home offices and balancing work and personal tasks. Online training, changes in vacation policy, performance management, a radical increase in the volume and content of corporate communications, monitoring team engagement and mood, and, of course, requesting effective programs for the health and well-being of employees.

Deloitte's 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Report highlights that employee wellness programs are the first of a series of solutions that help build effective employee connections and are key to productivity.

What were the companies doing?

For example, here's how this approach was implemented by Beeline in Kazakhstan for its 3,500 employees. Tahmina Kodiri's team began regular informal online meetings with senior management. Every day, the leaders in the format of evening sessions told the team how they organize their real life, what difficulties they face, what solutions they find, what curiosities accompany this new style of work.
Employees of the company are an audience of different ages, and for each group the formats were chosen that best suit their lifestyle - tasks on a variety of topics, contests of working photographs, the #LetitBEE musical project, the performers of which were the employees themselves. Remote rules in the form of bright screensavers and a mobile application for relieving personal stress also accompany the lives of employees.

In addition to regular informal yoga and fitness classes, the book club organized an online self-support space for employees, non-therapeutic support groups with a psychologist, where employees could anonymously ask questions about how to better cope with emotional difficulties, a program of Webinars with leading coaches and coaches was developed and carried out in order to develop personal resilience from Russia, Serbia and Kazakhstan.

Employee anxiety rates dropped from 21% to 10% in six weeks, according to the Weekly Quarantine Mood Survey.

Following companies that were familiar with the format of remote work, more traditional players in the industrial sector have already emerged - for example, a large Russian industrial holding is currently deploying a full-fledged program of development of resilience and adaptability in a crisis for managers. and teams, where, in addition to business-related issues, one of the priorities is family and maintaining relationships in isolation. And, of course, in addition to development programs, there are examples of direct support - one of the large international pharmaceutical companies has introduced the ability for employees to take additional fully paid vacation days for recovery and rest - primarily from psychological stress, and in another. Pharmaceutical company employees are offered an additional day off - Friday to spend more time with their family.

What's next?

The second stage of work in a remote format revealed the leader's greatest fear - to trust or verify? And the same period gave the only correct answer to it: it is necessary to shift the emphasis from trying to completely control employees to work to develop trust, reduce anxiety and develop collective thinking. The role of the leadership team is to release fear and create a sense of security through good management; to make work a refuge from information noise and the flow of negativity, where expectations, goals and rules of the game are transparent and understandable. In such an environment, people feel able to do their job and think about how to help the organization cope with difficulties. And with the current pace of change and the highest level of uncertainty, we need all the creative energy we can use.

Now we are preparing for the "exit" and we see how, on the one hand, employee anxiety is growing again - already several polls show that more than half of employees are not ready to return to their offices and would prefer to continue working remotely. And managers, when talking about the changes they will keep after the restrictions are lifted, make little mention of employee support programs, limiting the scope of efforts to ensure health safety.

Of course, planning for sanitation will require both significant financial investment and management effort. But the emotional balance of employees is an important factor in engagement and high productivity, certainly no less than a safe distance between desktops or the presence of masks. So when you need to make a choice between the health, emotional balance of your employees, and the short-term state of your organization's finances, choose people. Everytime. And be a voice reminding the leaders of the organization that they must make the same choice.