The notion of productivity going down when working from home has been in existence for quite some time. With remote working now adopted on a global scale, the perceived loss in productivity is being widely claimed, though without much attention to the why. As basic as it is to expect performance, it is as basic to provide a conducive work environment. However, in the current circumstances with employers having close to zero control over workplace circumstances, given every employee has a different home situation through which they are working, it helps to pause and reflect on how organizations can channel said environment in the present setup.
In a recent webinar hosted by People Matters, in partnership with Workplace from Facebook, industry leaders Nicole Tan, Country Director, Facebook Malaysia, Ramesh Gopalkrishna, Head of Growth - ASEAN & India, Workplace from Facebook and Jamaluddin Bakri, Group Chief Human Resource Officer, RHB Banking Group, came together for a panel discussion on the topic, “When Culture Meets Crisis”, moderated by Yasmin Taj, Senior Editor, People Matters . Through the discussion, answers were sought to questions including:
- Best practices and advice on deepening your engagement with your team, keeping them informed and productive even when you’re apart together
- How building a culture can translate into business productivity
- Success stories and tips from comms and HR experts in top ASEAN companies on how their company stayed connected during the crisis
Read on for highlights from the webinar.
Translating culture into business productivity
While culture happens to be among the most used words today and comes across as basic, the process to build it sure is complex and has multiple parameters that need to be catered to, in order to be able to translate such carefully crafted culture into business productivity.
There is a need to re-evaluate the accepted business understanding of productivity - is it the need to clock-in minimum hours or the completion of assigned tasks?
Once leaders are able to discuss and agree upon what productivity refers to today, only then can all efforts towards building a virtual digital culture come to fruition.
“The trust we display with our people and the way we measure the impact of our people, those things need to change as well, if we want to make this work long-term,” said Ramesh Gopalkrishna. He shared that companies are now looking at better mechanisms to support and manage employees. “We need to start managing based on outcomes, we need emotional buy-in from people, we need the ability to have regular conversations and dialogue with them over results.” So while productivity, performance, engagement, and culture remain a concern, “What companies need to ask themselves is this - what are we doing to enable all of this?” suggested Ramesh.
RHB Banking Group’s Jamaluddin Bakri shared his views focusing on the importance of showing care, providing assurance of job security, connecting through regular stand-up meetings and keeping the team updated. He also brought about the importance of employee wellness programs, providing required access to mental health professionals today, given the visible impact of the circumstances on the health of employees. His organization is working towards ensuring all employees have access to counselling services and resources, and are able to contact specialists if need be. Jamal emphasized the need to be positive, “Be open, positive, agile and adaptable. When you are positive, nothing is impossible.”
Addressing the existence concerns around culture and mindset, Nicole Tan threw light upon a well-known but rarely spoken about perspective - how every employee today has a different work from home situation.
“Not everyone has a nice office setup. Everyone has different situations. Some employees might have four or five family members working from home, some might be away from families, some have kids so they would be dealing with online schooling as well as working at the same time.”
Nicole shared how Facebook is providing employees with a work from home allowance, to allow people to set up a work from home situation be it internet, or the ergonomics or alternate working hours.
Ramesh also emphasized the findings of a recent Gallup survey that revealed that one of the biggest drivers of employee engagement is the sense of community that people build at the workplace. This sense of community is challenging to build over a video call with lesser participation from all joinees, which is why organizations need to explore how to work towards it. This community aspect is key to maintaining the connect, especially for new or recent joinees. The excitement and nervous sentiments surrounding a new workplace, new colleagues, new job, walking over to a colleague to make conversation, replicating that to evolve the employee experience for all employees, old and new, is important. “Create that virtual social culture and that inclusiveness within the organization,” Nicole suggested.
Balance of empathy and productivity
Change is a journey. While the immediate focus in recent months has been business continuity and people safety, organizations have more or less reached a point where they can see beyond the two and are tapping into other pockets of business such as engagement, performance, benefits, and more as they adjust to the new reality of work. The need of the hour now is to take a step back, assess the business scenario in light of the existing global circumstances and make a choice on how they want to proceed - whether they want organizational practices to be ad-hoc arrangements or if they are willing to evolve the age-old practices and have a long-term strategy in place to manage both business and people.
As far as change and re-constructing culture is concerned, here is a checklist to keep in mind as you rebuild culture for digital:
- Leadership visibility: Communication from the leadership needs to be more frequent and authentic. Be it a business update, a policy change, how the coming year looks or just addressing employees.
People want to know the emotion and passion of the leader and understand that directly. It helps them be more receptive to any communication that comes their way.
“How often, transparently and authentically are leaders communicating within the organization, that becomes really critical,” said Ramesh. He insisted on the need to train and equip leaders to get ready for this new world of work, and the demands that it has around how leaders show up in front of their people.
- Equipping the workforce with the right collaborative tools is a non-negotiable for productivity: How did Facebook manage workflow in these unprecedented times? “Making sure we had the tools to collaborate, making sure we were agile and fast and making sure the information was cascaded at the same time,” said Nicole. “It was really important that we made sure that people understood as a team all the things that were happening, how they could respond to the things happening as a team and that wouldn't have happened if we didn’t have a strong culture in place, if we didn’t have strong collaboration tools in place.”
Nicole spoke about how having hardware in place is as crucial as the software. Communication and connectivity is one part of making business possible. However, if the workforce isn’t equipped with the basic infrastructure to support remote working, it will only contribute to any perceived loss of productivity.
Investment in collaborative tools and technologies to empower employees to work seamlessly is a prerequisite to performance and results. These tools help create a sense of productivity, community and collaboration.
As Nicole says, “Given we will be in this situation for sometime, it’s worth the investment.”
The efficiency of these tools is critical as well. “We are at video collaboration 1.0”, Ramesh highlighted, adding that the pain point of the first 10min of any video call today is about if the speaker can be heard. He recommended leveraging VR and AI to improve this experience, evolving to a truly world class and immersive experience while people work from home.
- Replacing managing by oversight with managing by outcomes: How do we shift from managing basis oversight to managing basis outcomes? “As long as we have clearly defined outcomes, and employees are delivering on those outcomes, we should be fine and not require them to clock-in attendance everyday or micromanage and look over the shoulder and see what the person is doing,” said Ramesh.
- Be cognizant and flexible about the different work from home situations: As Jamal shared during the webinar, “Not everyone has the luxury to have a room to themselves for working remotely...There is a need to provide immense flexibility in even choosing work timings.” Employees all over the globe have been uprooted from their routine lives. The balance and schedules they had in place to be available both to family as well as work, the logistics of it, the infrastructure at home, the number of devices that were available to every family, all of it was budgeted for, with appropriate time and resources allocated to both work and home.
With industry-wide salary cuts, restriction on movement across cities, helping children to access online schooling with work, caring for aged parents who no longer have 24*7 caregivers, managing household chores with no domestic help, being unwell themselves and having to look after themselves and the house while also working with no help as they are away from family in another city, and many more diverse circumstances, every employee today faces an altogether different situation, through which they are working, and unfortunately being watched, with no respite in over five months.
There is a critical need to relook at the 9 - 5 working model and understand if businesses can explore working in different shifts as employees find it suitable, without impacting deliverables or re-adjusting expectations. This is in fact a good time to initiate such discussions and set goals, plans and deliverables for the year ahead, in tandem with the extraordinary circumstances that exist.
- Culture: “Technology is an enabler. Technology will get the information out to you, what you do with that information is where the culture of the organization gets built,” said Ramesh. Culture is the backbone of business today. Fostering and building a healthy digital workplace culture is a must-have for any organization today.
Focusing on the need to build a sense of trust and community and the correlation between the two, Ramesh insisted on giving people a voice, to build capabilities to provide a voice to employees across the organization. “When we give people a voice, and we have open and transparent communication within an organization, trust gets built much faster.”
In addition to trust, collaboration is crucial, however being respectful of each other’s time and workload, Nicole encouraged the idea of ‘intentional collaboration’.
“Respect each other’s schedule, understand if we really need meetings or some task can be discussed over an email or chat.”
Effective time management is a habit, and in times where the workforce is struggling with blurred boundaries between work and home, such a habit will go a long way in nurturing culture, productivity as well as build opportunities for one-on-one conversations rather than a group connect with the majority of employees keeping to themselves.
In an endeavor to understand the diverse work from home setups that employees today function in - people might be alone, or in joint families, might be sick or be living with an unwell family member, that makes it hard to balance the situation - it is critical to pause and reflect on what changes are imperative in the organizational functioning to ensure work doesn’t become an added burden or the aspect of life that demands compromise, but rather an aspect of life that keeps an individual motivated, engaged and productive during these unsettling times.
Click here to view the webinar.