Motivation, training, security, and how not to have yet another piece of toast.
It’s all very well if you’re used to working from home (WFH), have honed your own tricks to manage self-imposed work blocks for optimal performance, and are generally OK working in solitude either in whole or in part. But if this is an all new situation it can be a bewildering and difficult experience. Many HR teams have been looking for solutions to help support staff that have suddenly found themselves working remotely and sometimes in total isolation, with an emphasis on maintaining culture and well-being for employees.
The CEO at workplace wellness platform Welbot, Mykay Kamara told us that there has been “an uptick in mental well-being support due to increased vulnerability and stresses from isolation as well as nutritional guidance, as people find themselves falling back on unhealthy eating habits. Our well-being platform features custom desktop notifications that clients have been using to provide staff with up to date COVID-19 advice as well as promoting internal EAP (employee assistance program) and signposting to tailored employee benefits.” Another company addressing how to cope with the WFH movement is the ERP provider, Advanced. It has been providing specialist online training to offer guidance and best practice aimed at maintaining employee engagement and manage well-being during COVID-19 stipulations. It also offers additional help for employees working from home with children given that it can be tough to look after loved ones and work effectively at the same time.
Being upstanding for diet and mental health
It was clear that many companies have gone to great lengths to support people through these times. I got a lot out of a blog by Will Gosling, the UK human capital consulting leader at Deloitte, who put trust and productivity as top considerations when trying to help a remote workforce. In his piece he wrote that ‘an employer puts its trust in an employee to work remotely recognising it’s not about hours sat at a desk, but about productivity and using time effectively to produce results.’ He also stressed the importance of connecting with people and having structured days, and that ‘a lack of human interaction, feelings of isolation and economic worry can trigger poor mental health.’ On the topic of mental health, Deloitte has hosted webinars with guest speakers like Poppy Jaman, CEO, City Mental Health Alliance, along with other company mental health champions talking about their own wellness journeys, how enforced isolation is making them feel, and tips for anyone feeling the pressure. Nice.
Gosling also made a point in his blog that called me out on my bad habits: “Think about your cupboard and fridge as the office vending machine – and how many cash payments you’d have to make for ‘just another biscuit’.” My face at this point resembled an embarrassed emoticon as I lowered the fifth piece of buttered toast away from my face (it is 11:00hrs as I write this). He also made me rethink my working environment and attitude to avoid long periods of being seated. He’s right – my lower back hurts from sitting too much. I’ve done too much of home computer sitting for work, straight to couch.
Connection and collaboration
Over at Infor, roughly 35 percent of its employees already work remotely so the physical transition to a virtual workforce was relatively simple. “During the lockdown period we have focussed on ensuring the well-being of our employees including assisting employees working from home whilst juggling home schooling, entertaining younger children and elder care. With the hiring slow down, and some teams having less work, the HR team has shifted focus to launch various learning and development activities, personal connection events, wellness programmes delivered in interactive virtual classrooms. We have also provided examples of how to best work from home including scheduling breaks, standing up, exercise and using video meetings,” said Ben Perry, vice president of international HR and global reward at the company. Enabling technology such as Microsoft Teams with video is being used more widely in the business as well as encouraging virtual video coffee breaks to “allow employees to talk to each other generally and maintain our sense of community. A chat with even a virtual friendly face greatly removes the sense of isolation. We’ve used our intranet, Webex, video messages, and collaboration platforms like Brightidea to collect best practices and stories from the ground,” said Perry.
The confinement period has, undoubtedly, spiked the usage of online video platforms. At the end of April 2020 Jared Spataro, the corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, shared updates from the company’s quarterly earnings report to Wall Street noting some impressive numbers including more than 75 million daily active users. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO is quoted as saying that: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork and learning, to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security – we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything.”
Happy hours, Pacha parties, and wide-reaching webinars
Another online video platform that itself is adjusting to full remote work mode, as well as helping so many others to do so too, is Zoom. The company’s head of UK & Ireland regions, Phil Perry told ERP Today that: “We believe it is important to provide ongoing support so we are providing informational sessions, mental health training and on-demand resources for anyone to utilise. In addition, we are continuing to take great pride in providing our employees with a fun yet productive culture. Zoom UK has always been a social bunch, every Friday we have a Happy Hour connecting the whole team. Last Friday for example was ‘Cocktails and Quiz’ using the Kahoot app. As a group we are also keeping pace with how others are using the platform in new and innovative ways. For example, a number of the team participated in the Pacha House Party last week.
“Ultimately, we are entering a new era for every element of our life and work, and we are committed to doing our part to help during this challenging time. When employees are not able to get to the office and when teams cannot travel to see customers, we want to provide a platform for businesses to continue to be productive,” said Perry. Zoom has also been hosting webinars on topics around working from home: Best Practices for Working From Home covering ideas for attire, staying focussed, how to get set up to look and sound your best, as well as must-know features to enhance team collaboration.
Opening up learning and data security
Providing employees with the flexibility to work from wherever they want is also part of the culture at SAP. Jens Amail, managing director for SAP UK&I said that employees were well prepared for the rapid shift to remote working for this extended period. Access to a VPN, video conferencing tools and the collaboration technologies were already in place. In fact the majority of its UK and Ireland employees already either split their time between home and an office or work from home full-time.
“At SAP, we believe that the feelings and experiences of employees will define the success of companies in the future. Experience management is particularly vital in helping businesses navigate this turbulent period and ensure they’re supporting their people in the moments that actually matter,” said Amail. “Our SAP Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse has been invaluable providing real-time monthly feedback from our employees on what’s working, what isn’t and how we can help. We’re also providing this tool free of charge to the wider industry and have since seen over 7,600 companies and organisations implement it already.”
He also told us that: “Remote working has provided different challenges for those not used to working from home, while it has also put much greater emphasis on everyone’s mental well-being. We are doing a number of different things to help our colleagues put their health and personal development first, such as daily meditation and mindfulness classes, weekly music lessons and remote workouts with our personal trainers. We’ve also launched digital learning initiatives, such as openSAP, to support our employees, customers and the wider society, to up-skill from anywhere in the world with interactive content and learning courses.”
Development at the heart of productivity
Virtual learning to aid advancement and productivity during confinement have actually risen in popularity – bucking the trend that, historically, training is one of the first resources to be de-prioritised. That certainly seems to be the case for the people development company, Cornerstone which reported a significant increase in online learning as organisations scurried to transition to remote working on a global basis. It experienced a spike of 27 million hours on its services in March 2020 from people seeking training for soft skills, an area that has come to light since the lock-down. A survey conducted in partnership with YouGov found that workers believe they have skills gaps in the areas of work-life balance (54 percent), time management (51 percent) and active listening (40 percent) now that they are remote. Cornerstone is offering free courses related to COVID-19, remote working, and stress management via its Cornerstone Cares learning resource.
Increased online training also happened over at the sales training platform, Showpad. “As sales teams have been forced to go remote they’re turning to digital tools to interact with their teams and engage their customers. Since the outbreak we’ve seen an uptake in interest as well as usage and adoption of Showpad. For many customers this pandemic has triggered an acceleration of their digitalisation initiatives and this is likely the case across a whole ream of industries. With in-person meetings and training no longer possible, sales has had to switch up strategies and approaches fast and we’ve seen this all first-hand with our own customers,” said the company’s vice president of EMEA sales, Jim Preston.
Security now starts at home
Alongside all the increased online activity from within people’s homes, firms have had to react fast to implement tools and advise staff of what tech to use and how to use it. In the previous ‘normal’ state of play, security could be monitored quite well from inside the relative safety of a secure corporate network. But it is not always easy to replicate those security levels for every individual’s home set up. And even if it was simply a case of hopping on to a secure intranet, there’s a necessity for the people using it to adhere to security guidelines. DSA Connect, which specialises in the permanent deletion and destruction of electronic data, expects a huge increase in data breaches by British organisations as a result of the fall-out from the coronavirus crisis, warning that this could add millions of pounds to the losses potentially incurred by employers as a result of economic impact from COVID-19. The increase in data breaches is expected to be fuelled by a dramatic rise in phishing websites as depleted workforces and employees working from home are more susceptible to cyber-attacks. In part, this is due to people visiting websites that they wouldn’t perhaps normally do from the workplace. They will also find it harder to prove the identity of people contacting them from external organisations.
An alarming number of users’ machines have now, in fact, become security compromised since the lockdown. If using a personal device such as a laptop (rather than one supplied by the company) what checks are there to ensure that it is secure? Has additional software been sent from the corporate hub to all remote workers to install to help with optimum security? How might a company monitor that it has been installed? There are bound to be instances of no available corporate VPN as well as other household members using someone’s work device for their own purposes. To help, analyst firm Omnisperience has released a green paper on UIP (user isolation protection) as a call to businesses to make protecting users and their data a primary purpose. It proffers the need to realign security offerings around a new purpose, which is to protect the most vulnerable target of attacks – the user – to help minimise damage to data, systems, and businesses.
With all this in mind, and so much effort having been put in place to support the WFH initiatives, will the old protocols come back with de-confinement? What have we learned, what will we keep, and how will we decide? I sincerely hope that trusting employees to do their best for a company, from whatever environment they feel best in to get the job done, is something that we see more of and helps to further the work/life balance.
Spent 10-years in public relations before jumping the fence to write