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Published on Forbes.com: Transforming A Work Culture During A Pandemic

Young woman sitting at a desk on a video call

Ben DeSpain is the Chief People Officer of Velocity, a Managed Services company.

For my company and many others, the Covid-19 pandemic has been like the tide going out on the shore. As the waters receded, we saw what lay beneath — good and bad. The pandemic has revealed the “rocks” that existed in our culture — both the challenges in our path and our most important priorities. This has been an opportunity to see, in real-time, what has enabled our ability to successfully navigate unforeseen challenges, what has limited our ability to respond and, most importantly, to experience the immediate impact of where we fell short.

As a young and growing company, our team already knew that we needed to make some cultural changes to continue to grow. The surprise onset of Covid-19 accelerated this process, forcing us to revolutionize our culture and our tech in ways that went beyond our original plans.

Early in the crisis, our company’s leadership team made a decision: we weren’t going to lay off a single person. “That’s not an option,” our CEO, Greg Kiley, said in our March leadership meeting. “We’re going to find a way to keep everyone and we’re not going to put them in harm’s way.” At the same time, we vowed to continue delivering services to all of our customers without interruption.

In response to this mandate, like many companies, we swiftly moved about 90% of our workforce to remote work. In doing so, we quickly learned where our “rocks” were that had to be removed to keep the business running and how to remove them effectively. Here’s how you can, too.

Use Technology To Reimagine Leadership

Our work culture had been one in which our leaders relied on being physically present with their teams and on the ability to see and interact with them every day. Having physical office space had enabled us to deliver seamless and comprehensive customer service — and this was hard to do remotely with teams juggling remote requests for assistance across a variety of platforms.

This demanded that we bring our leadership and organizational systems to the next level. We needed to provide training and discussions to our teams, teaching them how to continue to deliver a seamless customer service experience. It required a combination of technology and a strengthening of leadership fundamentals.

In today’s environment, there are a lot of technology tools on the market. Companies need to look at their processes and determine where they experience the most “pain” in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. Use that as the guide when shopping for technology solutions. In situations like this, companies should go back to basics and ensure that their leaders are communicating effectively, able to give and receive feedback and put extra effort into employee recognition.

Measure Output

Prior to the pandemic, we focused too much on measuring employee input to gauge productivity. As a result, it was difficult to measure the productivity of our employees when working from home versus in our office environment. We had to switch to focus more on the output and how to effectively measure that.

Implementing a call center management software platform that gives us real-time productivity metrics greatly increased our ability to measure output. Conversations about how changes to our approach affect productivity are now happening, and in the future, we will be able to use these to optimize our productivity.

Organizations should examine their current ways of measuring productivity and reevaluate if these measures are truly able to capture productivity.

Implement Training And Onboarding Technology

Without the option of in-person training, we struggled to effectively onboard and train new employees or implement training updates for existing staff. We saw this gap as an opportunity to implement a learning management system (LMS) — a move that has already paid for itself.

We now have a full online training and onboarding curriculum that has enabled us to hire and train new remote employees. As our company continues to grow, this LMS will be useful far beyond our current situation and will enable us to continue to scale rapidly.

As with any technology solution, if a company is evaluating LMS options, they should pick one that is simple to use (both as an administrator and a user, including being mobile-friendly), integrates well into other systems and is scalable to accommodate future needs and growth plans.

With new hires now joining the company remotely, we realized how much our cultural onboarding relied on our brick-and-mortar presence. Communicating our values and ensuring that our employees feel included was easier to do when we all shared an office. We’re now working to codify those cultural aspects into media formats that communicate the warmth of an in-person welcome. Necessity has forced us to create a system that builds a great employee experience, where employees feel welcomed and valued, whether they are setting foot in our building or not. We still have work to do here, but we welcome that opportunity.

The best way we’ve found to communicate values and culture to new and existing staff is through stories. That gets difficult when onboarding is remote, but the more a company can document its values and culture through stories, whether in written form, video or other media, the more it can be easily conveyed to new team members.

Takeaways

The current crisis has forced us to mature and we are determined to use this opportunity to its fullest extent. I know that I will be forever changed by having to pause and work with employees on a case-by-case basis and to see the individual impact of these decisions, such as the single parent working the night shift since she can now work remotely and her children can stay home and sleep in their own beds while she works. Many employees have reported that such flexibility has made a huge difference in their quality of life — and that shouldn’t end when Covid does.

We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, or what its full effects will be, but we do know that it has forced us to grow in ways that may otherwise have taken us years. It’s allowed us to create new flexibilities to support our employees and new tools to help us optimize. This situation presents an opportunity to accelerate cultural change and transformation to create resilience for the future. For us as individuals, and as companies, the challenge has been in learning how to survive through this uncertainty. The opportunity is to learn how to thrive.

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