How to Implement a Mandatory Work-From-Home Policy and Maintain Company Culture

by Quinten Dol
March 18, 2020
working from home coronavirus
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Having spread undetected for weeks earlier this year in the Seattle area, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 now has reported cases in all 50 states. As cities and states nationwide begin to enforce lockdown measures to slow the virus’ spread — with Mayor Marty Walsh declaring a public health emergency earlier this week — businesses across the region are bracing for an economic hit.

Fortunately for tech workers, our sector isn’t feeling the immediate economic pain felt by our peers in the service industry. (You can pitch in to help them through this tough period here.) Even still, quickly switching an office-bound workforce to a mandatory work-from-home policy can pose a number of unique challenges for some of the larger tech businesses in the Boston region.

So how have local HR teams reacted to this unprecedented situation? We spoke to four Boston-area leaders about their organizations’ experiences with going remote.

 

Geraldine Teboul
Chief Marketing Officer

 

Signavio’s Business Transformation Suite software is a cloud-based workflow management platform designed to help teams reorient themselves and adapt to change — meaning the company was well-placed for a swift reaction as the virus began to spread across the United States. Chief Marketing Officer Geraldine Teboul outlined the steps her organization has taken to help prevent the spread of the virus. 

 

How does your company maintain a sense of community and company culture when everyone is working from home?

At Signavio, we have asked all of our employees around the world to work from home, as we consider our employees’ health and safety as an absolute priority. We made sure that all of them are equipped to carry on as if they were in the office. Here is what we’re doing in order to maintain a sense of community and company culture:

  • Employees are allowed to take monitors and keyboards home.

  • We will cover part of the childcare costs for all employees during the next three weeks.

  • We have increased the number of meetings in order for teams to keep in daily contact. For example, within the marketing team, all leads begin the day with a 15-minute call with their respective teams to check in and address any concerns.

  • We have created a Slack channel where employees can share pictures of their home office.

  • Our CEO ensured all onboarding sessions will continue remotely. No meetings have been canceled, just moved to Slack or GoToMeeting.

  • All meetings now include webcams so we can feel closer to one another.

  • We are taking special care of our isolated employees and are making sure we interact with them every day.

 

Staying flexible as a company allows employees to adjust quickly to new situations.”

What challenges arise when quickly setting up a large-scale remote-work policy, and what strategies can leaders employ to head them off?

There are numerous challenges. For example, some people are not used to working remotely, and we have to make sure we provide them with all the best practices they need to be successful. We need to make sure we don’t stop communicating, to ensure that people still feel they are part of a team. We need to keep people informed of all decisions we are making for the company, as well as communicate every day and show we are still as engaged and committed to their well-being.

Before the outbreak, a lot of us were traveling on a weekly basis. This was stopped overnight and we all had to meet virtually while making sure that we were working just as efficiently as if we were meeting physically. We found that an extensive use of webcams allows us to work efficiently while still maintaining the appropriate social distance.

 

How do you personally stay productive when working at home?

I am used to working from home on a regular basis, and this is also an option we have offered to all employees across the world. Staying flexible as a company allows employees to adjust quickly to new situations. I have a room in my house that’s designated as a home office, which I arranged to be a comfortable, cozy and pleasant place to work in. I make sure I’m in regular contact with other people at Signavio, so I feel I am still part of the dynamic environment of the company.

 

Colleen Schlagel
Chief Talent Officer

Tax compliance software company Sovos has offices all over the world, so most employees are already used to collaborating with peers via cyberspace. Chief Talent Officer Colleen Schlagel credited her company’s transition to remote-based work to a pre-existing plan for this exact scenario, among other preparations. 

 

How does your company maintain a sense of community and company culture when everyone is working from home?

As a global company collaborating across 14 offices in 10 countries, Sovos has a lot of practice using videoconferencing and collaboration tools to build community with colleagues we don’t see in person every day. Meanwhile, our company culture is based on five core values that connect us regardless of distance: be professional, proactive, collaborative, accountable and adaptable.  

 

We’ve seen a five-fold uptick in their use of our collaboration tools to stay connected and engaged.”

What challenges arise when quickly setting up a large-scale remote-work policy, and what strategies can leaders employ to head them off?

We went from a workforce that was almost 100 percent in the office to almost 100 percent at home in the span of about four days. It’s been pretty seamless, and we credit that to a number of factors: a pre-established pandemic plan, prior testing of remote work capabilities, the appointment of a critical response team, clear and frequent communication and a strong sense of mission across the company to keep our promises to customers.

 

How do you personally stay productive when working at home?

My primary concern right now is the health and safety of our employees, our customers and our communities, and that motivates high levels of productivity. We see our teams across the company reacting similarly. Already, we’ve seen a five-fold uptick in their use of our collaboration tools to stay connected and engaged.

 

Danielle Beckford
Director of Employee Experience

Compensation-data company Salary.com is implementing its mandatory work-from-home policy as we speak. Director of Employee Experience Danielle Beckford highlighted her company’s efforts to support the parents on its staff, which include resources on juggling the needs of working parents and cooped-up kids coexisting inside one home. 

 

How does your company maintain a sense of community and company culture when everyone is working from home?

As a company with an amazing sense of community, it’s super important to us that we replicate that feeling virtually as much as possible. It all starts with daily “pulse checks” between managers and their teams. It’s important not just for productivity purposes, but to gauge employee mental health and well-being. Based on feedback from these pulses, the HR team created targeted, online communities through Microsoft Teams.

A major focus is our WFH parents. Not only are they struggling with two full-time jobs simultaneously, but their children are also missing major milestones and facing this confusing situation at a young age. This Teams group promotes support, tips, resources and laughter for all our rockstar parents. Examples of other groups include fitness/wellness and end-of-the-day Happy Hours. Picking up the phone or turning on the video conference is essential, and really keeps the sense of community and our culture alive — even from a distance.

 

Laying out a plan and staying true to it is key.”

What challenges arise when quickly setting up a large-scale remote work policy, and what strategies can leaders employ to head them off?

The first concern is, of course, technology. As an advanced tech company, we are lucky to have the resources at our fingertips to support our employees. Our IT department has been hands-on and instrumental in ensuring this is a smooth transition. We’ve allowed our team to take home monitors, keyboards and any other equipment they need to set themselves up for success at home. There is a balance between holding employees accountable for at-home activities and making sure they feel supported and trusted.

We’ve also helped our management team understand how our internal technology can be utilized to monitor productivity. That data is crucial to our marketing and business team, and allows us to pivot quickly as the ever-evolving situation changes. 

 

How do you personally stay productive when working at home?

Schedule, schedule, schedule. This sounds simple, but laying out a plan and staying true to it is key! My day starts with a jog, coffee and a pump-up playlist. It sets the stage for the day being full of accomplishments. Personally, I need to step away every few hours for lunch, a walk or a personal phone call. Finding that balance that would naturally exist in an office environment allows me to give 110 percent while I’m “on.” Although I’m breaking my own rule as we speak, I’m also a big believer in stepping away at the end of the day. We need to acknowledge the fact that we no longer have the drive home or the walk through the door after a long day. Creating distance between work and home life is important — even if they are under the same roof for now. Reviewing my to-do list and checking off my accomplishments helps me feel proud of my day and ready to come back motivated for what lies ahead tomorrow.

 

Jackie Hazan
VP of People and Operations

Media storage, editing and content management software company EditShare recently asked its workforce to perform their duties from home. VP of People and Operations Jackie Hazan — who has previously headed HR efforts at NBCUniversal and the BBC — outlined some of the additional benefits the company has rolled out to support each employee’s individual situation. 

 

How does your company maintain a sense of community and company culture when everyone is working from home? 

We believe that creating a dialogue is the best way to maintain a sense of community when employees are remote or spread across regions, and look for touchpoints that allow employees to meaningfully engage across teams and locations. Our March town hall was on Wednesday — at which the majority of attendees were remote — and we had a great moment where one of the founders got everyone to turn on their cameras so that everyone’s faces were showing, and we joined in together for a company milestone celebration. We also have a peer-to-peer recognition program that empowers employees to call out and reward peers globally for living our values.

We also help our partners to coordinate remote events. For example, our recent hackathon in partnership with AWS was attended by geographically dispersed teams. They hacked into the night and presented some truly innovative ideas from all over the world.

We have developed some other creative ways to stay connected. An example is Sherry Li, one of our team members who is based in Beijing and severely impacted by COVID-19. Through a journal, she shares with the team how she is managing day-to-day as well as how she is helping customers set up their operations to optimize remote work with our very own tools.

 

We like to challenge every employee to show up as a leader, communicate early and communicate often.”

What challenges arise when quickly setting up a large-scale remote-work policy, and what strategies can leaders employ to head them off? 

It is challenging to create a policy that balances a consistent approach with individual needs — especially when the landscape changes so quickly. For example, as more schools close it will be difficult for parents to maintain standard schedules. As an organization, we are supporting them with backup care benefits and will work with each employee to find a solution for all involved. We put the needs of our employees first and opened up a dialogue early to address any one-off deviations from the policy. We like to challenge every employee to show up as a leader, communicate early and communicate often. As a leadership team, we established an early and frequent rhythm to review, adapt and communicate policy updates quickly.

 

How do you personally stay productive when working at home? 

I keep all my regular meetings and shift them to video. I also build time to message or video chat with peers to make up for the lost “drive by” time so that I don’t lose the human connection or miss out on the creative collaboration that happens so naturally in person.

 

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