Here’s How HR Leaders Are Keeping a Pulse on Remote Teams

April 8, 2020
A person working on a laptop
PHOTO VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

Boston HR teams have had a lot on their plates these past few weeks. Ensuring a company safely and successfully transitions to working fully remote is a process that involves much more than simply ordering everyone standing desks and monitors. In addition to finding ways to replicate formal and informal office interactions, like team lunches and all-hands meetings, HR leaders have also doubled down on communication and gathering feedback. 

Now more than ever, HR teams are relying on technology to keep a finger on the pulse of their companies. We spoke with four local HR leaders to learn what specific tools they’re using to keep their colleagues engaged, informed and happy during these uncertain times.

 

Deli Matsuo
Chief People Officer

What is your HR team doing differently in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and why?

In times like this, you get to see in real time the impact of the work you have done building teams. The teams that we have built care for the company and each other on a personal level. Our team is working hard to go above and beyond what anyone could expect from them. This includes helping out within their own communities and volunteering to build 3D-printed face shields. We have done everything we can to protect our people, families and communities. At Alert, we have the luxury of not being cash-constrained, so we decided to keep everyone working from home and fully paid, even if they can’t truly work from home. At this moment, we are offering our support and will provide as much stability to one’s family as we can.

 

What HR tools or culture surveys are you using right now to keep a pulse on how your team is doing? Why did you decide on these tools specifically?

Right now, we are running a semi-monthly pulse check survey to measure employee stress levels and work conditions. We are using Sococo as our virtual office, have created a series of Slack channels to help organize the discussions around the COVID-19 virus and increased the frequency of our all-hands meeting to weekly video conferences. In short, we have boosted all forms of communication in order to compensate for the lack of in-person interaction. We believe that over time the natural selection of tools used by employees will define how we work best when remote.

 

How are you leveraging the information you collect from these tools to inform decision-making or drive new HR initiatives?

It’s very early to draw conclusions yet. Hopefully, we will be able to identify functions and roles that are able to work effectively remotely and others that will need more support in the transition. This entire crisis has accelerated the human side of working to adapt to this new digital workforce. The tools are pretty effective, even under this much stress. The human component is what is missing, and now we will find out how the future of work can carry on. I believe some roles will remain working remotely. Some individuals may even continue to choose to work remotely once this is past us. One thing is clear, we will never be the same, and we are looking forward to learning more to create the best work environment for the future.

 

Mariah Slone
Senior HR Generalist

What is your HR team doing differently in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and why?

At CMT, we’re being much more intentional about creating community and making sure that all our employees feel engaged and connected, not isolated. Our company community is so creative — we’ve come up with ideas like guided meditation mornings, lunch groups with randomized participants, afternoon group exercises, game nights and even an after-hours talent show, all using Google Hangouts. HR helps to enable and support the administration of some of these activities, but in reality, most of them are happening organically and are led by employees from across the company. We’re really proud of our employees for coming up with so many interesting initiatives and running with them.

 

What HR tools or culture surveys are you using right now to keep a pulse on how your team is doing? Why did you decide on these tools specifically?

Something we value highly at CMT is collaboration, especially the kind that happens spontaneously when you are connecting with people in an open office environment. Preserving that spontaneity was really important to us when our office transitioned to telecommuting. To keep the spirit of an open office alive, our IT group implemented a remote work collaboration tool called Sococo to digitally simulate our office. It features digital rooms that our IT team has configured to look just like our physical office.

There are conference rooms where interdepartmental squads can gather and collaborate via voice and webcam, breakrooms where people can go for water cooler talk and a game room. Best of all, you can see everyone’s avatar if they're logged in, knock on their door and initiate conversation. Even though we’re distancing ourselves physically, we find it’s been crucial for us to come together digitally every day in these various ways. It’s really helped us to continue operating as a cohesive team. 

 

How are you leveraging the information you collect from these tools to inform decision-making or drive new HR initiatives?

Our HR group is watching how people are communicating and collaborating from a bird’s-eye view, and it has generated a lot of ideas for how we can be more efficient with our meetings and conference calls, support organic ideas for great group activities and think about organizational structure and cross-team collaboration in new ways. We will be using many of these insights once we return to the office as methods for helping our full-time remote employees feel more connected and able to collaborate more effectively with the Cambridge team.

 

Morgan Montgomery-Rice
Head of People

What is your HR team doing differently in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and why?

We’ve always prided ourselves on our personalized and hands-on philosophy. We’ve had to switch gears a bit, but similar to our approach in using our technology to scale healthcare, we’ve looked to utilize our digital-first vendors, such as Zoom, to help scale our touchpoints with crew members in a personalized way. The people team is meeting one on one with everyone in the company on a regular basis to check in — not just about work but also how they are doing mentally, physically and emotionally. And while we already were fairly flexible regarding work-life balance, we’re making an extra effort to be as understanding as possible given the situation.

For example, our COO’s daughter just joined us for the last five minutes of a call, and another kiddo has joined some of our virtual dance parties. Other crew members have taken time in the middle of the day to go for a walk, run or just to hang with their families. We understand that working from home during a stressful time is not easy, and it’s our job as an employer to relieve that stress, not add to it. Additionally, we’re trying to bring the lighthearted culture of Buoy into people’s homes, whether it’s through daily drop-in virtual lunches, “wine down Wednesdays” over Zoom, trivia or various other virtual interactions.

Lastly, Buoy is also hiring during this time, which has forced us to reconsider onboarding. How do you make someone feel a part of the team when they have never actually met anyone in person? This is a tough question, but we’re taking steps to help make the experience as engaging as possible. Some things we’ve done are send new employees swag packages and full desk setups. We’ve also asked every crew member to update Slack to include a real picture — we usually go with fun ones like Arthur or Cookie Monster — so new crew members can put a face to the name.

 

What HR tools or culture surveys are you using right now to keep a pulse on how your team is doing? Why did you decide on these tools specifically?

Buoy uses the performance management platform Reflektive to deploy surveys on a quarterly basis, and we are also encouraging all people managers to check in with their direct reports regularly. Recently, we sent out our Q1 engagement survey to get a pulse check on the current state of connectedness for crew members. As a people team, it’s top of mind for us to understand how supported and productive employees feel now that they are home, and we’re committed to listening and helping where we can while always keeping the full team’s mental and physical health top of mind.

 

How are you leveraging the information you collect from these tools to inform decision-making or drive new HR initiatives?

When we send out these surveys, we include questions that have rating scales, but we also always include comment boxes. Going back to our personalized philosophy, this is where we find the most actionable items. For example, in our recent survey, an anonymous marketing crew member talked about needing a monitor at home. We immediately had the VP of marketing reach out to her team to figure out who needed a monitor and if there were any other things that the team needed. It is extremely critical that we listen to our employees during this time and that we take action and make them feel heard. 

 

What is your HR team doing differently in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and why?

Transparency and caring are fundamental aspects of our culture. It became very clear to us that one of our core values, “be well and take care,” is more important now than ever before. People should be checked on often so that they feel supported, well installed and productive. Benevolence is at the heart of our mindset in terms of HR. This ensures a high level of serenity, communication and performance.

 

What HR tools or culture surveys are you using right now to keep a pulse on how your team is doing? Why did you decide on these tools specifically?

We have a strong culture of feedback, and we make sure that everyone can express themselves. We already have tools in place that are used to gather peer-to-peer feedback on a daily basis. We also set up a survey, which we send to check on the team. It is a short survey of five questions that addresses the topics of well-being and performance.

Finally, to keep our team connected and updated on the situation at Toucan Toco, we have organized all-hands meetings. During them, teammates can interact with each other through a chat, and we always leave room for a question and answer session at the end. All questions are answered, and there are no taboos. 

What I particularly like about these meetings is the energy that comes out of them. Everybody seems really motivated and happy to get together. Even though the current context has pushed us apart physically, I have the real impression that it has brought us closer together.

 

How are you leveraging the information you collect from these tools to inform decision-making or drive new HR initiatives?

The results of the survey are shared with the managers of each team and remain anonymous. The purpose isn’t to point a finger at anybody but to feel the pulse in each team and adapt our approach if necessary.

So, for example, if we notice in the results that a team feels they don’t have clearly set goals or enough communication with their manager, we notify the manager and give them guidelines for overcoming the situation. Furthermore, if we feel that someone’s mood has dropped a little or if they feel isolated, I make it a point to ask them about it and make sure that they’re checked in on afterward. Our goal is to maintain a high level of serenity for the team so they can keep performing in a healthy environment.

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