Zandra was asked about her experiences, initiatives and advice from what she had learned at Panintelligence during the Coronavirus pandemic and throughout lockdown. Here’s what she said:
“We’ve moved the way that we used to work physically in our culture when we were all together to digitally with Teams and it’s worked really well. So, we always have one-to-ones with every member of our team – an hour that wasn’t about what you do but is about the person – how are they getting on, their relationships, their welfare – so things broader than tasks and day-to-day. So that was always a priority anyway.
“We’ve always had whole company meetings every single week, and for people who aren’t there, it was always recorded and minuted, so it’s been quite easy to move that and adopt the same way of working remotely but that natural progression of removing that physical presence hasn’t felt like it’s stopped us from doing the things that keep people feeling safe and feeling connected, which is actually what it was always about when we were in the office anyway. I just think it’s even more important that you don’t move those things – that they are consistent blocks in people’s diary. We always have a Happy Hour at 4.00pm every Friday and everyone brings whatever their favourite tipple is and we always have a quiz. We’ve had karaoke, we’ve had quizzes and all sorts of great games and it’s just a finish early on a Friday and a way to give people permission to just down tools at a sensible time at the end of the week and disconnect because it can be quite hard to do that as well when you’re working from home and working longer hours than perhaps people would if they were working in the office. And being in front of the screen for ten hours isn’t good for you either so trying to help and encourage people and give them permission is also part of it.
“We have a virtual coffee break every day – so it’s a case of bring your pet, your latest project or whatever it might be. It’s just completely open and sometimes we only have three people on it – sometimes we have ten people on it but you know that someone is going to be there just to chat to. Some of our team live on their own or are in circumstances where that social side is important and they really miss it a lot. It’s about giving people permission to connect without always having to be about work conversations and the job which I think is what happens in offices naturally and organically but doesn’t always happen as naturally when we’re all in this situation so you have to make it happen and encourage it.
“It’s important that those who are feeling vulnerability during this time should share that and that people feel OK and safe, and that how they are feeling is normal. I think that can be a lot harder to do in these types of communication meets. Actually, I think it’s been interesting because what we’ve noticed is that, because we’re in people’s homes and we can see their physical space – my kids are 11 and 13 years old and they’re coming in and out, we have a dog, there’s a bit of chaos every so often – you automatically relax and communicate in a different way than you probably would do in the office. So it’s easier to be more authentic and more vulnerable because you are already more vulnerable by being in your home and surrounded by your life and exposing that to people. I think that’s really helping everybody perhaps just to open up a little bit more and share a bit more of who they are. I certainly feel like I’ve got to know my team so much better because I’m in their homes. I’ve met their families – their kids, their dogs and everything. And that’s been wonderful – what a great opportunity to all just connect on a different level and ironically not face to face but just connecting more by being in that situation. I think it’s been really natural and evolutional, finding each other in each other’s homes.
“What a wonderful opportunity to change things that need changing though, right? And that’s why I think this is so powerful in what it’s now influencing. I know that most of us will not ever work in an office full-time ever again and presenteeism, I hope, is eradicated from a lot of organisations and cultures. You will, therefore, keep those people in your business or high-value, rewarded by the flexibility to have a balance in their life that they so deserve and them not feel guilty about it – because I think that for a long time, everyone felt guilty about it. A lot of women worked part-time, which they’ve had to as a necessity because of childcare, which has created an unnecessary pressure to try and do everything with their career and in the home, but always feel like you’re failing at both – and I know that, that’s how I’ve felt for many years, I’m sure that many of you will relate to that.
“Hopefully, with this change, it gives us a rebalance where everyone knows working from home is a good thing – it’s good for cultures, it’s good for people, it’s good for families and therefore, there isn’t this difference between the needs of people to care for their families and work and to feel that they are somehow doing something wrong or not being present and therefore treated differently so I think this is very powerful for women in the workplace – it’s a big change.
“In terms of employee progression, we’ve run a number of surveys – we’ve created a group called PiShields (everything is Pi something in our company) and it’s like an Avengers for going back to the office almost – how do we plan our way back in to a different way of working?
“It started with consulting everybody, having discussions and creating a group of people from the team and the business that have volunteered to consider all of our options around it – not just the serious stuff but thinking creatively about what does this mean? It’s been really good because everyone in the business has felt like they’re in control over the what next, what now?
“It’s quite uncertain – how’s it going to be at the other side of this? What’s work going to be like? How are things going to change? And actually being able to be involved in that process, in the conversation, contributing to it and feeling like you can drive it, helps people to feel a bit more in control. This enables them to feel like they can influence it and it takes all of that fear away by the fact that, at least they’re participating in a process – and also hearing that everyone else’s fears are exactly the same. So when you do a survey and you present the pie chart which shows that everyone’s all thinking the same thing, people look at it and realise that they’re not the only one who’s worried about going back, so there’s something about lifting spirits – there’s always an elephant in the room – and just get it out, let everyone participate in it and, don’t worry, just let the process take you there.
“I think we’re fortunate; because we’re only 45 people, to be small enough to be able to leave it to the group to steer us there and they do make really good decisions that are business decisions because they love the business, so we don’t have to control it – they can lead it. I think that’s really helped to lift people into feeling a bit more like they can see an end or a vision of where this might be going for them, which is important.”