WFH? WTF? — How Team TS is rolling, working from home — 1. People and cultureMarch 23rd, 2020
It’s our feeling at Total Synergy that what’s important right now (and, actually, always) is to remember that our businesses are made by, and for, humans. In these frequently frightening, altogether anxious, and strikingly strange times it’s important to remember that we’re all just people, and that we need each other in very real, very fundamental ways.
As technology has developed, we’ve seen a vast increase in options in our (personal and professional) lives that circumvent our need to be with each other. In the COVID-19-tinted reality of now, exercising these options has suddenly become a necessity.
That’s why we wanted to tell you the story of how our people are dealing with remote working. How we planned it, how we rolled it out, how we keep in touch, how we’re trying to maintain focus on our core values, and how we’re remaining a team. Of people and for them. Together in separate locations.
This is the first in our series of Working from home (WFH) blogs, and we’re talking to TS’s Head of people and culture, Clare Thompson.
We’d love to hear from you about your working experiences right now — reach out and tell us on our Facebook page, Twitter, or LinkedIn. You’re our people too — the star player on the TS Team, in fact. And don’t you forget it.
Look after each other, you fabulous lot. And stay in contact.
Clare Thompson started as Total Synergy’s head of people and culture in January 2020. Not that long ago, and yet she’s one of those people that most of the Total Synergy team agree they can’t imagine doing without now.
2020 has proven quite the year to start anywhere, doing anything — we think you’ll agree — but as a year to start in a people-centric company, heading up HR and culture? Well, let’s just say, that’s not one for the faint-hearted.
When we sit down (virtually) to talk to Clare about what working from home looks like for Total Synergy, its staff and customers, it becomes clear that WFH policy hasn’t just come up in the last few weeks in response to coronavirus.
“The whole premise of remote, flexible work was something Scott [Osborne — Total Synergy CEO and founder] and I talked about before I even joined Total Synergy,” says Clare. “Ironically, we were already working on a remote, flexible working policy for the company. Recognizing that, in terms of attracting talent, and looking after employees’ health and wellbeing into the future, this was absolutely the way to go. The coronavirus has obviously accelerated that plan.”
What Clare did to kickstart the Total Synergy WFH policy
Always a keen proponent of flexible working options, Clare says, “As a software company, we have the technology in place, and many people work from home regularly, but we hadn’t actually tested it as a wholly remote business or got to a place where we could confidently say, ‘if something happened tomorrow, everybody can work from home, no problem!’
“So earlier this month, when Scott was in our London office, I said to him, ‘I think we need to test it!’ We actually bit the bullet and started to put WFH trials into action. Everybody works differently and it’s about making sure each team had the capability to be at home, be collaborative, and be safe.”
The first port of call was to address the legalities for Total Synergy, around staff working from home. “We needed to make sure everybody has a workspace that is properly set up,” says Clare, “and that everybody was covered from an employee and an employer point of view, from a health and safety perspective.”
The goal was to ensure:
- People were comfortable to work from home
- Everyone’s technology was enabled properly — checking to make sure that they had the right equipment
- We reassured them through this process that it was a trial — ‘it’s around, let’s not panic, let’s trial it.’
Clare works to reiterate, in many ways, via many means, a positive and motivational message about WFH. “We can all do this — we’re technologically enabled to do it, we’re a technology company (we should be able to do it), we can better service our customers, and we’ll keep you safe if we need to,” she says.
The features of WFH that made Clare a long-time fan — the employee and the employer perspective
For Clare, her long-time flexible-work fandom is multifaceted. “From an employee perspective you get less stressed employees, you get people that are often more productive, and they’re happier — that makes them want to stay with the company longer term. So, it’s actually quite a simple but great thing to do for employees.
“From a company perspective, it’s a whole business strategy in my view. In Australia, 73 percent of businesses surveyed said that companies are more productive as a result of flexible working. It increases profits, it increases your customer satisfaction, it reduces business costs. Businesses know they’ll get the upper hand in obtaining better talent, and also in retaining that talent.”
The provision of working from home options has been shown to reduce absenteeism as well. Clare says, “you reduce your staff turnover because people go, ‘Oh, they’re going to let me work two or three days a week remotely,’ and then people have the ability to balance childcare and other family responsibilities — and with the coronavirus that might be really important, if your kids are at home, if you’ve got elderly parents, etc. — or people might want to do sport during the day. Does it really matter if an employee goes off to the gym for an hour during the day? As long as their output is what it should be, I’d say it absolutely doesn’t.”
How Total Synergy plans to maintain team contact, culture and collaboration
Every team works differently, and every worker within those teams has their own way of doing things. Clare suggests that this is where a company’s technology tools (the topic of another blog in this series) comes into play. She says an overarching principle, as a company, is needed here.
“You have those collaborative tools, you have things like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, or Yammer. Primarily, in terms of internal comms, you need platforms that allow private conversations and notifications that are published to the whole company.”
A company-wide understanding of which virtual meeting and conversation tools to use for what, and how, is important for this to work.
“I’m talking to our CEO about things like weekly hangouts for teams, where you can choose a day or a morning and everybody gets together and you just have a chat — you don’t have to have a specific meeting objective, you can just have a chat. Managers need to be checking in on teams every day like this. It’s really important.”
WFH for us so far — progress not perfection
Clare, and indeed, our Captain Scott Osborne, are feeling positive about the WFH trials so far. In terms of other companies moving into this mode of work (or being mandated into it, as the case may be), Clare suggests a readiness to deal with bumps in the proverbial road is necessary.
“I think a lot of businesses go into it wanting it to be 100 percent perfect. But I said to Scott, because of the speed that we’ve needed to initiate it, it will flush out potential issues. People will have issues with tech. People will have issues potentially with collaboration. But until you actually bite the bullet and do it, you don’t know.’
“You can’t predict what’s going to come out in the wash, but it’s actually about taking that step into the unknown.”
A globalizing workforce
We’re keenly aware at Total Synergy that we’re incredibly lucky ducks to have the option and the capacity to work remotely. That said, it’s by design, knowing we have to be able to serve our customers come what may. That’s not the case for everyone in every type of business. The fact remains however, that in general terms we are becoming an increasingly globalized workforce and if we can, right now, we need to enable work from home practices for the health of our communities and ourselves. We need to stay globally connected without being together. Socialized isolation. Tricky.
“We really should be a global workforce and essentially should be able to work like this,” says Clare. “I think the initial onboarding is important as you get to spend time in the workspace with colleagues, but you know, you can build relationships easily with the digital tools you have.
“Just because you’re not physically in the same room doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends with somebody or have interactions with them that are meaningful. I actually break up my day with bits of chat with people. That’s how I get that social interaction. I touch base with people. You’ll see me sometimes on a Friday afternoon send Teams messages and I’ll just wish everybody a good weekend. And then sometimes it’ll initiate conversation and you build relationships and it allows you to keep a finger on the pulse of the business particularly with your remote people.
“Fundamentally it comes down to trust. The success of WFH is a mutual benefit, trust-based thing. You have to make it a team effort. One solution doesn’t meet everybody’s needs. Hard work can be done flexibly, but, good communication is fundamental to success.”
It appears then, that the fundamentals remain the same wherever you’re working from. Respect, integrity, and care — the three highest values of Total Synergy, as it happens. Virtual high-fives all ‘round.