From SARS-COVID-2 global pandemic to different streams of social change, 2020 was a year that challenged the status quo. It defied many of our long-held routines, hijacked the business plans, and many companies had to dive into every aspect of their business and reexamine it. It was and still is, a time of resilience, short-term planning, and making sense of all the uncertainty.
However, I don’t want to take you on the rollercoaster of emotions that last year so elegantly invites us to do. Let’s embark on our story with the mindset of a student: eager to learn. It is a story of the many lessons we learned, the adaptations we continuously made, and the starting position for an exciting future based on a new and engaged remote model for our business unit in Iasi.
The Early Days
We started 2020 with a plan that we believed in for both business and HR. We were looking forward to team buildings, client visits, our annual’ Cooking for Charity’ events, Beer Thursdays, and occasional table tennis competitions that bring laughter and witty personal stories. There were plans for Tech Events organized by Yonderists and team ski/snowboard trips scheduled to take place in a few weeks … and then March 12 arrived. We had to postpone everything for two weeks (little did we know then, but we’ve learned quickly that hope is not a strategy.)
In February 2020, China’s situation made our management prepare a business continuation plan should we all have to work from home. We were lucky that a week before the lockdown, we validated the plan. The entire company worked from home on March 5, testing our infrastructure and processes as part of our business continuity strategy. This gave us the time to think ahead and prepare for the home setup.
And then it all began
This was a moment when all of us had to switch our routines and tap into our flexibility, defining teamwork on a new level internally and with our clients. And we have done great! In Q3 2020, we scored the highest customer satisfaction score in three years. And we slightly increased the employee satisfaction rating to 4.11 within our business unit.
After one month in lockdown, we have felt rested as we realized how much time and money we spend commuting to and working at the office. However, most of us miss the social interaction during the daytime: the lunch-time conversations, the casual chit-chat at the water dispenser, or the after-hour drinks or games.
In the meantime, the market was in a bit of a shock, and in some verticals, consumer behavior changed due to the pandemic. We have felt the consequences when a client who supplies software for the cruise industry first paused but then had to terminate a well-running and productive collaboration for software development as their market collapsed.
That was the moment when we had to adapt to the new normal. We had already implemented a cost-controlling strategy by minimizing the benefits that could not be used during the restrictions anyway. We increased our company-wide communications with the ‘Let’s Stay Connected’ online meetings every three weeks. Everyone was invited to attend to discuss the challenges, and we realized that we are all going through similar situations. We have managed to open our offices -adhering to special conditions- for those unable to work from home, provide psychological aid if needed, start to have the usual coffee talks online, organize game evenings, and have ‘walk in the park’ meetings.
Our pre-COVID work life was pretty much a thing of the past, and we now have to look at the future. We focus on fostering human interaction (even though video calls burnout is an issue), addressing anxiety through coaching and specialized care, and encouraging peer recognition. But most importantly, we have a new sense of flexibility and adaptability towards unfamiliar situations and can identify the sweet spot. Within our unit, we look at new challenges with a fresh perspective and frequently evaluate everybody’s needs.
Following my path from specialist to entrepreneur, manager, and leader, I have worked with disengaged as well as highly committed, motivated, and proactive colleagues. Working with people who are self-starters, open to making a discretionary effort, committed to our group’s objectives is the way to have happy colleagues and clients. To me, engagement is the storytelling within our minds about the experience we call work. It works like a snowball: the more skillful colleagues get on board, the further we can sail.
The New World
Winston Churchill said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” These words always resonate with me, the philosophy of finding a positive in a negative situation. It tests your character and sharpens your skills.
A wise leader knows that you cannot control the engagement level in your company as this is the effect of multiple factors outside your reach. However, you can influence it by using a simple method. American emotional or people engagement guru Don Phin says people put on 3 emotional masks: hero, villain, and victim. He also gives us the 40 40 solution, which helps us to create engagement. Usually, people wearing the ‘hero’ mask (wanting to save the world) are the leaders, and they storm into situations with 80% of the energy. In comparison, the employees who follow the leader tend to wear the victim’s mask and bring 20% energy. This means 100% of the energy is filled; there is no space left to maneuver. Don Phin’s 40 40 solution states that if each side brings 40% of the emotional energy, then there is room for co-creation and mind-sharing activities. Instead of overwhelming or underwhelming the other, the 40 40 rule leaves room for open discussions on career development, strategic plans for the product, and how we can improve the team or client’s experience. And managers should be especially aware of this in remote environments making sure that the level of engagement is as high as possible.
We need to inspire people to start non-mandatory technical or non-technical initiatives by which they can excel and add beyond the required effort to a project. And we should coach them in taking the first safe step of a thousand-step journey to success, always offering an emotional way out of the situation. Thus creating an environment where everyone encourages each other, helping them out, and inspiring them by personal storytelling. This has been the foundation of many companies for great products or changes in productivity that sparked millions in revenue.
The market capitalization of the engagement platforms surged in 2020 by more than 4 times. However, tooling will not replace a true connection and leadership. Our Christmas party was not as memorable in 2020. Yet, when we gathered online, we realized how much we missed each other and felt an outburst of energy.
Stay tuned for the next article on emotional engagement and how do we see things in 2021!
by Răzvan Găina