When CoViD-19 hit Germany, we decided to go remote one week before the implementation of nationwide measures as laid out by Angela Merkel in her historical TV address. The health of our staff was and is of the utmost importance to us. Beyond our staff, we have taken additional measures during the CoViD-19 pandemic to help ease the economic impact it has on all stakeholders of Lengoo including our clients in the travel industry and of course, our linguists. While there was no doubt as to whether we would go remote or not, whether it would work was a whole different story. One we wrote over the past months.
Fully Remote Over Night
Like many other businesses, CoViD-19 caught us by surprise. As a high-growth tech company in Berlin with a vastly international team, going fully remote from one day to the other challenged us to rethink everything we do. And even for a company like Lengoo, a company that is native to using Slack, file hosting in the cloud, and Hangouts, this created organizational tensions, and insecurities. We have learned a tremendous amount in the past months, and I would like to share some of those with you from a People’s perspective. While this blog post by no means seeks to lay out a perfect plan for dealing with a crisis or how to return back to the office now, I believe the only way we can better overcome situations like these in the future, is to tap into our collective knowledge and draw from the experiences we all made.
5 Learnings From our Time as a Fully Remote Organization during CoViD-19 from a People Perspective
1. Don’t Make Assumptions
Times of change are not the moment to make assumptions. More than ever People teams are now in charge of educating team members - especially in teams with a high amount of internationals. Assuming that people just know naturally what is ok to do and what isn’t, whether it is safe to perform one activity or another, is the biggest mistake one can make. Educating team members is essential to creating an atmosphere in which everyone feels safe and taken care of. You were born in Germany, went to school here, and are familiar with the system, yet Corona really made you feel uncomfortable and insecure? Think about how it feels for someone who has not spent decades in the country they live in now, someone who doesn’t speak the language fluently, and who might be in touch with family and friends in their home country far away. How much more uncomfortable and insecure would you feel then? It is the People team’s task to provide as much individual guidance as possible and to have an open ear to all questions - no matter how banal they may sound.
2. The Small Things Matter for Individual Engagement, Support, and Retention
Overcommunicate. Everything. From rules to expectations, to praises, to heart emojis on slack. In a time of isolation and social distancing, it’s the small things that really make the difference. For Easter, we sent every Lengoo employee a surprise box that included chocolate, a jigsaw puzzle, and a gymnastics ball to amp up the home office experience!
3. Emphasize and Support a New Work-Life Balance
Structure time for non-work-related team communication and actively create the space for it. Being confronted with a new reality is the perfect moment to create new rituals. Our Customer Success team has very early on started to do a Planking challenge via a Google Hangout every morning. What started out with a 10 seconds plank with 3 people turned into a 2.5 minutes plank with people from outside of the team joining. Other teams have scheduled a daily coffee date and reserved this slot for non-work related discussions. To support a healthy lifestyle we also offered Yoga sessions to start the day.
4. Unleash Unknown Talents in your Team and Redefine Job Rotation
Identify the entertainers in your team and give them a stage. They will find their crowd and their true calling. Two members of our team have launched a pub quiz in the first weeks of being remote that has truly blown up and become an event we do not ever want to miss. The pun-studded question sets, teams competing with each other for the trivia crown and everlasting glory, as well as the epic Giphy showdowns on Slack during the game night, will forever be part of Lengoo history and have helped make deep connections among team members. I salute you Inès and Basti for what you have come up with! Thank you so much!
5. Create Early Employee Engagement and Strong Bonds
During the CoViD-19 lockdown, we continued to onboard new team members. Although a personal onboarding was not possible, making a personal connection still is possible. We have tried to at least meet up with new joiners or visit them at the doorstep of their home on their first day to hand over work assets to them and our welcome package. While a no-contact-allowed meeting obviously cannot compare to the entire team welcoming a new team member with a warm smile at the office on your first day, at least the new-joiners get to see a real face to welcome them to the team.
The past months have by no means been an easy task for People teams, irrespective of the size of the business they operate in. We’ve put in many extra hours and I am very proud of what we have achieved together. We have kept the Lengoo culture alive, learned so many new things, and we have managed to maintain a fully functional team in a remote setting.
So what is the outlook? Where do we go from here? Many People teams are asking themselves the same questions these days. Nobody has the blueprint for the perfect way of moving forward. We knew hardly anything going into the CoViD-19 crisis from a People management PoV and as far as navigating out of it goes, the situation is quite the same. As some big tech firms announce forever remote work, we strongly believe this decision is heavily influenced by the culture of a company, the people who make the organization be what it is, and the nature of the business itself.
Lengoo is a people business. We value the connections we make with each other and the seemingly trivial chatter with a team member at the coffee machine that turns out to have a lasting impression on us. That’s why we decided to return to the office and physically work together again.
A Gradual Return to a New Normal
We’ve gathered all information available as far as workplace safety goes in time of a pandemic. Since the information sources are somewhat sparse, we’ve chosen to go with the following assumption: “What works outside of work also holds true at the office.”
For us, that means specifically:
- Keeping 1.5m distance at all times at the office
- Wearing a mask in the communal areas of the office
- Keeping every second desk empty
- Implementing frequent sanitization of surfaces, door handles, and toilets
Additionally, we considered the following:
As space is limited and we physically cannot fit everyone at the same time at the office, we need to prioritize. Those allowed back first are the ones who struggle the most with a remote setup, those who genuinely dislike working from home, and teams with recent new joiners.
Keeping Track of Visitors
Every visitor accessing the office must leave their contact details so we could get in touch with them in case of an infection at the office.
Know Exactly Who is at the Office and When
We created an excel sheet where we listed all the different departments and gave each department a specific headcount (depending on how many people are in the department). The managers are instructed to ask the team members who want to come to the office and then schedule different days for them. It is important to plan one week ahead so that everyone knows when the people are in the office and how many people we have in the office at any given time.
Rules are Never Fun, but Displaying Them Nicely Helps
If you implement new rules for your workspace, make sure they are accessible for every team member at all times. We’ve literally put them on the wall and replaced some of our office signage with them.
We are sharing all of our signage and the office occupancy schedule in this public G-Drive Folder as a template for you to use or print.
We have started to return to the office roughly three weeks ago, and it has worked out quite well for everyone so far. Accepting new rules and adjusting to a new type of office is a slow process, but one we will eventually master. The real challenge ahead of us now is managing partially remote teams and making sure that the dissemination of information is assured at all times. So, one of the newly acquired traits we certainly won’t be losing any time soon is that certain level of over-communication and over-documentation.