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COVID-19 and the Shift to Work from Home

The chaos, fatalities and fight against COVID-19 have intensified across the globe. Countries are imposing travel restrictions and closing boundaries, many countries are in complete lockdown situation with only availability of essentials and organizations are mandating working from home.

With our innovation and development centre in India, which is still in Phase 2 of COVID-19 outbreak, the community transmission has not started. I, with our Q-leadership, took a proactive approach to tackle the situation before it becomes mandate by the government. We started work from home in India for over 400 employees starting 18th March 2020 until further notice.

With uncertainties around, we wanted to make sure that employee productivity doesn’t get hamper and our clients’ business run as usual without impacting deliveries from our end. I wanted to share how as a team we made this successful transition within limited time without impacting productivity.

Our approach towards shifting to work from home is a combination of technology, communications and transparency.

  1. IT Infrastructure Upgrade– With the incidence of COVID-19 increasing, our IT team started preparing for work from home arrangement. IT team increased VPN connections as the entire workforce is shifting to remote work arrangement. We bought new devices–laptops and mobiles for remote use and configured with all required software and access to company data for employees who didn’t have them already. IT team created 24*7 email and Teams channel–‘HelpDesk’ to address all queries and issues regarding setting up VPN channels, security issues, software and device updates.
  2. Virtual Meetings– Face-to-face meetings in office have natural breaks with casual conversations, greetings, and water cooler chats. As we switch to remote work arrangement, we move to virtual meetings with back-to-back meetings, realizing how much those natural breaks in office meetings matter.

    We encouraged team meetings using Microsoft Teams that provide complete virtual office set up with secure storage of files and quickly access them before meetings and calls.  Teams has an option to create an online conference room with Video and Voice Only option. We recommended our team members to have face-to-face, if they are a comfortable to feel more connected. We encouraged employees to communicate in a short and concise manner in the meeting and revise the important points before meeting ends.

  3. Communication– Communication played an important role in preparing our workforce for a complete work-from-home arrangement. We started communications early to prepare employees’ mindset about the uncertainties COVID-19 can bring.

    We communicated about the global situation and as an organization, what measures we are taking to keep employees and community safe. Our communication talked how we are committed to maintain our regular operations and support to clients without compromising on SLAs and deliverables.

    We requested all team leads and managers to set clear expectations in work from home policy to ensure maximum productivity. This can include daily status calls, work schedule, and other expectations based on specific project and team. High performance requires regular conversations that can be a challenge in remote set-up. We recommended each team has 3 All Hands checkpoints during the day locally. This cadence must be apart from the onshore team calls.

    We put together a COVID-19 Info pack that lays out a set of guidelines for dealing with the spread of COVID-19 and how to ensure business continuity while we all are connected digitally.

    We ensure all lines of communication are kept open, honest and transparent to make sure employees can reach out to team members, colleagues and management team.

  4. Cross-Functional Response Team– As the gravity of the COVID-19 outbreak increased, we established a dedicated cross-functional response team to ensure health and well-being of our employees, their families and communities and smooth transition to remote work. The focus of the team was ensuring–

    • Employee management and wellbeing
    • Performance Monitoring and Evaluation
    • Creating work-life balance
    • Smooth client deliveries
    • Foster open-ended communication

    We measured these goals on a 48-hour work basis and constantly improved the areas to achieve process stabilization within 48-hours.

  5. Exploring new ways of Onboarding and Talent Engagement– As we were setting up remote work for our employees, we prepared HR team and processes to embrace virtual recruiting and on-boarding. With a globally distributed and remote team, we implemented face-to-virtual-face introductions with HR, direct managers, and members of the leadership team, and videoconferencing for induction and with other teams in the organization. We virtualized Buddy program and encouraged buddies to reach out to new members to make sure they don’t feel isolated.

    Sudden shift to work from home causing physical distance can disengage employees. We leveraged digital engagement channels such as TEAMs and Zoom to keep employees engage with surprise games and online contests. The idea is to keep employees focused and engaged, even when they are working away from office.

How we are seeing this ahead?

COVID-19 has prepared organizations to be on standby mode and shift to remote work arrangements whenever need arises. I see this as a driver that pushes the trend of Digital workforce, Work-from-anywhere and how digitization is blurring the lines of home and work with options of managing them both.

COVID-19 stressed on looking at virtual collaboration and culture for organizations. With digital resources, tools, and support during remote work, the productivity will go up. Future businesses have to be on standby mode always, so the businesses work as usual without impacting daily lives in such uncertain times.

At Qentelli, we are testing the options of taking the virtual culture forward with flexible work hours and remote work arrangements. We share how we’ve managed the successful transition of 450 employees in under 3 days. This includes managing culture change, checking in often, improving on feedback, and empowering managers and leaders to explore new ways of working, doing meetings and establish guidelines within teams. Qentelli’s decision of creating an open office and not restricting employees to just sit in their desks all day and allow employees to work from home as needed, made us to provide laptops to almost all employees. This decision came in handy at the time of COVID crisis as we didn’t need to provision laptops and enable security etc in the last minute.

We will share our lessons and reflections of staying connected ‘only digitally’. Stay tuned to this space to read what are we discovering as individuals and teams about this new way to work.