About vulnerability, me-time and the power of trust: How COVID-19 transformed our ways of working
2020 changed the ways of work as we knew it. As we adapt to the new reality of hybrid work, how do we maintain connection, foster wellbeing and support team morale without seeing each other every day? Our global people leaders weigh in on the conversation that’s on everyone’s mind.
For a moment, let’s travel back to 2019: what did your workday look like back then? Most probably you would commute to the office in the morning, spend your day somewhere between meeting rooms and coffee chats, and maybe have an after-work gathering with your team before heading home.
Fast forward to 2020: most of us don’t go to the office every day (or at all), we turn our kitchen tables into desks and use our lunch breaks to do the laundry. Our days are filled with conference calls. Instead of struggling to find a free meeting room, we now struggle to find the unmute button. Our largest fear is not to be thrown out of the only available conference room, but that one day we will accidentally show our private chat window when we share our screen (in case this already happened to you – you’re not alone).
Instead of struggling to find a free meeting room, we now struggle to find the unmute button.
By now, we have settled into this new reality. The question is how do people cope with that reality? Did COVID-19 kill collaboration and creativity altogether? Are virtual coffee meetings enough to foster team spirit? And how can we handle the so-called second pandemic – the mental health challenges that come with increased isolation – in a remote work environment?
We caught up with some of our global leaders to find out more about the love-hate relationship of pandemic and work.
Hybrid workplaces are here to stay… aren’t they?
From Europe to Asia, from the Middle East to Latin America, we had one thing in common when COVID-19 made the world stand still in early 2020: we were not prepared. All of a sudden, work became detached from our offices, which brought challenges from an infrastructural, cultural and psychological perspective. However, it also brought the opportunity of accelerating the transformation of our workplaces into what we call “the hybrid model”. Employees now have ownership of where and how they want to work.
Jeri Doris, Chief People Officer at Delivery Hero, explains: “Well before the pandemic, I had been advocating for more flexibility in our ways of working, but I always felt that there was a lack of trust when it came to our employees working from home.
“Organizations used to have a general concern that employees might not feel as connected – or maybe even committed – to their work since they couldn’t physically see them, and that they would never be willing to return to the office again. The pandemic proved that wrong. We saw that people were still productive, and we learned that the strength of our organization doesn’t lie in a physical space, but in our values and common purpose.”
Surveys at Delivery Hero’s headquarters in Berlin have shown that almost all employees prefer a mix of working from the office and working from home. Only 1% of employees would like to come to the office every day.
The bottom line is that workplaces won’t go back to “the old normal”, even once the pandemic no longer structures our lives. The hybrid model is here to stay, and why shouldn’t it? “As a business, we are successful because we give our customers choice. They don’t just find one grocery store or one sushi place on our platform – they find plenty. So, why would we not provide the same choice to our employees?” Jeri adds.
We learned that the strength of our organization doesn’t lie in a physical space, but in our values and common purpose.”Jeri Doris
More flexibility also affects how we plan and design offices in the future: “Instead of calculating one desk per employee, we now moved to a 60% capacity assumption for our Berlin offices. People have the chance not only to decide between home and office, but to also choose a place in the office that fits their needs on that particular day.”
While COVID-19 has brought many restrictions to our private lives, it seems to have simultaneously pushed the boundaries of flexibility in our work environment. But when we don’t share office spaces or lunch pizzas with each other, will we still be able to share the same vision, motivation and culture in the long run?
Bringing a sense of belonging to our kitchen tables
At the beginning of the year, we all tried our hardest to fit our team culture into the size of our computer screens, and online party games have never been more popular.
But several months down the line, we know that above all things a positive team culture comes from an environment of feeling safe and supported, as Ingo Laubender, Regional Director of People at Delivery Hero APAC, explains: “We might not be able to read each other’s body language in a conversation, but we have a tool that’s even more powerful – our humility. When we’re humble as managers, we have the best chance to create a sense of belonging for our team.”
“It’s more important than ever that we don’t let technology control our relationships. Instead of sending a message FYI, rather have a conversation. We need to encourage dialogues, allow for questions, and for being challenged.”
We also need to be more thoughtful about which communication channel fits the purpose of the situation, and how we can use meetings in the most impactful way. Minimizing the amount of attendees, using collaborative digital tools and scheduling meetings for 25 instead of 30 minutes can be easy ways to increase engagement and reduce stress.
We might not be able to read each other’s body language in a conversation, but we have a tool that’s even more powerful – our humility.Ingo Laubender
Speaking of schedule, while it’s a good idea to plan personal check-ins and team activities, it’s equally important to allow for spontaneous time to connect with people. While socializing is a natural part of office life, it became institutionalized through home office. After all, how pleasant is a casual watercooler chat when you schedule it a week in advance?
So, when blocking time in our calendars to have some space for focusing on work, we should remember to also make time for cultivating our relationships when we feel like it. This way we can bring back the casual “Do you have a minute, I want to show you something” into our hybrid workplaces.
“It’s okay not to be okay.”
When you’re working from home, it means you’re living in your office, literally speaking. Research shows that people who are working from home are more productive. One reason for that is that there might be less distractions. But they also simply work more. At home, it is harder to decide when to switch off, and when to stay offline. You too might have experienced that slight feeling of unrest when you take an hour of lunch break without checking your phone.
The inability to switch off increases stress levels at work, which adds to the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty many of us have faced throughout the pandemic – a combination that puts mental wellbeing at risk.
“The pandemic has not only spearheaded hybrid workplaces, it has also brought mental wellbeing to the top of our attention,” Ingo says. There have been a lot of initiatives across all of Delivery Hero’s offices to support employees in taking care of their mental health; from free employee assistance programs to partnerships with psychological health professionals and access to meditation apps.
“Mental health is still very stigmatized and we need to do a lot of education around it as a first step,” Ingo adds. Particularly as we’re entering the holiday season, we need to be more sensitive with mental wellbeing than ever before, as Jeri explains: “Our central team has been working on a “Staying in touch” campaign that will run throughout the whole season. Every day, our Heroes will get inspiration and tools to socialize, self-reflect, or disconnect – depending on their individual needs.”
Moreover, the mental wellbeing of employees is increasingly becoming part of the daily routine at work, as Hanna Nordell, Chief People Officer at Talabat, says: “We encouraged “monthly connects” between employees and their managers – a special one-on-one that is solely focused on how the employees are doing. The agenda is fully led by the employee, and we encourage our leaders to show vulnerability. They need to send the message that it’s okay not to be okay.”
We encourage our leaders to show vulnerability. They need to send the message that it’s okay not to be okay.Hanna Nordell
“Additionally, we promoted “me-time” for our employees. They get two blocks of four hours every month that they can take when they need them – and it doesn’t count as annual leave or sick days. People can use this time to hang out with their kids on the beach, review their OKRs, or go get a haircut. We encourage our people to post pictures of what they did in their me-time to really foster a conversation.”
Conversation – that’s one of the keywords for 2020. Our lives, work environment and team processes have changed, and the only possible way to change with it is by reinventing how we can make our conversations more impactful – at home, in the office, or somewhere in between.