I want to share our experience of transferring employees to remote work during the quarantine period. It seems to me that we approached this task as systematically as possible, and most importantly, we did not forget to organize a “return”, which for many companies still looks like a distant future.
Our offices are located in Cyprus and Asia, more than 600 people are almost evenly distributed between these two locations. Each country has its own characteristics, including those related to personnel functions and cultural traditions, as employees of 48 nationalities work in the company. I must say right away that we transferred 100% of the staff to a complete remote location for three months, did not stop hiring (+50 newcomers during this time), and not a single workflow was postponed or missed.
The transfer of employees to remote work was also connected with restrictions in the regions of our presence, as well as the dynamics of exiting the self-isolation regime, which is slightly different from the situation in Russia. The introduction of a self-isolation regime was phased: after long discussions at the state level, restaurants, shops and government organizations were first restricted, then they were allowed to go out once a day only when sending SMS, and they also introduced curfews. And only at the end of May restrictions in both regions began to be lifted also gradually, at first increasing the number of allowed exits to the street, and later cafes and shops were opened.
Now, some employees have already decided to return to the office in whole or in part (fortunately, this is already permitted by the state), so you can summarize and give recommendations.
Looking back at March 2020, I understand that we could think a little better about the steps and organize the transition. But few thought it was serious; many did not believe that it would come to the point that they would be “locked up” at home and hoped that “it would somehow manage.”
Step 1. Plan your actions as much as possible. The more time you work on the details, the better
We began to plan the transition to remote work two weeks before the announcement of the self-isolation regime in both countries; and we managed to do almost everything. Almost everything is a detailed company policy on doing business under COVID-19 conditions (someone will say that it is bureaucracy and pieces of paper, but if at least one of your employees gets infected at work, infects others, and it will be proved, then the company there will be serious legal consequences), a detailed Business Continuity Plan (BCP) indicating which units and how are required to work regardless of any circumstances (even arriving aliens should not interfere with some support teams), whom to provide with equipment in the first place and how to notify each employee about the introduction of emergency mode. We also conducted a test introduction of the working mode from home for one day, but, as a result, did not have time to return the employees back and decided to leave everyone at home for another three months.
Of the lessons that we learned at the planning stage, I would separately note the following:
- Do not underestimate this task.. Even if it seems that this is a global panic and conspiracy, tomorrow they may announce that you can leave your home no more than once a day and only if absolutely necessary, and transporting computers under your houses will be very problematic. If you think that transferring 600+ people to work from home is just to release the announcement that “Don’t come to work tomorrow,” then you are mistaken. In reality, this will require at least 2-3 weeks of preparation, information, a tough leadership hand and confidence that this is the only true option. We had no doubt – every day was like reports from the battlefield, and we were lucky that we took on the task systematically and (almost) immediately.
- Business Continuity Plan (BCP) – this is a must for every company. No wonder BCP is one of the essential elements of risk management in large companies. When there is no time to think, having such a document will save days and hours. We managed to create it in two weeks. But they might not have time …
- Previous inventory (appliances, furniture) will save your nerve cells. If the data about who has which computer, whether there are laptops, what equipment is in stock – you need to unload, verify and check, then you will lose time. Again, often an inventory of equipment (not to mention tables and chairs) is postponed “for later”, and in case of urgent decisions, errors in this information will cost nerves, and maybe money.
- The team is everything. For us, the conditions of the crisis showed who is ready to work despite difficulties and fatigue, and who will wait until the last procedure and write reminders to others. If there are misunderstandings in the team, “weak links” or lack of leadership, then problems are guaranteed. When there will be 2-3 days to solve a difficult task, and the price of delays and errors is high, you will most likely regret that you did not pay attention to the training of managers or high-quality team building.
Step 2 Organization of jobs at home
“Frontend” and “Backend” work from home 🙂
Maybe someone will say that it was “too much” to deliver tables, chairs, and take laptops for temporary rent for employees, but we decided that the workplace at home should be a normal workplace. Not a sofa with a pillow or a kitchen table, where a child is eating borsch, but a normal workplace, the same as in the office.
This was the most stressful part when a lot of employees had to be involved for coordination and assistance. We immediately realized that managers were already busy: talking with employees, setting work tasks (which no one had canceled) and solving hundreds of urgent issues – as a result, they would not have time to collect delivery addresses and check what size the table fits in a small employee room. HR partners turned out to be an invaluable resource: they supervised the work, communicated with each employee, coordinated the work of office managers and, most importantly, each time told employees that everything was under control. The organization of minimally convenient places took three days, after two weeks, according to the results of the survey, all employees had comfortable working conditions. He summed up only the Internet, when in some locations the communication channel was not enough for constant video calls; but there was a solution with 4G modems.
What we learned from this stage:
- How much does one developer working day costwho pulled his back while sitting at the kitchen table on a stool? Probably more than 30 euros for the delivery of a set of furniture. I believe that this was the right decision, with which many (including myself) from the very beginning did not agree. Yes, we spent two weeks delivering furniture and equipment. Yes, we had to buy something new, but the costs were not prohibitive. But in conditions when then we sat at home for three months, it saved our backs, necks, head and eyes.
- We did not buy new furniture (And IKEA offered many small and comfortable tables) and were not allowed to buy furniture for employees with further cost recovery from the company, but delivered furniture from the office, as they immediately realized that then there was simply nowhere to put the furniture bought. Remember the inventory? Having a system where every table and chair is assigned to a person saves hours of coordination in excel. It was not perfect here, we had to look for something later, but it was not essential.
- First, we allowed employees to come and pick up their furniture and appliances. yourself at a convenient time from the office. But in vain. In the future, it took much more time to gather information about who took what, and when, and why – centralization of work would help better control. We quickly realized our mistake and corrected it, but from the very beginning there was a little chaos.
- Clear policy: what costs are compensated and which are not. Immediately rained questions: is it possible to buy your own desk, will mobile Internet be paid, is it possible to compensate for the cost of electricity and many others. The sooner the company’s position on what and how is paid is determined, the faster you will go into working mode, honestly notifying employees what they can count on. We chose to compensate only for the costs that became necessary for this situation, such as buying 4G modems or cartridges for home printers; payment of electricity / water / house cleaning and other things immediately declined.
Step 3 A family
Children are active helpers at work 🙂
This may seem unusual, but at Exness we pay a lot of attention to the families of employees, because, as a rule, relocated developers experience much more stress if the other half is unhappy or children’s leisure is not organized. At the moment of quarantine, this became critical – we heard noisy children on calls, employees complained that in a two-bedroom apartment it was completely impossible to concentrate on tasks. What have we done?
- Our CEO has decided that we will provide maximum support families so that at least five days a week, employees can sit and work quietly. A hot food delivery system was organized, various puzzles, engineering toys and coloring books were delivered to children (I recall that non-food goods stores immediately closed in Cyprus and it became simply impossible to buy a puzzle for a child).
- To provide unambiguous distribution information for COVID-19 in the countries where we have offices, we organized a series of lectures with a corporate doctor, which talked about the current status and safety precautions. Emergency contacts for each country were posted on portals and through HR. Several times we gave lectures on stress management and the balance of personal / work life.
- For us, for HR, contact with staff wives was always naturalbut for our part we also organized “islands” of mutual assistance: someone had a printer for printing homework for children (schools also immediately went online), someone began to share toys, and who knew how to conduct zumba lessons, immediately organized Sports activities online on their own.
Step 4 Rules, Procedures and Policies
When everyone settled home in comfortable chairs, and it was already clear that, most likely, for a long time, it became important to create uniform rules of work. Do I have to answer at 21:00 if I am still sitting at home? And if I get sick, do I need to work, because I’m still at home, or is it worth taking an official sick leave? It has become very important.
Personally, I do not like processes and policies. Well, can a normal person not understand if it is worth answering a letter in the evening or how to take a day off if you work at home? But now I agree that there should be clear guidelines for 600+ people, and the “act in good conscience” rule no longer works.
What have we done? We created several stream projects where we began to work out and formulate policies in blocks: remote IT support, disciplinary policy, hiring and onboarding employees remotely, labor protection when working from home, communication processes. As a result, in almost two months we were able to prepare the entire infrastructure in the organization for effective work.
What interesting lessons we learned:
- Reliable and fast performer increases the chances of success. For projects, you need to appoint managers who are effective in the conditions of a limited time, so that you do not have to additionally coordinate and “push” to achieve the result. Stress had a different effect on everyone, and it’s better to immediately determine who, after a month at home, will require additional attention and support.
- Communication, communication and communication again! Weekly calls to inform all (!!!) managers of the company about progress, a town hall from the CEO to all employees, mandatory daily, and then weekly check-up calls to each team helped reduce the lack of information at different levels. Of course, the presence of Workplace and other internal communication tools (such as a group in Telegram, Confluence and Jira) significantly simplified the work and increased the speed of communication. I can’t imagine how we would coordinate work if we had only corporate mail. And the more systematic the approach, the less chance someone or something to forget or miss time.
- It’s important not only the content, but also the form, moreover, this advice applies everywhere. Write long communication guidelines? Do not do a six-sheet procedure, but try to create a beautiful manual with pictures in the style of a company! Making an announcement with important news? Insert an eye-catching picture and hyperlinks to each piece of information to make it easier for employees to get it. Several times, some employees missed important information, since black and white text without a structure quickly scrolled without attention.
- Some processes, such as remote onboarding of employees, had to be rebuilt. We immediately formed a matrix of processes and evaluated which of them require special attention and which of them work normally. Remote signing of documents, workflow, onboarding of employees, some processes of IT support – all this became the first tricks in order not to stop work.
- Surveys and regular feedback sessionswhen we repeatedly interviewed 100% of the employees about what difficulties and problems they have now, and what suggestions they can share in order to improve their work. Conducting a survey for 2-3 times on the same questionnaire allowed us to see the positive dynamics and address the feedback of employees in a timely manner to the relevant units.
Step 5, to which many are still far away, but with us it has already happened – to decide how to return to the office
Almost from the first month we began to think about what we want to do when there is no longer any need to work from home, and the company must decide: are we forever remotely or what?
After much deliberation, we agreed with hybrid mode work, when each team decides how often it will come to the office, and which employees can work completely remotely. Thus, we:
- Registeredwhat categories of employees and by what rules should work at home or in the office after quarantine has ended;
- Identifiedthat we do not support the mass migration of employees from our current locations to others (although there is nowhere to go especially now);
- Converted Offices to Coworking (one of the most interesting and creative tasks), immediately introducing the hot desks policy everywhere and completely removing dependence on jobs;
- Keep working over the processes of remote communication and work in order to maximize the opportunities that we had to face.
And if now many more say that the working environment is unlikely to remain the same, we are trying to form new habits, realizing that the more flexible the organization, the more opportunities for the development and further scaling of the business.