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Shifting Company Culture from the Office to Remote Work, Overnight

The challenges involved when suddenly needing to work remote.

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Business Leaders

Published 25 Mar, 2020 5 minutes of reading

Two weeks ago I was in a bar talking with my brother and a friend, we were talking about the coronavirus. We were listening to it from a distance—China, South Korea, Italy (also during that time while checking my social networks, I saw stories of a famous Chilean woman who was going to Milan and had to return to Chile before arriving at an Italian airport). Is this a big deal, I wondered?

I was skeptical. While waiting for the food we had ordered, I asked "What do you think is going to happen with the virus?" Almost in unison, they said "It's worse than we think." Sitting there in my ignorant omnipotence, I felt that they were blowing things out of proportion. They were exaggerating.

"But if it is a virus, we are all going to get it, like swine flu, there will be a little bit of collective paranoia and everything will continue to be normal.”happy person using a computer in nature

I was wrong. As of today, I am completing a week of voluntary preventive quarantine.

The following day after that conversation in the bar I prepared a statement that, as the leader of People Operations at Modyo, I had the responsibility to send out as soon as possible. We were already reacting late.

The statement had a preventive and reassuring tone, but in the end, it marked the beginning of the topic "Coronavirus" in our work agenda. In principle, we didn’t worry too much. The main purpose was to encourage people to choose to work remotely. We have been practicing remote work as a company policy for well over a year. When we began it, the self-management nature of our teams responded well, and there was no need for any intermediary bureaucracy.

Overnight, we had 100 people working remotely, in 4 different countries and for an indefinite period of time.

After 48 hours, the speed at which the virus was transmitted was directly proportional to the awareness we all began to take of the importance of contributing to social isolation. By the third working day after the announcement, 98% of our teams, scattered throughout Santiago, Bogotá, Sacramento and Berlin, were working in their homes.

Overnight, we had 100 people working remotely, in 4 different countries and for an indefinite period of time. And just as I was keeping up the pace and focus on my OKRs this quarter, there was an overriding need to look with perspective and sensitivity at what this would mean for our teams.

Some of this I want to share with you. There are a lot of things that will change, that's clear. But I want to share with you what is important to look at from the perspective of people management in order to be able to live with the outbreak of this pandemic, without arresting anxiety, but also without being disconnected from reality. 

Here I go:

1. Take care of the mental and physical health of everyone.

Working remotely from time to time is one thing. Working remotely every day, with restrictions on leaving home and socializing with others, is quite another. 

In my house I had a desk that I used when I needed to. The 7th day of sitting at this desk, my back tells me that it is not the right condition to be like this for many days. I do not want to be redundant with the advice regarding physical conditions (define a different place to your bed, with good light and keep it tidy, try to maintain a good position when sitting for several hours in front of the computer, etc), but I do want to say that this advice is very true and important to follow.

However, I want to emphasize our mental health care during periods of confinement like this. And for that, I want to quote what an Argentine psychoanalyst and philosopher, Luciano Lutereau, describes very graphically and crudely:

"One of the most explicit signs of madness is to live in continuous days; to lose the difference between days of the week and the weekend, between the late Tuesday afternoon and the exultant Friday night. Madmen cannot divide time. Depression is the abyss in the continuous time of twilight. Mania shines like the white midday sun. (...) Seriously, without a divide in time, one goes crazy. (...) Quarantine is not a question of health or compliance, it is a forced mourning. What must be done to overcome it? The same thing others did on other occasions when they went through a trial. What can't we stop doing? Dividing time. Not kill time, divide it. How do you divide it? With variations and abstentions. On Sundays, even if you haven't been out since Friday, you rest and let yourself be rested."

This applies to all everyday activity. Let's take care of our teams from the "madness" of confinement. Let's promote the definition of work schedules and free time (to "be at home"), establish planning and follow-up meetings, rearrange the extra-curricular activities we had with the "live-in" alternatives that have emerged (thousands). Let’s take care of our connections with others, divide the domestic tasks and the care of others (children, elderly, pets), eat well, regulate the information we consume, respect our sleeping hours and treat our space with care.

2. Let's make our company culture omnipresent.

I have always liked to say that culture is "knowing how to play by heart". Well, now, in the total absence of a physical day with the team, you will see just how much we know how to play by heart. 

But it's not a question of "let's see how things go." No. It's about trying even harder to buffer the instances that reinforce our culture, because that culture orients our teams, gives them focus and maintains a sense of belonging, the latter being hit hard by current circumstances.three people working in separate spacesYou may wonder what I mean. You can start with the following: 

  • Reinforce and follow up on you and your team's core objectives.

  • Review the tasks you have to do daily, connect by video to all the meetings you participate in (yes, let them see you and your team)

  • Interact through your virtual communication channels (Slack helps a lot in this), both one-on-one and in group channels. 

While it is true that working remotely tends to increase productivity, it is also true that a decrease in innovative and creative thinking has been observed. As Steve Jobs said, "Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions." Since each of us being in our own homes cannot not replicate the spontaneous interaction of sharing the same space with others, we can adjust and generate a routine of interaction with others, where we also leave work for a while and have a coffee. We can talk and have conversations about the functional training routine we discovered last week, or the delicious dinner you prepared last night.

3. Leading in times of pandemic.

We are all putting ourselves to the test in a situation like this, in the various roles and positions within our organizations. As leaders, we will again set the tone for how our teams and our company will be able to navigate in times of pandemic. And to paraphrase a quote from Garcia Marquez in Love in the Time of Cholera, we will see if leadership "will become greater and nobler in calamity.”

Right. I've gone on long enough and this subject deserves another full publication, doesn't it?

And besides, now I'm going to prepare to take my online yoga class ;)

Photo by Andrea Davis from Pexels

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