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Navigating HR in Covid-19…but how?

Navigating HR in Covid-19…but how?

I recently decided to embark on a new journey and prepare a series of interviews in which I try to grasp HR, recruitment, leadership learnings and company management best practices during COVID-19.

Michelle Davies is VP People at Phrasee, who empower brands with the most advanced AI-Powered Copywriting technology on the planet. Michelle brings both, North American and UK experience in creating corporate culture, optimising employee engagement, and building outstanding people and teams.

Kris: Do you remember where you were when the UK went into lockdown and what went through your head?

Michelle: I was at home, working. In order to keep our team safe, we had gone fully remote a week prior to the governmental advice.

As we had never had that experience in our business, we also managed to test the working from home for a day before rolling it out. This way we quickly found out the challenges which came with it.

Kris: Sounds very efficient and well planned. I’m positively surprised!

Michelle: Well, we talked about it for several weeks, as it looked like that was where we were heading. We had some advantages with expanding our global team, who are all remote, in the past couple of years, so we could leverage from that experience as well.

Kris: What were the challenges at the initial stages?

Michelle: The real test is actually how you support people to make them feel comfortable in their home offices. You need to think of staff who may live in small apartments and don’t have a lot of space. Supporting mental health is a huge part of this too. Also, I also don’t think you can have all the answers sometimes, so being honest and communicating openly is the best thing you can do.

Finally, the challenge is that suddenly the personal and professional lives are blended overnight so we asked our team to be honest and share how they are coping with that, so we can support them as best we can.

Kris: What has worked well in managing teams remotely? What are your best practices?

Michelle: Communication is a huge thing. We now have a weekly “town hall meeting”, for the first two weeks we had our management team meeting daily, now twice a week. Every second company meeting is an online fun activity to keep that human connection, and not just business all the time. We also moved our office gym trainer to a Zoom online activity and our choir meets weekly virtually! Instead of birthday cake celebrations in the office, we send gifts to their homes to celebrate team members birthdays…

Kris: Looks like you managed to tweak it smoothly to maintain the continuity…

Michelle: Indeed, the trouble is that we moved from something which in the office was natural and informal to having it to schedule in. Now you have to plan simple activities such as lunches, quizzes etc. Of course, it initially felt very odd, however, you have to test and see what works for your team. We learnt after the first three days that virtual “lunchrooms” weren’t going to be well attended, so we quickly moved on…

Kris: What organisational changes has your company introduced that you think will stay there for the long term?

Michelle: I believe the enhanced virtual communication, plus the new tools which support that will definitely stay. We now all understand the challenges of working from home, and thus communicate better with each other cause you know how it feels on the other side. I also think working from home will become more common.

This whole situation also creates a sense of togetherness in the team, we are working together to come out stronger!

Kris: What are the benefits and costs of the current situation for your company?

Michelle: Well, now we are all saving time on travel, so we have been reminding the team of the resources in place for e-learning, but also wellness. We understand people respond to change differently and we trust will use the extra time in whatever way best supports them and their families at home.

Kris: What is happening in your company now? What are the plans for the next 3-4 months?

Michelle: Initially, like most people I think, we were only able to look at things on a daily basis and week by week. Now, we have finished our refreshed annual planning and are looking at things in a long term view again. We have re-launched our US hiring recently and we communicated the plan to the entire company; it’s hugely important that we are all looking forward to the future together. So, again we are being honest and transparent with things to come.

Kris: Do you already know how you will celebrate returning to the office as a company? Will you go back all in one go or rather in phases?

Michelle: Well, that’s an interesting question! Because we are in this “new world” I don’t think it will happen in one go. We will do it in stages, so it won’t be a matter of going back to the office as quickly as we converted to working from home and all at the same time. The bottom line is that we will have to find out what the team feels comfortable with and find the right balance for everyone.

Kris: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Michelle. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Michelle: Great! Thank you as well.

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