In late February and early March, we planned and prepared our corporate response and action plan in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. What we didn’t realize at the time was that we would implement all three phases of our plan – in one week. We are fortunate in that the way our company is structured, we have been able to remain open – empowering every single member of our team with the ability to work from home, including our co-op students. Working from home comes with many challenges, and there are lots of articles and resources available for those who are doing it for the first time.
How, though, do you work from home in a way that makes your staff feel like they are still a part of something that matters, help them understand the goals and expectations for the day, and socially and emotionally connect them to each other, when we are all physically apart (and dealing the impacts of a global pandemic)?
We decided early on in this crisis that our culture extended beyond the walls of our building and we were determined to ensure its survival at home. Our focus became supporting a team through a global crisis, staff wellness, and professional development, and maintaining our peer-to-peer bonds while giving back to our local Hamilton community. To that end, we implemented a variety of protocols including the continuation of daily video stand-ups, anonymous surveys to check-in on well-being, check-in calls for each staff member (from members of our leadership team), Spanish and French language training for our staff created and delivered by our own staff members, brand new technical training programs to upskill, community support initiatives, and sheer nonsense games and challenges.
Our Primary Challenge – Communication
- We started with two leadership meetings a day – We met at 10 AM to set the tone and priorities for the day, and again at 4 PM to see how it all went, who needed what, and ensure that nothing required urgent attention before the evening. We did this for two full weeks before we dialed it back to meet once per day. We meet on video over teams and include our Executive Team, Directors, and our Team Leads.
- We start each morning by having our team ‘Check In’ for the day by simply liking a Teams message – it allows everyone to know who is in for the day, and who is out/away
- We sent updates from our Pandemic Planning Committee (a newsletter to all staff) once a day, initially, and now as required. We include information about what is happening with the province, the city of Hamilton, how the changing guidelines impact them, and what we need from each of our team members.
- At the three-week mark, we circulated a staff survey– We wanted an answer to a simple question: Is what we’re doing working, and if not, how can we course-correct? We used the results to help us continue what was working and fix what wasn’t.
- Members of our Executive team are in the process of doing a one-on-one with every single team member in our company. We wanted to know how they are really doing, and how can we help them
- We instituted a “cameras (almost) always on” rule for calls. We have found that actually seeing each other increased understanding and improved our communication greatly. Our ‘almost’ is for the moments we can’t predict or control – its’ important our team know that we understand that life is happening and we’re all doing our best.
Supporting our Team Through a Global Crisis
- In the ‘early’ days, before we moved to a complete work from home strategy, we wanted to ensure that our team felt supported and empowered to take a sick day. We assured our staff that during the pandemic, our sick days would be paid, and that was not only applicable for when they were sick, but also for while they cared for a family member who was ill. We have continued this practice, even though all staff are working from home. Our team has used less sick time from Jan-April in 2020, than they did in 2019.
- We have several parents on our team – with kids ranging in ages 1, to 16. We have empowered our team to flex their time to accommodate extra parenting (and attempts at teaching) while the schools and daycare facilities are closed.
- In the early days of work from home, we researched resources and activities for the kids of our staff – and tried to include academic, craft, social, and fun things for them to do.
- Finally, we have been acknowledging birthdays & anniversaries differently. We can’t gather to say congratulations, but we have found ways to thank our team for their service and celebrate them.
Staff Wellness and Professional Development
- We’ve proceeded with some previously planned staff training for our team – every single developer has been given access to some incredible training and given access to a mentor. Instead of canceling this, we have increased how much time we want our staff to spend learning and sharpening their skills. We have also ensured that our team has access to LinkedIn Learning so they can pick up a new skill.
- We have taken time with our Customer facing team to do some internal training sessions – going through each module to help build more in-house experts in each area of our software.
- We have two amazing staff members who are volunteering to help their colleagues (and their kids!) brush up on their Language skills – we are currently conducting Language Labs in French and Spanish.
- We built a simple Wellness Wiki in our Teams channel, collecting both healthy and comfort food recipes to share.
- Our in-office yoga class had to change when we left the office – someone from our team currently selects an online class for our colleagues, and our team is practicing remotely.
Staff Socials – Indulging in Some Silliness
- All teams need an outlet to have fun and be silly, and we are certainly good at that! We have conducted a Virtual Pub Trivia Night, Happy Hour, Guess-that-Baby Challenge, posted riddles to solve on Teams, and a variety of photo (and photoshop) challenges. We love seeing what creative and funny things our team comes up with.
Doing Some Good and Giving Back
- We found that our team got restless – wanting to do something to help and to give back to their communities in this time of need. Our owners very generously gave the team a large sum of money and a mandate: do some good for small business, and for people who need it, and then set the team free. To date, we have used that money, to sponsor our neighbouring restaurants: Salty Espresso, The Burnt Tongue, Blend Catering, and Royal Pizza by buying fresh produce and prepared foods and organizing contact-free delivery to our local Neighbour-to-Neighbour food bank and St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Hamilton. We have coined this initiative, Take Care of Each Other and since it started, it has only grown. We now have also included fresh flower deliveries, from Terra, for patrons of the foodbanks, and committed to the delivery of 500 bags of fresh produce, 400 containers of soup, 300 individual meals, and 150 pizzas – in just 5 weeks.
- When we purchased laptops to make our entire team mobile (to work from home) we realized that we had the privilege of extra computers available to us. Our team worked to refurbish our non-essential computers, added keyboards and mice, and then worked to find families in our community that didn’t have the technology they needed to engage with new online learning resources. To date, we have helped 17 kids access online learning who wouldn’t have been able to participate otherwise.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “…people will forget what you said, people forget what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel”. At Orbis, we believe that the best teams embody empathy – particularly in a time of global pandemic. Investing in the well-being and togetherness of our staff doesn’t merely serve to strengthen the bonds we share, but to ensure each of us is an embodiment of the very cornerstone from which the company was founded. I.C.A.R.E stands for: innovation, communication, accuracy, respect, and empathy. This is more than just an acronym or slogan on the wall. It’s the way that we do business and it is, for us, especially important right now. Because, if there is anything that COVID-19 teaches us all, it is how interconnected we are, how reliant on each other, how capable we are when we work together, and just how important putting people first really is.