Just like most businesses, Appraisd has had to come to terms with a vastly different way of working over the past three months. While every employee in the company had worked at home on occasion and was lucky enough to have the equipment to be able to function effectively remotely, suddenly being out of the office 100% of the time was a new and unfamiliar experience.
There have been positives and negatives that have come out of the situation, but overall, everything has gone remarkably smoothly. Everyone has managed to remain productive, motivated and connected and much of this is down to the structure and systems that were already in place. Of course, we’re in the incredibly fortunate position of being in an industry that is able to operate effectively during social isolation and our product is one that has proved just as valuable to employers while their employees work remotely. We have learned a lot about our business and our customers over the last few weeks, here are just a few insights we thought it might be useful to share.
Communication is everything
It’s amazing how much you can pick up about people just by being in the same room. Without a word being spoken you can sense from body language, actions and noises how well, or not, someone’s day is going. Team spirit is built just as much on conversations in the kitchen while making coffee or discussing what everyone watched on TV last night, as it is by working together. At Appraisd, Bricky the office dog, an inquisitive and friendly Jack Russell, provides much of the light relief and talking points. All this makes the company what it is, and we had to find a way to replace these informal interactions while being apart.
Daily catch ups
To compensate for this lack of social interaction, we introduced a daily teatime chat. This video call only lasts for 10 or 15 minutes, but it’s a chance for people to share anecdotes and what they’ve been up to. The call is not compulsory; people join when they can. It’s proved a really valuable opportunity for people to catch up with those they’ve not had contact with during the day, so everyone is aware of what’s going on.
The technology team and customer success team have also been having daily morning catch ups to discuss what they’ll be working on that day and ask for advice they might need from their colleagues. This is something they would normally do in the office as “stand ups”, so carrying them through into the new situation seemed both natural and sensible. These are an effective way to ensure no one in the team is overloaded with work and that everyone is clear on their tasks for the day.
Working in a relatively small office, it’s easy to grab a colleague for a quick catch up anytime. When based remotely, you don’t have that luxury, so employees have introduced more formal meetings to replace the ad hoc conversations they used to have. For example, our tech lead now has a meeting with the product lead every Friday to cover what they’re working on and what’s coming up. Adding in this structure has forced us to be more conscious of our processes and take more time to assess what is working well and what could be improved.
Making the most of technology
For us, Slack has really come into its own over the last few months. It was an application we already used, but its flexibility and simplicity have helped us enormously, ensuring we stay in touch while being apart. We’ve created a number of new channels to better share information, insights and ideas. It helps us maintain our collaborative approach and ensures everyone stays in the loop. The call and video functions have also been incredibly useful, meaning two, three, four or more of us can speak to each other at the click of a button. We’ve initiated a culture where we can call our colleagues at any time, as long as they aren’t on another call or meeting, so it helps the team feel closer and increases efficiency not waiting for a response.
If it’s not working, change it
The daily chats were originally scheduled for 4.30 pm each day, designed to be a chat over a cup of tea or coffee, an invitation to take a break. However, the tech team in particular were finding that while they enjoyed the break, they were finding it hard to get back into work mode afterwards and it was making their afternoons less productive. They suggested moving the catch ups to 5.45 pm and this has worked much better. It provides a natural ending to the day, helping everyone to wind down and leave their work behind, which can usually be difficult at home.
Practice what we preach
As performance management specialists, we’ve spent years working with our customers to help them maximise their employees’ potential. We’ve been talking to them for a long time now about the virtues of more regular check-ins between line managers and their direct reports to ensure objectives are tracked and remain relevant. They allow any issues to be highlighted at an early stage and for remedies to be speedily put in place, as well as facilitating timely and relevant feedback.
While working remotely we’ve really seen the value of these check-ins first-hand. Managers have increased the frequency from monthly to fortnightly to help employees adapt to the new way of working. We’ve been using the Working From Home check-in form we created and conducting them via the new video function we’ve added. It’s been both reassuring and satisfying to see how effective both these are. They’ve really helped us reshape objectives to accommodate changing priorities and see how everyone is doing, not just at work, but with how they’re coping with the current situation. This is not an easy time for anyone, and it can be particularly tough for those living on their own or sharing with others in a confined space. Maintaining that human touch is vital, and we want anyone who is struggling to have no hesitation in asking for help.
Always ready to listen
As the UK starts to emerge from lockdown, we’re starting to think about what the rest of the year will look like for us. While it’s still too early to return to the office, the prospect of some people coming back may only be a few months away. Quite a few can walk or ride a bike to the office, thus avoiding the perils of public transport. With minor adjustments, a reduced number of people could work safely together, if they are happy to do so. The important thing is that we keep talking and come up with a solution that everyone feels included in. Everyone’s voice is equally important, and everyone is encouraged to share their views.
How we work together has changed and many positives have emerged during lockdown. This situation has shown how crucial teamwork is and has been the catalyst for driving us to find better, more effective ways to stay connected. This is something we will hold on to, whatever happens in the future.