What we learned working from home during the pandemic
Welcome to those who have come to this post. For starters, I am going to tell you a little about the place where I’m working. We are an Uruguayan company based in Uruguay and Colombia that’s dedicated to software development (mobile and web) and user-centered design. Currently, we have more than 90 employees from different countries.
In this post I want to share with you how my team known as People Care (aka HR), faced the pandemic. Also, how we’ve supported other UruITers (that’s what we call our colleagues) in adapting to the changes that it has brought about, both the logistical ones and cultural ones. As a team, we’ve been working hand in hand with all of our employees who are in both countries. I myself am in Uruguay, although only physically really, because there’s a level of warmth that makes us feel so close to Colombia that only physical distance separates us.
Getting ready for the storm
As a software company, we were prepared and already had the necessary conditions for working remotely during the pandemic, which was an advantage. For some UruITers, remote work was not a novelty either. “Work From Home” has been part of our company policy for years, so we already had remote work best practices. In the People Care team, we found ourselves with the challenge of digitizing every one of our processes to the max. We had to start rethinking strategies and new ways of working that would keep us all highly connected, since our people are the ones who deliver the quality behind everything we do.
After five months of having changed our way of working, it seems like now is a good opportunity to share with you how we have been addressing this transition, despite all of the uncertainty and not knowing when it will end. In this post, I’ll cover the problems we faced, our approach for tackling them, and some challenges that we as a leadership team have overcome in order to keep the focus on the business, our people, and results. We invite you to learn about our improvement process, our transformation and lessons learned.
At the time of crisis, we had to reinvent ourselves which was a challenge felt by every team inside UruIT. Since March 16th, 2020, we’ve all been working remotely from our homes. At that moment of general concern, the question for us as a People Care team was “Where do we start?” That’s how we decided to start with the most important thing: The UruITers.
Our focus was on keeping the spaces and moments for integration, well-being, and communication alive. However, we shifted to the digital level, unlike the face-to-face instances that we frequently have. In the presence of chaos, we saw the importance of stopping and reviewing our tasks that we had been working on to understand and think about what was happening and thus, define a course of action.
Here’s what we did and recommend for getting started with remote work:
Provide Support for your Team
From the beginning, we focused on having one-on-one talks to gain insights on how the situation was going. Although many were used to working remotely, we had to accept the fact that it was now mandatory to work this way.
Considering that it was a very sudden change, the goal of these talks was mainly to know the emotional state of each person (if there were experiencing episodes of stress, anxiety or fear; to know how their family was, with whom they were living during the pandemic or if they were alone; identify in general terms who needed support). We also tried to find out how they were working. In addition, we wanted to know if they had any difficulty that prevented them from carrying out their work effectively.
Know Your Priorities
After talking with all the UruITers, we decided to provide support and follow up with those we observed who needed it, as a way of conveying a sense of calm. These talks were the catalyst to develop and organize actions in the shortest amount of time possible. We started with the urgent:
Solutions for connectivity and computer issues:
We worked together with IT so that people could work without any issues.
Provision of office items:
From the UruIT offices, we organized the logistics to send people what they needed. That way, they could work more comfortably using their monitors and desk chairs, for example.
Time management and breaks:
We found ourselves packed with multiple daily meetings. To cope with them, we looked for alternatives in virtual rooms and other tools. We also tried to encourage the proper use of communication channels (chat and meetings). Many encountered the difficulty of managing time and knowing when to finish working since they did not have to move from one place to another. In addition to monitoring the situation through talks, we developed activities to try to help improve peoples’ daily routines.
Peace of mind in the face of job uncertainty:
For a while, and even today, all one would hear about in the media was the expected negative effect on the economy of the pandemic and its impact on the job market. In order to mitigate stress and give our employees some reassurance, we shared weekly updates about how our projects were coming along and disclosed any information to remain transparent while establishing some things we could do in the short term.
Support for new employees:
Just days prior to the pandemic, we newly hired people who moved from Cuba. As if all of the changes that come with moving to a new country were not enough, add a pandemic to the mix! We tried to remain especially close to them and give added support.
After tackling the most pressing, immediate issues, we established priorities for the next fundamental areas to work on: communication, integration activities, and latest company news in terms of new projects, new hires, team activities and general well-being.
Communication Is Key
Communication and information management became a fundamental aspect due to the distance and the changing external environment. For that, we created common spaces where we could interact and report the news week by week.
Thus, we came up with Friday brunches which quickly became a classic. These weekly virtual brunches became a space where we could not only keep up to date with UruIT information, but also engage in activities to generate interaction between the UruITers who are working in Uruguay and Colombia. It became the perfect occasion as it takes place during Uruguay’s lunchtime and Colombia’s morning.
Besides brunch, we maintained the use of our internal tools to keep in touch and continued the one-on-one talks.
Create a Community
Integration was an aspect of our company culture that we already had been working on. Even though we keep in touch daily, before the pandemic, we tried to generate moments where we could connect face to face; laid-back spaces where we could interact and get to know people. This was something we didn’t want to lose with the fully remote work situation. One of our goals for this year was to work on the integration of both countries, since we felt that there was a certain disconnect between the UruITers in Uruguay and Colombia. Before the pandemic, we did not have it stipulated how we were going to achieve that. This situation forced us to work faster and to brainstorm ideas with the help of other teams.
Have Fun Moments Remotely
It seemed important to us to maintain continuity regarding the fun moments and celebrations that took place every month, even more so if they were cherished by the team. For this reason, our usual weekly shared breakfasts never stopped. We decided to send to everyone’s house a surprise box and a message to enjoy the moment with the family, who also became part of our work routines. We also continued with the birthday celebrations and other special dates such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Children’s Day (yes, we celebrate kids as well in South America!).
Schedule Formal and Informal Talks
Other activities also emerged, such as internal talks. We encouraged UruITers who wanted to share a topic of interest to make a presentation. Knowledge management has a lot of value for people; it could be in the knowledge itself, as a space to share information, or the way in which they have solved some problems in their projects or common interests. It’s been an experience to get to know each other within the different teams. We appreciate the diversity of all of our work.
We began to see that communication, support and moderation were key. UruITers suggested they wanted to connect with others, so we created informal chats; a casual meeting to talk with our peers and share our personal experiences. Small groups of people with common interests emerged based on trivial subjects. These instances have helped us to generate closeness and get to know the people with whom we work better.
Enjoy the ride
Another activity that amused us were our Tik Tok challenges, in which different teams put together a video to share with everyone and challenged other colleagues to do the same. We shared these on a weekly basis and picked a winner by vote. People joined in with great enthusiasm and openness! As the videos were published, different teams got challenged, trying to bring personal moments back to the work environment.
Focus on Well-Being and Mental Health
Any process of change takes time; it may also agitate and destabilize us. We noticed that issues related to self-care emerged in the majority of the cases. Difficulties to adapt to staying home —either with our family or alone— eating disorders, fatigue, stress, and other issues appeared. These findings gave us the input to propose some activities.
We began to observe that if we took the lead on some ideas of actions to take, then the adaptation process would be easier. For this, we developed moments for relaxation and self-care in general to disconnect from daily work and the screens. This enabled people to have a moment to recharge. In the process, we acquired tips for remote work that would allow us to work more comfortably. We then offered online gymnastics, meditation, yoga, and self-massage classes. In addition, we implemented breaks, nutrition and mental health talks with the intention of generating an emotional and work-life balance.
The Future is
Uncertain Remote… At UruIT, We’re Ready
Despite all of the great progress we’ve made, we do have to recognize that we did have moments of fear along the way. We’ve dealt with difficult situations successfully due to the fact that everyone collaborated. Although we went through a process of adaptation that took some time, we always had a positive attitude that led us to be closer. As we say,
“We are distanced, but never disconnected.”
Every moment of crisis brings new opportunities, and that’s how we’ve been taking this. We have a lot of interaction between Uruguay and Colombia, generating a level of trust in our workplace. We share our work routine also with our pets, children and the rest of the family. Despite the uncertainty, we’ve always had a sense of direction that has provided clarity and tranquility.
In Uruguay, we’ve returned little by little to the office on a voluntary basis. All the protocols that the new routine implies are in place. Others of us have decided to continue working from home. The commitment with which our work has been carried out allows us to continue working in a hybrid mode today. Colombia is also beginning to reactivate, although currently there is much uncertainty regarding how the return to activities will be handled.
Evolving our remote work best practices
Today we want to continue working on communication and knowledge management, without overlooking the lessons learned and taking into account that we will still have face-to-face and digital communication. Now that the path of hybrid work has already been forged, we would like to maintain and develop it. Also, we’ll continue working on the integration of Uruguay and Colombia. All change mobilizes us and surely, this phenomenon will bring us opportunities, new ways of doing things and will make us more creative in adapting to the agile world in which we work.