Nils Pollex about the implementation of the New Work Concept during a pandemic.
A state of emergency – there’s no other way to describe the situation in March. Employees started working from home overnight, long-planned events were cancelled and the number of orders in our shops skyrocketed.
I remember a phone call with a good friend in February, where I explained how I’d spent the last 2 days researching the possible impact of Covid19 on our business. At that time, before the first wave, we had no idea how long the situation would continue.
The workload for our teams stayed high – in fact, it probably even increased – while we also had to simultaneously restructure work processes. Like many other companies, the move to working from home came quite suddenly, although we weren’t completely unprepared. Previously, employees were able to work from home one day a week and therefore many were already set up with laptops and a VPN. To be on the safe side, shortly before and during the first lockdown we also provided this equipment to colleagues who’d been permanently working from the office.
Nevertheless, we had to implement certain changes during this period incredibly quickly. Initially, our priority was to keep everything running smoothly and protect our colleagues as best we could – the health of our staff has always been a top priority. As the initial chaos and uncertainty subsided, the opportunities that this time brought quickly became apparent: crises often offer the best opportunities for change.
We’ve been able to transform this into a long-term concept – Internetstores’ New Work concept. We’ve enabled most employees to work remotely four days a week, thus retaining the newly-gained flexibility between work and everyday life. We’d also like the individual teams to get together for a weekly real-life ‘team day’ – at least as soon as the situation permits.
The development of this remote, modern working concept is based on three main steps. Its final implementation depends, above all, on the feeling within our teams: our recent employee survey yielded some surprising results!
Step 1 – Getting the situation under control
We at Internetstores – like many other companies – were quickly reminded how unusual situations require unusual measures during the initial lockdown and therefore had to (re)act quickly and efficiently. Employees who could do so were asked to work from home, virtually overnight. All employees were able to take equipment home: screens, keyboards and office supplies quickly changed location. At the same time, the management informed employees about all relevant changes in special emails and sent weekly updates. In order to ensure open, two-way communication and to know what’s on employees’ minds, we also opened a Q&A channel for anonymous questions.
We therefore concentrated first on setting employees up with remote workstations and made sure to continuously keep everyone in the loop. Three months later, in June, we reviewed the situation with an initial, smaller employee survey: what’s the status quo? Does the current setup work? What are the challenges and wishes? How should we act in both the short and long term?
Step 2 – The 4 pillars of the New Work concept
The survey showed that a large proportion of employees were generally satisfied during the remote working phase. Nevertheless, there are challenges, especially when it comes to separating one’s work and private life. We also identified how many employees felt isolated, lacked the right equipment and had difficulty taking regular breaks. These all needed addressing. This evaluation made it clear that our new concept has four essential pillars: organization, room, tools and culture. The four pillars will be used to develop a modern post-Covid 19 working model that improves cooperation between offices and considers the wishes of our workforce. At the same time, we can avoid negative effects on social interactions and internal communication.
Step 3 – Pause and evaluate
The new working concept, which was developed based on previous experience, was presented to Internetstores employees at the end of the financial year. In the long term, it applies to almost all employees with a ‘classic’ desk job; of course, employees whose physical presence is required at a location are exempt from this. A second survey helped us clarify the most important questions: what are the four pillars about? Have we considered employees’ most crucial needs? Where do we need to start again?
As we’ve made clear in recent communications, the concept is a success: the survey shows that more than 70 percent of those surveyed would like to be on-site either 1-2 days per week or per month. A daily presence, as was previously the case in most companies of our size, isn’t such a popular concept anymore.
When you’re working remotely four days per week, it’s essential to be comfortable. It’s therefore doubly pleasing that almost half of our employees said they were satisfied with the equipment at their workplace. Let’s build on this. The other half will be provided with more equipment, and we hope to reach 100% in the next survey.
Later on in the survey, we also asked employees about their actual needs when it comes to furniture and technical equipment. The results showed that with one or two additional screens, a keyboard and a headset, the key demands in terms of equipment would be covered.
The survey is somewhat more diverse when it comes to the issue of current working environment. While more than 70% have or could have a permanent, dedicated workplace, almost 17% are lacking a sufficiently-quiet working atmosphere, free of distractions. Another 21.1% have problems with a stable internet connection. Our new creative workplaces and the possibility to book a place in the office more often will help solve these problems in the long term. Clearly, the office will take on a different significance in the future. In addition to classic ‘workplaces’, we believe that the focus will fall on creative spaces to strengthen personal interaction within teams as well as cross-functionally.
What do these findings tell us?
The employee survey has once again made it clear that our new concept has to start immediately. As well as revealing valuable insights for further time and cost planning, it’s also clear that the New Work concept was generally well received. It’s inspired us to redouble our efforts to implement this new way of working, to continue to learn and improve.
Over the past few months, we’ve achieved incredible things together as a team at Internetstores. In addition to organic, industry-driven growth, everyone has made the most of a less-than-ideal situation and, in parallel, adapted to a new working mode. Key to this is communicating well and using the challenges we faced as an opportunity to develop together as an organisation. We’ve transformed these experiences into a modern, post-Covid19 working mode. With this model, we’re paying our employees back the trust they’ve put in us as their employer during the pandemic.
We’re sure our hard work and efficient communication over the last few months will pay off permanently: with greater freedom, fewer borders between locations (through permanent remote communication) and, as a result, increased versatility.
In short: we can only encourage other companies to ask their employees about the current situation. This helps us work better together as a team, working together towards the future and considering each other’s needs.
What’s it like at your company? What works well and where is there room for improvement? Do you face the same challenges or are there differences? What solutions have you come up with?
We look forward to receiving your questions and comments and exchanging views on LinkedIn.