Effective communication and employee engagement have always been key to maintaining healthy relationships. During the lockdowns brought by the global pandemic, many people began working from home with little to no face-to-face interactions besides with their families. This changed the way we communicate and impacted our daily communication skills, and today, many of us have less face-to-face, in-person interaction with our peers. We have less interaction in general with individuals besides those we live with, and we spend more time on Zoom, Teams, WebEx and other collaboration and video conferencing platforms.
“Although social distancing is not a bad thing from a health point of view, social isolation isn’t good for anyone in the long run,” says Sandra Crous, Managing Director at payroll software and HR solution leader PaySpace.She says PaySpace is in a fortunate position in that even before COVID, we have thrived with remote teams and colleagues spread over South Africa and internationally and most colleagues working remotely. We are a cloud-first business, and all our applications are cloud-native, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoho and then our own product PaySpace Payroll & HR, a single-instance multi-tenanted application. “Anyone with an internet connection is able to work.”
When the lockdown was announced, and everyone was required to work remotely, the migration for PaySpace to adapt to this new dynamic required us to tweak and improve the way we communicated.She says physical company get-togethers could no longer happen during that time, so the company found other ways to keep these going. “For instance, we would book a local South African band to do a full-on concert virtually, with snacks, something to drink and everyone would join in via Teams.”
Colleagues absolutely loved it, they could still have the fun we had at the office, and it really helped colleagues cope with the initial period of isolation. We soon realised that we could continue caring for colleagues and building on our strong culture even though we were not physically at the office. Other initiatives included making up care packages that Crous and the respective offices’ shareholders would hand out from a table outside each office to colleagues who drove past. “It was important to show colleagues that we care, and while we’ve always done this, we had to find ways to do it differently. As a result, we learned we could continue nurturing the culture we had before, just in a different way.”
She says that previously if an employee worked remotely, they would jump on a phone call with a manager, now it’s all Teams and every single time anyone goes into a meeting, we require a camera-on policy to ensure we remain connected and not lose the personal touch and interaction. We also encourage colleagues to go to any of our offices should they require to do so, giving colleagues the best of both worlds option. Building a healthy business where colleagues work remotely, deliver ambitious goals, and where colleagues continue to foster excellent relationships with each other is extremely important to us.
“Similarly, we don’t mind if colleagues have to drop kids at school or fit in a haircut, as long as they deliver their role’s objectives and key results. The only thing we require is to make sure our external customers are never affected. The transparency and autonomy that comes with the freedom to ensure that team members have each other’s backs make colleagues act with much more responsibility and accountability.” Customer-facing departments such as the support teams have less freedom in terms of movement, but we make it up to these colleagues in other ways and means.
Crous says PaySpace also encourages employees not to work excessively long overtime hours. “There has to be a balance, this is extremely important. When my managers are ill, I tell them not to work. The fact that they work remotely doesn’t mean they are expected to continue work when they’re sick. And I’m not talking about checking a quick email or two, but we actively encourage colleagues to take time away from work, stay in bed, rest and recover if they’re ill.”
Interestingly, she says the company noted quite a significant drop in sick leave when remote work began. Sporadic one-day sick leave suddenly dropped off, not the longer-term ones. “Working remotely helped colleagues take care. For example, when they do not feel well, it is easier to take the afternoon off and get to the doctor or pharmacy and to recover when they do not feel well.”
Other ways in which the company maintains healthy communication is by ensuring the leadership has check-ins each Wednesday morning. “We have a 30 minute stand up meeting with the entire leadership team. Although it’s fast-paced and allows employees to contribute, this also ensures that colleagues know what is going on in each department and don’t feel isolated.
About a month ago, we used the 30 min stand-up to do a thank you message to a colleague that you really appreciate and share this on our intranet for all colleagues to access. We now have Thank You Thursdays, and we play those extracts where leadership members thank fellow colleagues for making a difference. Similarly, on a Thursday, we encourage our colleagues to reach out to each other, thank each other, and speak in person not to feel so isolated. “In this way, there’s still a large amount of personal chatter or grapevine chat within the business, even for those who are working remotely.”
Altogether, for Crous, remote work has been such a success. “This is particularly true when it comes to the time it takes to travel, as I have effectively shaved off three hours of travel time each day. This also means we are all saving on travel costs each week, which has effectively given everyone an increase.”
Other cost savings include not having to run an office for a large number of people, cutting down on consumables such as tea and coffee, boardrooms, and of course, massive energy savings. “In addition, we are now free to pick up talent across South Africa as there are no geographical limits, and we can source talented people from all over the country.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she says: “The pandemic changed the way we foster our culture and adapt the business to the impact of remote environments. Although we moved away from an 8 to 5 at the office to an output-based approach, each colleague understands their participation in building a business for our future. We have seen increased productivity, and we will encourage colleagues to continue giving their best but at the same time also encourage colleagues to switch off in the evenings and spend time with their families. Ensuring your home does not become an always-on office is as important as delivering superior output.”